How The Go-Go's Perfected Pop-Punk
The Go-Go's debut album, Beauty and the Beat, is universally regarded as an '80s pop and new wave classic. It's rightfully celebrated as the first album by an all-woman band who played its own instruments and wrote its own songs to top the Billboard 200 albums chart. But it was revolutionary in more than one way: It's also a harbinger of what rock would become, and a bridge between punk, the movement whose rebelliousness had quashed the excesses of classic rock, and the genre-fusing music of the 1980s. If groundbreakers like the Ramones, the Buzzcocks and Blondie had shown that pop and punk were not mortal enemies, here was a band that showed how the two styles could merge with certifiable success. Beauty and the Beat paved the way for bands like Green Day and No Doubt and artists like Avril Lavigne. It was the whole Go-Go's package — the sound, the songs, and the fact that five women who loved both the Beach Boys and the Germs were creating this music — that set the template for a future that seems inevitable in hindsight. It took punk places it hadn't been before, even if the scene wasn't always ready to go there.
Beauty and the Beat introduced the world to "We Got The Beat" and "Our Lips Are Sealed" — but not before the Los Angeles punk scene heard them first. Those singles, written by guitarists Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin, had evolved over the course of many nights spent sweating and screaming alongside their friends and fellow musicians at the Masque, Whisky a Go Go and the Starwood, all havens for the tight-knit community that counted X, the Bags, the Germs, the Dickies and other experimental punk acts in their ranks. This is the scene Alison Ellwood focuses on for the first half of her new documentary about the band, which was enthusiastically received by fans and critics alike when it was released on Showtime on July 31. A treasure trove of archival footage brings viewers into the front row of these early gigs, right alongside Belinda Carlisle, baby-faced and beaming up at the headliner, and Jane Wiedlin, in her torn t-shirts and smears of fuschia makeup. It drives the point home that the pop icons we know were punk kids first.
NPR Music spoke with the Go-Go's, as well as Miles Copeland III, who signed them to I.R.S. Records, and Beauty and the Beat producer Richard Gottehrer, to take a closer look at how these punks changed pop. Friends from the L.A. scene spoke to us as well, including Alice Bag, renowned artist and frontwoman of the Bags; John Doe, founding member of X, author and L.A. punk historian; photographer and scene documentarian Theresa Kereakes, a childhood friend of Carlisle's whose work appears in The Go-Go's; and Pleasant Gehman, L.A. punk musician, artist, performer and host of The Devil's Music podcast (and former roommate of Carlisle at their notorious Hollywood apartment, Disgraceland).
"Here's the thing we always say: You can take the girl out of punk, but you can't take punk out of the girl," says Charlotte Caffey, lead guitarist. "Honestly, to this day, we're all in our 60s, we're still those same bedraggled little ragamuffins that we were. It's in us; it's part of who we are."
PUNK ON WOMEN'S TERMS
The members of the Go-Go's converged in L.A. in their early 20s, and thrived in a scene that encouraged them to pick up an instrument and play it, loudly — whether they knew how to or not. This diverse, inclusive and growing contingent of musicians was building something separate from the grittier scene in New York and the incendiary scene in London.
Jane Wiedlin (guitar, vocals): I've actually gotten in arguments with trolls online about it, like, 20-year-old white guys: 'Go-Go's aren't punk!' Like, oh my GOD, shut up! (laughs). I'm real happy to clear that up, because being a part of the Hollywood punk scene is one of the most important things to ever happen to me. I'm not happy when people dismiss it.
Alice Bag (The Bags): People like to think of [punk] as a male, white genre, and it's not. Here in L.A., it was a scene that was, in fact, created by women. There were women who were promoters, photographers, writers, bookers. The Go-Go's had a female manager, female roadies. We were everywhere, and I feel like we've been erased from history. I'd like to see women — not just the musicians and the frontpeople, but all the people that helped create that punk scene — be seen, to be acknowledged for their contributions. Without them, it wouldn't have happened.
