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The Go-Go’s are the only all-female band to top the U.S. album chart by writing their own songs and playing their own instruments. They emerged from the L.A. punk rock scene of the late 1970s alongside groups like The Bags, The Germs, and X. And in 2021, they’ll be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Their history was the subject of the 2020 Showtime documentary The Go-Go’s, directed by Alison Ellwood (History of the Eagles, Laurel Canyon). The film has recently been released in a Blu-ray/DVD set from Polygram/UMe.
The early part of the documentary emphasizes the group’s punk rock roots. Impressive pre-fame footage includes a brief clip from a St. Patrick’s Day 1979 Go-Go’s appearance at the L.A. Elks Club Lodge. Lead singer Belinda Carlisle, in the segment, sports jet black hair and is dressed in all black as well, quite different from the glamorous look of her future solo music days. Video of rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin in the audience at a punk rock concert at Hollywood’s Masque club is also shown.
To highlight the punk aspect even more, Wiedlin talks about driving with all her friends from L.A. to San Francisco to attend the final Sex Pistols concert in 1978. Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) then appears onscreen from the end of that show. Rotten’s infamous line is heard following his laugh, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
The Go-Go's on Tour
A year before The Go-Go's released their debut album, 1981's Beauty and the Beat, the group toured England as the opening act for ska bands Madness and The Specials. The shows didn't go as well as The Go-Go's had anticipated, as they were spat at and had objects thrown at them by some white nationalists in the audiences. These National Front supporters didn't like that The Go-Go’s weren’t a ska band, were Americans and women at that.
But, The Go-Go's as artists impressed the members of of Madness and The Specials. One from each band is interviewed in the documentary. Madness saxophonist Lee Thompson admired the band’s skills, saying, “Their musicianship, compared to us, was second to none. They taught me a thing or two." Specials rhythm guitarist and vocalist Lynval Golding liked how the The Go-Go’s performed as a band during that tour. "They grew. They proved themselves” Golding said. ”And for The Go-Go’s to pick themselves up and leave from L.A. to London, you know, Wow! Respect to them girls."
Miles Copeland, founder of the group’s U.S. label, I.R.S Records, comments about signing the band in April 1981 and viewing them as part of a “generational change in music.” The Go-Go’s toured with their I.R.S. label mates The Police in 1982. Stewart Copeland, Miles’ brother and drummer for The Police, says in the documentary, “They were the best opening act ever. The Go-Go’s came out, they were so enthusiastic, so up! The songs were so bright that they would just light up the room.”
"Our Lips Are Sealed" Music Video
The documentary provides some unique insights into Go-Go’s history, too. Ginger Canzoneri, the band’s former manager, bought the expensive white towels at Macy’s that The Go-Go’s are draped in on the Beauty and the Beat album cover. Because the band had little money at the time, Canzoneri returned the towels to the department store after the record cover’s photo shoot. She also pawned jewelry and sold her car to finance the band’s participation in the 1980 UK tour.
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Lead guitarist Charlotte Caffey was inspired to write “We Got the Beat” while watching an episode of TV’s The Twilight Zone. The “Our Lips Are Sealed” music video cost six thousand dollars to make, which came from leftover money from a Police video budget. The segment of the "Our Lips Are Sealed" promo in which the band cavort in the Beverly Hills Electric Fountain, came about because the group was hoping to get arrested and have that end the video.
The Go-Go's "We Got the Beat" Music Video
The Go-Go’s speak candidly throughout the documentary. In particular, Wiedlin mentions her difficulties with depression and a bi-polar diagnosis, while Caffey talks about her heroin addiction at the height of The Go-Go’s fame. Schock also tells how the band united for a time, like a family, before her heart surgery in 1983.
Missing Info and Video
A few parts of The Go-Go's story aren't covered in the documentary. No mention is made of the group's 1990 reunion tour, as well as the 2001 studio album, God Bless The Go-Go's. Nor is there a reference to Wiedlin’s collaborative single with Sparks, 1983’s “Cool Places,” released a year prior to her leaving the band.
Additionally, it’s never explained in the film why The Go-Go's decided to travel to England to record their third album, 1984's Talk Show, with producer Martin Rushent. Was the band hoping for a more synth pop sound, with Rushent the producer of The Human League’s Dare disc and the hits “Don’t You Want Me”, “Mirror Man”, and “Fascination”? Richard Gottehrer, producer of material by Blondie, Robert Gordon, and Marshall Crenshaw, was behind the mixing board for the first two Go-Go's records.
Carlisle’s solo career is briefly discussed as well as Schock and her House of Schock group, but other solo projects like Valentine’s World’s Cutest Killers band (with Kelly Johnson of Girlschool) or Caffey’s group The Graces aren't talked about.
Additionally, some Go-Go’s special feature video footage could have added extra value to this Blu-ray/DVD release. Totally Go-Go’s!, a VHS, Beta, and CED Laserdisc recording of a December 1981 concert by the band, showed the group at the peak of their performing powers. The "We Got the Beat" music video is from this appearance at a southern California high school. It remains unreleased on DVD or Blu-ray, and would have made a fine addition to The Go-Go’s documentary. A bit of “We Got The Beat” from the 1980 film Urgh! A Music War is included in the documentary. The full song could easily be contained in a special features section.
“Club Zero”, an anthemic new tune from the band, plays over The Go-Go's end credits. Its music video, seen below, would also have made for a nice bonus extra.
The Go-Go's "Club Zero" Music Video
Total running time of the documentary is 1 hour 35 minutes, with a 1080p picture. The video quality itself is very nice during the interviews. It varies a bit with the older footage, which is to be expected. The audio includes DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 settings. Audio Subtitles are accessible in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. The Go-Go's is also available as a digital download and rental.
Trailer for The Go-Go's Documentary (Showtime)
The Go-Go's is a fine documentary, that leaves you wanting to see more of the band. The Blu-ray/DVD release deserved to have some bonus video added, especially as the film's not a Director's Cut type presentation with more footage. Recommended for the film, but the lack of extra features is a little disappointing.
© 2021 Marshall Fish