Graded on a Curve:
Go-Go’s,
Greatest

Rising from the same sleazy L.A. punk scene that spawned the shock antics of the Germs and Black Randy and the Metrosquad, the Go-Go’s did the most shocking thing imaginable–they waved farewell to the infamous Plunger Pit and set out to become pop stars.

The Go-Go’s began life as a traditional punk band. Scene maker Elissa Bello’s take on vocalist Belinda Carlisle was “she couldn’t sing,” while fellow scenester Pleasant Gehman declared, “Charlotte [Caffey, the band’s lead guitarist] was the only one who really knew how to play.” But despite such limitations, by 1981 the Go-Go’s were looking at a chart-topping success with their chipper and polished to a sheen debut LP, Beauty and the Beat. One can only wonder what Darby Crash would have made of the unfailingly chipper quintet, but the New Wave kids thought they were just swell.

“We Got the Beat” is, of course, the song the Go-Go’s will best be remembered for; it’s happy-go-lucky pop froth in the great tradition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” The Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” and Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine.” The band’s other timeless tune is the perky who-cares-what-they think “Our Lips Are Sealed,” which evokes early Madonna and is every bit as dance party friendly.

And the great tunes kept coming. The appropriately titled “Get Up and Go” brings Bow Wow Wow to mind, while “Head Over Heels” is tuff girl ear candy. On the jaded “This Town” the Go-Go’s strike a rare dark note–the City of Angels may be the destination of the fame hungry, but the song strikes a cautionary note–”We’re all dreamers, we’re all whores/Discarded stars/Like worn out cars.” The Go-Go’s may—as they boast in the song—own L.A., but you have to wonder if they want to.

“Cool Jerk” is every bit as herky-jerky as the Capitols’ original, even if it lacks Cap’s front man Samuel George’s funky asides. And if it has the feel of a novelty number, so does “Beatnik Beach,” which has riding the waves surf music written all over it. As for “Get Up and Go,” its big tribal beat and classic New Wave guitar riff are a template for the early 1980s. And how could I forget “Vacation,”which is a sun and fun getaway in and of itself, and makes 1990’s Greatest a better buy than Beauty and the Beat all by its lonesome.

The five remaining songs don’t exactly make me want to get up and go go, but there isn’t a bummer in the bunch; like their Southern California antecedents the Beach Boys, the Go-Go’s peddled in good vibrations and the sunny promise of an endless summer. There are those inclined to write off the Go-Go’s as lightweights, but exuberance weighs a ton.

How odd is it that the cheerful Go-Go’s came out of the sordid and nihilistic scene that brought us the Germs? Not very. As Los Angeles’ punk scene splintered into a slew of sub-genres–think Stray Cats rockabilly and the gothpunk of the Gun Club–it was inevitable that someone would choose the road to feel-good pop success. The likes of X may had the corner on Los Angeles’ seamy underbelly, but the Go-Go’s had the beat.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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