Belinda Carlisle (vocals): In London, you had a big, political, angry scene, very macho. In New York, you had sort of a dark underground, with Johnny Thunders and the Ramones, that kind of thing. L.A. was more about art. There wasn't a whole lot for a kid in Southern California to be angry about. It's a different kind of city; it's open; you have the beach.
John Doe (X): What made L.A. punk rock stand out is we went to '50s rock and roll. Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Big Joe Turner — those were our heroes, whereas I think the New York scene was more the Velvet Underground and that other darker stuff. We were a bunch of dumb kids, and we just wanted to f*** around and drink beer and drive cars.
Theresa Kereakes (photographer): When you'd go to the Masque, it was part social club, and the bands were almost incidental. That was the safe space if you were a punk rock person. It was like a clubhouse.
AB: I don't ever remember Belinda going to a concert without her stiletto heels. She wasn't going to be slammed: She was pogoing, and if anybody got too rowdy, she'd probably pogo on their foot with her stiletto, but she had all of us in the audience — all her friends.
BC: Jane and I lived in a punk rock apartment building in Hollywood called the Canterbury. It was like the Chelsea hotel in New York, that kind of thing. I loved all the different clubs in L.A.: you'd go to the Whisky, drive down to the Starwood, see a band there, go downtown to Chinatown to Madame Wong's, see someone there, go to an afterparty in Hollywood, play music there — it was a really lively, creative time in Los Angeles.
AB: I was at their first show at the Masque. They played with my drummer, Terry Graham. Everybody was really impressed. Even though they were just starting to play, you could tell they had songwriting ability: They had a song about living at the Canterbury, and fighting off the roaches, and they had "Robert Hilburn," [an unflattering portrait of the L.A. Times pop critic]. People remembered their clever lyrics, that they had cool melodies. They had something special even at that first show.
Gina Schock (drums): I drove my dad's pickup truck across the country with my friend from high school. I pulled into Los Angeles on Valentine's Day of 1979, and I was so knocked out by the size of the freeways. When I saw the Hollywood sign, it was mind-blowing. The punk scene there was RAGING. It was the perfect time to be arriving there.
Kathy Valentine (bass): The women were not competitive; you took notice of each other. There was a silent affirmation of sorority. That's what it felt like.
GS: Everybody was busting out at the same time. You go to the same clubs; you go to see each other play, you were happy if somebody got a deal. I remember the Motels used to rehearse in our room at the Masque, and they got a record deal on CBS. X had their record deal on Slash before we had our deal.
KV: I really credit punk rock for opening the door, in that you could do it. It was very inclusive — not only gender-wise, but in musical format. The energetic pop bands, the hardcore punk bands, the artsy bands, the rootsier bands, like the Blasters — there was a broad spectrum of music. I don't think the Go-Go's would've existed without that kind of openness and anything goes.
John Doe: I remember seeing them at the Whisky after Gina and Kathy had joined... That was probably when they were starting to play the songs that were on Beauty and the Beat. They had arrived. It's fitting, because that's the kind of place when it's all happening and the energy is going between the band and audience, back and forth, and the band is rehearsed enough, and has enough material that it can deliver. I'm sure there have been several a-ha moments at the Whisky.
TK: I used to live behind Whisky A Go-Go, so I would go there every night, and there were just a million [Go-Go's] shows at the Whisky — that kind of was the foundation of my life. "What am I gonna do today? I'm gonna go see the Go-Go's and then I'll be set for the night. I'll go see my friend from high school be a rockstar."
THEY GOT THE BEAT
The Go-Go's grew more comfortable with their instruments and their roles within the band, and the music grew brighter. Buoyant melodies informed by L.A. radio, surf rock, and girl groups bled into the songwriting, as did fierce lyrics and surging drum lines. That balance — between sunny chords and sharp, dissonant delivery — continued to win over fans long after "We Got The Beat" changed their lives.
