The Go Go’s: VH1 Behind the Music: Go Go’s Collection

The Go Go's
VH1 Behind the Music: Go Go's Collection

The only real problem with this collection is that it has no particular reason to exist.

Don’t get me wrong. Charlotte Caffey (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Belinda Carlisle (lead vocals), Gina Schock (drums, percussion) Kathy Valentine (bass, vocals, guitar) and Jane Wiedlin (rhythm guitar, vocals) — The Go Go’s — were and are a fine band. Considering that, by their own admission, when they first formed they literally could not play their instruments, their songwriting skills (all wrote, separately and in various combinations, Caffey and Weildin most prolifically) are a subject for admiration — as are the skills they developed as players through years of experience. Never virtuosos, they represent the passion-over-craft school of pop; where you don’t have to have gone to music college, look what you can do anyway. Their biggest hit, “We Got The Beat,” is danceable rock at it’s most basic. Which doesn’t mean that what they did was easy. It takes talent. Go on, try it, write and record a World-Wide hit. I’ll wait.

After the band broke up in 1985, the women departed to various points. Carlisle had hit solo singles (“Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth…”) and Agree endorsements. If the latter seems an odd thing to mention, I do so only because her damn radio commercial was all over the airwaves when I was 16 and I have never been able to get it out of my head. I swear if I heard her chirp “Hi, this is Belinda Carlisle!” one more time I was gonna pour the shampoo in my eyes. But I digress. Wiedlin attempted an acting career, which came mostly in the form of cameos. Her biggest part was probably Joan of Arc in the first Bill and Ted movie and she showed up exactly long enough to get murdered in Clue. She recorded albums (Fur, which contained “Rush Hour” and featured the late Rob Fisher of Naked Eyes on keyboards, was most prominent) and tried to start another band or two. The others found, let’s not be mean, less high-profile success. They have reformed two or three times since the break up to do short tours and make some new recordings, usually to promote a repackage of their records (Since 1990, there have been three such, counting this one).

There’s nothing that notably justifies the tie-in with VH1’s biographical music program here, except that the edition featuring the band aired around the same time this was released. It’s a not a bad idea to release companion CDs to that series (I remember idly wishing for one after the Blondie episode, in fact), but they should do more with the concept. Like the other Go Go’s repackages, this one has the big pop hit singles like “Vacation,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” and a seemingly random spattering of album tracks. Without more creativity going into the selection process, judging the difference between the single-disc Go Go’s collections is virtually a question of which cover and inlay you like better. And you would think that if there’s one thing the first all-female pop band to play and write their own material into the top 30 would know, it’s that you have to give consideration to what’s beneath the surface, whether it’s the cover of a CD or a good-looking woman.

If all you want is the chart hits (and there’s nothing wrong with that, they made some of the best) VH1 Behind the Music: Go Go’s is probably a better buy than the previous Greatest collection, but somewhat undermined by it’s lack of ambition. Considering that, to date, they only have three full albums from which to draw, it’s not as though they can go to the well that many times when it comes to an anthology. So why not really go Behind The Music? For example, the TV program featured an excerpt from an early songwriting tape with Wiedlin singing her “Our Lips Are Sealed” while playing acoustic guitar. This was a stark contrast to both the frothy full-group version and the more bathetic but still poppy version done by Fun Boy Three (whose Terry Hall co-wrote it). Why not include that and more stuff like it on the CD? Take us through the evolution of a song, with songwriting tapes (in whole or in part), band rehearsals, in-concert recordings (especially if the song was changed significantly live, as does happen) as well as the album version!

Some such material was released on the 1994 two-disc Return to the Valley of the Go Go’s, and if you have any real interest in the band as musicians, that’s the retrospective to get. All but two of the songs included in this VH1 package are there (on CD, the single-cassette version contains fewer) plus B-sides, live recordings and new material that is the equal or better of anything they did in their heyday.

But The Go Go’s still deserve a really great, solid one-disc compilation, and VH1’s Behind the Music collection isn’t it.