BC: Even in our early days, the songs always had melody — it was just you couldn't really tell what the song was because it was a big fat mess! When we started becoming more musically proficient, you could tell that the Go-Go's had pop elements. We always modeled ourselves on bands like the Buzzcocks and the Clash who were more melodic.
Charlotte Caffey (guitar): Jane, Margot [Olavarria, the band's original bassist] and Belinda had written a couple of songs, and they were what you would expect from punk: They were overrun, with lyrics like, "We want to overrun the city, the state, the world!" Then there was "Robert Hilburn," and a handful of other songs. I brought in a song — "How Much More," from the first record — and Jane helped me finish it. It was a huge risk, because I knew that they were either gonna kick me out or love it.
JW: A lot of people who weren't there forget that the punk scene happened right after the overblown excess of '70s arena rock bands. These people took a year to make these million dollar albums [with] a million tracks — just so complicated. The most important thing about the whole pop-punk sound is how much simpler it is, how lively it is. There's a clarity to it that's kind of gotten lost. That's one of the most important things about that sound.
JD: Did they have a certain spin on pop music? Sure — they took a little from the '60s, surf music, girl group music. They used to cover [the Shangri-Las'] "Remember (Walking in the Sand)." The original punk rock bands, either from New York or L.A., there's not a huge gap between the kinds of songs we were trying to write and pop songs. First chorus, maybe there's a bridge, probably not, the chorus has a very repetitive line that was memorable, because you didn't know if you were going to make a record or not — you wanted people to be able to say, "Oh what's that song that says, 'Johnny hit and run Pauline'?" because you say "Johnny hit and run Pauline" five times, and that's the chorus. The Go-Go's, same thing: They're leading off with "This Town."
Pleasant Gehman (artist and poet): "This Town" is a defining L.A. rock and roll moment. I equate it with "L.A. Woman" by the Doors. It's got that definitive Hollywood energy to it. So many people came [to L.A.] for their dreams. They moved here from all parts of America to be in movies and barely any of them even made it to the lower levels, but this town has such an incredible amount of dream power in it. It's also got the pall of all the lost dreams, the failed dreams. In the punk scene, we were all growing up in that energy: half the buildings we lived in were these grand old Hollywood buildings [that became] slums, but we could all feel that special energy of Hollywood.
JW: California bands were kind of suburban, and a lot of them had a playfulness to [them]. But under that, there was some darkness. I've struggled with my mental health my whole life, so a lot of my lyrics were slightly dark, even if people don't notice it because you have these great melodies and stuff mostly written by Charlotte that make everyone bounce around thinking happy, happy, joy, joy. Part of the Go-Go's formula, we like sunny, catchy melodies, and have a little bit of lyrical darkness to throw in there, to give it balance — a yin-yang thing.
PG: The music of the Go-Go's has punky urgency, but it's also got references to the Beach Boys or Jan and Dean... Because none of us liked Top 40, we would always listen to the oldies stations. There were plenty of them here in those days. Everybody called them lowrider stations, because that's what the golden oldies were, doo-wop songs and girl group songs. That informed so much more of the punk scene than anyone outside of L.A. realizes.
CC: I couldn't play the same thing Jane was playing, because that would just be a big mush onstage, right? The reality of that is, I was playing lead guitar, and I was like, "Oh god, how do I get my guitar to sustain that sound, like Jimi Hendrix?" I kept turning up the reverb on my amp, because it helped, and I ended up with a surf sound, and I thought, "This is cool!" Of course I was a big fan of surf stuff, and I wrote "Surfing and Spying," our only instrumental song. I'm a huge fan of the Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson is a f****** genius.
KV: There was not one inspiration. I think that synthesis is what makes any band, and it was no different for us.
HITTING THE BIG TIME
In spite of their popularity, the Go-Go's couldn't find a record label that would take them seriously. Only one all-woman band, the Runaways, had been signed out of the L.A. scene in recent years, and that group had a powerful — and exploitative — male manager, Kim Fowley. The Go-Go's manager, Ginger Canzoneri, was inexperienced, but dedicated, and knocked on every door with little success. She finally found an ally in Miles Copeland, the manager of the Police, whose success had led A&M Records to help him try to break other English punk bands in the U.S. He heard what other record executives couldn't.
CC: On our very first tour, we went and played some clubs in the South. As we were walking up to the venue, we saw the marquee, and it said "GO-GO GIRLS," and we were like, "What the f*** is that?! Oh my God, they thought we were gonna strip or something!" Man, were they so disappointed. We walk up there, and here's these bedraggled girls who are like, road-tired and more than likely hungover. We get up onstage and just rip through one of our sets. It's kind of funny, because people didn't know what to expect, and we showed them. We're the best when we're together like that. When we splinter within the group for whatever reason, it's really painful, but when we're us against the world, it's the best.
PG: Nobody appreciated women in rock and roll except for the actual people in the punk scene. It was super difficult for the Go-Go's to get signed. If Kim Fowley hadn't have brought the Runaways to their label, they wouldn't have been signed, and they were still looked down on as a novelty. They were great, too, whether they were put together by him or would've come together organically like the Go-Go's.
JD: The Go-Go's played [a blend of pop and punk] from the beginning, but that's what mystified all of us. That's what made us think, "What do you have to do to get noticed or to be picked up by a major or even an independent label?!" Because here's five women who are playing really accessible and good solid pop songs, and nobody wants to sign them.
Miles Copeland: I went to Jerry Moss at A&M and said, "Look: I have this idea for a record label. I don't need your money, I just need your distribution system. If you'll put the records out, I'll deliver the records." He said, what the hell, and we started I.R.S. Records that way. As I then came into America and was putting out British acts, I started coming across American acts — one of which were The Go-Go's. I heard about them and went to the Whisky, and got excited about them, and started signing American acts. That was really the start of I.R.S. Records, when we picked up the Go-Go's.
TK: At the beginning, punk rock rejected corporate radio and all those Svengalized bands. Even though everyone liked the Runaways, they were just local girls who we all knew from just going out. On the one hand, you could be really happy for them having jobs as a rock band; on the other hand, they had to kowtow to this crazy Svengali in order to get there. The Go-Go's did it their own way.
MC: The record business tends to be rule-following. The Beatles were turned down by everybody because what was happening then was solo acts: People were looking for solo artists; they were looking for another Elvis Presley. Then the group happened, and everyone wanted groups, they didn't want solo artists. The Go-Go's and the Bangles and the other girl groups were turned down because they were all girls. Labels would say, "Well, a girl group would never happen, do we want to take the risk and sign you? No." I don't think the people actually listened to the music or went to the shows to see the excitement of the audience. What excited me about them was really the energy, their commitment to what they were doing. The fact that they were all girls, to me, was a selling factor.
GS: People thought that we were a put-together band, or America's sweethearts, all the same old crap we heard for years and years, when in fact we were down and dirty like the boys. We were just a f****** rock band — young woman happening in a big way.
"I GAVE YOU A PUNK GROUP, YOU GAVE ME BACK A POP GROUP!"
Copeland approached Richard Gottehrer — a Brill Building alum whose own songs include '60s classics "My Boyfriend's Back" and "Hang on Sloopy," and the cofounder of Sire Records, an early adopter of punk — to produce the Go-Go's debut album. Gottehrer was impressed by their songwriting and wanted to highlight it, which led to production choices that changed the Go-Go's sound — though not without some pushback.
CC: We wanted to work with [Richard Gottehrer] because of his work with Blondie, and we knew his '60s stuff and everything. He really wanted people to hear the lyrics, because Jane, let's be realistic, some of that stuff she wrote on that first record is so brilliant. She's a really fantastic lyricist, and he really wanted to highlight that. He asked us, "let's try playing it a little bit slower?"
Richard Gottehrer: The thing about the girl groups of the '60s, songs were written for them. The songs written for the Shirelles, or "My Boyfriend's Back" for the Angels, were uniquely good songs tailored for the ability that that artist exhibited, the sound of the voice, the style — you'd actually write for a particular artist. The common denominator with the Go-Go's is their songs were good songs [that] spoke to their audience just as the pop songs of the girl groups of the '50s and '60s spoke to their audience... If you don't have a great song or a great view or something that's significant, it's not going to reach people no matter what you do to build your image.
GS: Richard, because he was a song guy, he took those songs, slowed them all down and made it easy to latch onto those vocal melodies and guitar hooks. Before we started working with Richard, everything was going so fast — you heard it and it was gone that quickly.
RG: It wasn't a punk record — it was a punk-rooted record that went beyond [punk]. I mixed the record and sent it out, and Oh my God, he called up with the worst — the girls hated it.
BC: When the mix of Beauty and the Beat was sent to us, we all went out to the car to listen to it on the stereo — and we were horrified. We were so disappointed that it sounded the way it did. We wanted it to be faster and raunchier.
CC: We were crying, and cursing him, and it didn't even sound like us, because it didn't sound like us live. A few months later, when we finally got "Our Lips Are Sealed" on the radio, then I understood, in that moment, what he was trying to achieve: People would listen to us.
GS: After it sold a million records, we were like, "Oh Richard, you're the best producer in the world, we love you!" (laughs) Before that we thought he had ruined us. To me, it's still what our band is: we have those pop melodies, but we have that punk drive, the undercurrent of being a punk band. I feel like our music is always that way, but that first album is pretty pop-sounding.
MC: My first response was the same: I actually said to him, "I gave you a punk group, you gave me back a pop group!"
RG: I said "Yeah, but isn't it good?!" Punk, it's really not a political movement: in some cases it is, but it was about being able to use the tools that you had without intrusion to express what you wanted to musically. I guess I intruded a bit, but I thought it was the right thing to do — that was all. In the end, they all loved it, and it was all fine.
JW: One thing [Gottehrer] did get is Charlotte's surf-tinged guitar sound; that is very obvious and good. I don't think it's a great sounding record as much as I love it and stand behind the performances and songwriting. I will say that, live, over the years, more and more, we've been able to capture the sounds we actually wanted to have, and the band always had a huge amount of energy that was generated when the five of us are together. That hasn't changed in 42 years. Some people that come to see us who haven't seen us before are like, "Oh, you're a ROCK band."
BC: The Go-Go's, live, [are] a runaway train that could crash at any minute, and I think that's what people respond to. I love Beauty and the Beat and I'm not taking anything away from it, but I think some of the later stuff might capture the band in a truer way. I always had a problem listening to my voice in the first album, because it was sped up, and I don't sound like that. But that was the only complaint I had about that album was my voice. Later stuff that was recorded live, that's truly who I am.
RG: I really focused on [recording a new version of] "We Got The Beat." We were at the Record Plant, and they said, "Why would we do that? We've already done that, our fans love the version we have." I said, "You had good success with it, you sold 50,000 copies of it, but there are billions of people in the world — wouldn't you want to reach them? If so, why don't we take a slightly different approach to it?" Eventually they agreed to do it, but their first reaction was, "Nah, we did that." They did do it again, and it came out great.
"SELLING OUT" WITH BEAUTY AND THE BEAT
The legitimacy of the Go-Go's as a punk band was interrogated from the start, and it resulted in the departure of one of the founding members. In Ellwood's documentary, Olavarria shared how she couldn't reconcile her punk identity with the pop direction her bandmates were exploring. She wasn't alone, and that tension — between punk and pop, and about the Go-Go's place in the scene from which they emerged — came to a head with Beauty and the Beat.
GS: When we put that record out, we were f****** disenfranchised.
TK: There's that undercurrent of jealousy and resentment — mostly jealousy — but there was a huge divide of, "Oh I liked them better when they couldn't play and Belinda wore garbage bags!"
BC: When Margot left, she just wasn't feeling it anymore. We had to move forward. I think that at that point, after Margot left and before Beauty and the Beat came out, we got all sorts of s*** from the scene saying what sell-outs we were, of course, because we decided to carry on without Margot. "Oh, they're not a punk band, they're a pop band." ... it was like, you could never go home again. We tried to go back to the scene and hang out with our friends, but we thought they had changed, and they changed their attitude [about us]. It was a combination of both, but yeah — we were used to getting the sell-out thing before that album happened.
JW: I understand this because I felt this way, too, about bands precious to me. It's your private thing! You discovered it, hardly anyone knows about it, it's like your secret treasure! When the rest of the world discovers it and loves it, it takes away the specialness of it. That's definitely how I see the whole thing about us being sell-outs: we were just being ourselves and moving along on a track that I don't think even we were totally sure of. Yes, we wanted to be successful, but every band in the world wants to be successful. There's nothing traitorous or strange about that! Nobody wants to play in their bedroom for their whole life.
PG: A teenager lived upstairs from us, and she would play Donna Summer or some other hits from that time period that were just horrible, over and over and over. We were doing the same thing with "Gary Gilmore's Eyes," or the Buzzcocks. One day it just turned from Donna Summer to the Go-Go's. It was working on five hours, and Belinda was just losing it. It got to the point where she was rolling around on her bed, with her pillow over her head, actually crying. Our roommate, Ann McClean, and I were in there trying to comfort her: "You should be glad! This means you're gonna be really famous!" She was like, "I JUST WANT IT TO STOP!" Ann just put her hands on her hips, and she goes, "I'll tell you what: Smear some cold cream all over your face, put on a couple of towels, and go upstairs, like, "B****, JUST SHUT UP!" [The band had posed in this garb for the Beauty and the Beat album cover.] I was just cracking up and Belinda started laughing, but then it still went on for hours. In my mind I was thinking, this little girl up there is never in a million years going to believe that the person singing that song is in the downstairs apartment that she always has sound wars with.
BC: I couldn't walk down the street. Literally. It was kind of disconcerting: If you think about it, the Go-Go's formed in 1978, and by 1981, we were like, the biggest band in the country, really, the most famous for five minutes. A lot of musicians work for years and years and years to get to that point. We knew we were really lucky. It might have been a little bit of guilt, in a way, because we had so many friends who were struggling for years and still hadn't got there. It was weird being that famous. I don't know that I want to be that famous again. That's when you don't really have any privacy and you're getting photographed. Thank god it was before mobile phones and social media and paparazzi, because we would've been the Lindsay Lohans of our time. We escaped that.
JD: I was most surprised when we found out that the Go-Go's were playing the Hollywood Bowl [in 1982]. When that happened, that was suddenly a huge realization: oh, they ARE really famous! Goddamn!
TK: Tom Petty was in the audience [at the Hollywood Bowl]. Just, wow. That was the thing: who's going to say they like them now, and who's gonna say they've liked them all along? It was a star-studded audience, a beautiful summer night. I went backstage, and there were all these people, and a lot of them were famous. I thought, y'know, I'm just going to say hey to Belinda some other time, because there was that sort of meet-and-greet thing the label always wants the band to do, and it was unlike anything I'd ever seen.
AB: I personally was really happy for them! I felt like they were reaching a bigger audience. I did feel like [Beauty and the Beat] didn't have the same punk elements it had at the beginning. It was much slicker and much more pop, but I like pop! For me, it wasn't a problem. In the punk community, people felt like they were getting away from their roots — which is okay. There was both a negative and a positive response. I think for an artist, people have to do what is best for them, and you can't always make everybody happy. You have to do what's right for you as an artist.
TK: By the time the Go-Go's opened for the Police, I was floored. I had never been so far away from them in an audience. To go see them at a stadium, in front of 50,000 people, and see them hold their own, it just brought tears to my eyes. For people who had watched them, especially for me — I've known Belinda since we were 13! — just, wow. When Beauty and the Beat came out, and they had a music video on MTV, my mom called me up and said, "Belinda's a Go-Go girl!" I thought that was the funniest thing. My mother never made remarks about bands, or MTV, but I guess someone from the country club said, "Oh my God! We know that girl!" Every moment was larger than the next.
RECONSIDERING A POP-PUNK LEGACY
The Go-Go's recorded two more albums — 1982's Vacation and 1984's Talk Show -- before Wiedlin left the band in 1984. They officially disbanded in 1985, but the strength of their bond was undeniable: They resolved legal and creative differences over the years, and released three compilations, including 1994's Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's, a collection of live cuts, rehearsal recordings and B-sides, as well as their fourth studio album, 2001's God Bless the Go-Go's. They contributed a new song for Ellwood's film, "Club Zero," a full-circle pop-punk anthem. With its jangly guitars, pummeling beat and signature harmonies, "Club Zero" throws to their past while honoring their present.
KV: I think "pop-punk" kind of describes our strengths: It's not like it's virtuoso musicianship; it's really about the songcraft and the strengths of each person. It's really the sum of its parts.
JD: Unless you felt sour grapes, unless you were being belligerent and hardcore — and I don't mean just the genre — about what is and isn't punk, you celebrated the fact that the Go-Go's kicked down the door and made it to number one. Without all of the work of the bands on SST [Records] and the Go-Go's and all these other bands, indie rock with the Pixies and people like that, none of that would've happened. All of the work that we did affected Nirvana and Pearl Jam because there was a network, whereas in 1978, there was no network... New wave, punk rock, it was pretty blurry, but at the time, we were drawing a harder line than we should have.
JW: We were five really strong, kind of bull-headed women, together, and I think the energy we created — it was so pro-women and so powerful. At the time, we discounted it, and it was important. We changed things for hundreds of thousands of girls. When I think about that, that's probably what I'm most proud of: we changed possibilities for girls.
RG: For the first time, there were five females that played their own instruments, wrote their own songs, had control of their own identity, were managed by a female manager, and were able to achieve monumental success by being themselves. From a gender standpoint, it's amazing, and it leads to a change... I think their contribution [to popular music] was they showed that it's possible. Take Us Seriously. That's basically it.
MC: When people come to me and say "Well you [worked with] the Bangles and the Go-Go's, so what's the difference?" I say, why don't you ask me what's the difference between the Police and General Public? They're all guys. Why is it the girls are always lumped together? I think the Go-Go's were one of the groups to sort of crack that. Girls became much more accepted across the board. That's what their importance was. Having a No. 1 record on the album chart also changed a lot of the record labels' attitudes too, so they would be more open in their signing policies.
KV: What I was surprised to see was how well [we] fit on the radio and still to this day. Sometimes I hear a record, anything from Prince to Tears For Fears or any number of bands from the '80s and they still have these production techniques that sound very '80s. The Go-Go's don't.
RG: We're living in a world where people who may not be great musicians, but develop a massive following, are able to get hundreds of millions of streams on things. We're living in an era where good is acceptable. The Go-Go's had to be great in order to make it. They couldn't merely be good. That's why we can talk about them 40 years later — because they were great.
JW: The best songwriters of the 20th century have both cited the Go-Go's as being an influence — and they're not female. That would be Kurt Cobain and Billie Joe Armstrong. I don't think as a writer I could ever get a bigger compliment than those two, unless David Bowie had said it of course, but c'mon. [Laughs.]
AB: I do feel like they carried [punk] forward, and really polished it up. They have punk elements, but they also transcend that and appeal to a bigger audience. You wouldn't be able to create a Broadway musical [2018's Head Over Heels] out of it if they didn't have all the ingredients already there.
KV: The thing that gives me the most meaningful satisfaction is hearing countless times, over many, many decades, that a life was affected by us. It could be anywhere from someone saying that they were having a hard time, were being bullied in school, and our music made things better. I had a guy walk up to me in a cafe in New York just last summer and say, "I was in the middle of the country, and hearing the Go-Go's made me realize I wanted to live in New York and have a life in the arts, I credit you with that." I don't know what is about music, but sometimes it can just nudge us, or open things up.
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