One of the most popular all-female rock bands to explode out of the 70s/80s punk and New Wave scene, the Go-Go’s enjoyed a lengthy and commercially successful career. Despite their ascent in the pop world, the quintet were still the quintessential rock stars, trashing hotel rooms, and shattering preconceived notions of what it looked like to be women in rock and roll. Even long after their initial breakup in 1985, the Go-Go’s continue to be a source of inspiration for underground and independent-minded artists who want to graduate into commercial spaces on their own terms.
Formed in Los Angeles in 1978, the Go-Go’s began as a local punk act, with the original lineup consisting of vocalist Belinda Carlisle, guitarist Jane Wiedlin, bassist Margot Olavarria, and Elissa Bello on drums. At first, they gigged around LA, playing the Masque and the Whisky a Go Go. In 1978, Charlotte Caffey was added to the lineup on keys and lead guitar, and in 1979, Gina Schock replaced Bello on drums.
The Go-Go’s were already well-known in California, but they expanded their audience during a major tour opening for British ska revival groups Madness and The Specials in the UK. The success of that tour in 1979 led the band to release a demo version of “We Got The Beat,” which became a minor hit in the UK. The following year, original bassist Olavarria was replaced with Kathy Valentine, who was a guitarist and taught herself how to play bass specifically to join the Go-Go’s.
In April 1981, the Go-Go’s signed with I.R.S. Records and toured with The Police on the Ghost in the Machine Tour; that same year, they released their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, which featured singles “We Got The Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed.” It also topped the US charts for six weeks and went double platinum. In 1982, the band was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy but ultimately lost to Men At Work.
In 1982, the Go-Go’s quickly followed up their debut with their sophomore release Vacation, which featured the smash-hit title track, plus singles “Get Up and Go” and “This Old Feeling,” and was certified Gold. In 1983, Vacation was nominated for a Grammy for Best Packaging. However, mid-promotional cycle, the Go-Go’s were forced on hiatus as Gina Schock underwent surgery for a congenital heart defect.
Though internal issues were mounting, the Go-Go’s followed Vacation up with the 1984 album Talk Show, which featured singles “Head Over Heels” and “Turn To You,” both of which were Top 40 hits. Despite the success of both songs, guitarist Jane Wiedlin decided to leave the band, and Paula Jean Brown was brought on to replace her. The new lineup didn’t last very long, and Belinda Carlisle and Charlotte Caffey made the difficult decision to disband in 1985.
Since the mid-80s, the Go-Go’s classic lineup has reunited, first in 1990 when Caffey, Carlisle, Schock, Valentine, and Wiedlin were invited to play a benefit concert for the California Environmental Protection Act. Four years later, the original lineup got back together to record a retrospective album Return to the Valley of The Go-Go’s, which featured three new singles, including the chart-topping “The Whole World Lost Its Head.” In 2001, the Go-Go’s released God Bless the Go-Go’s, their first whole album of new material since disbanding. It featured one single, co-written by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, “Unforgiven,” which peaked at No. 22 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 chart. The band also released a DVD of their reunion concert in Central Park in 2001. That same year, the Go-Go’s teamed up with Elton John, Billy Joel, David Crosby, and Paul Simon to perform at “An All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson” at Radio City Music Hall.
The Go-Go’s toured to support the 30th anniversary of Beauty and the Beat, and in 2013 and 2014, the band played a number of tour dates, including several double bills with the B-52’s. Also in 2014, the band was inducted in the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. Valentine did not perform with the band during these years, but the bassist did return to the fold in 2018, when the Go-Go’s performed a show in New York City to celebrate their new Broadway musical, Head Over Heels.
2020 saw the release of a documentary film about the band, which premiered at Sundance and earned rave reviews from critics. That same year, the Go-Go’s released their first new song in nearly two decades, “Club Zero,” which was featured in the documentary. The next year, the Go-Go’s were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame by Drew Barrymore. The band also announced a 2022 UK tour with Billy Idol in the opening slot.
Though their initial run was brief, the Go-Go’s have inspired decades of artists who cite them as a major inspiration. The group has also experienced multiple career resurgences, with their 2020 documentary, in particular, sparking an overall critical reevaluation of the Go-Go’s as genre innovators and feminist symbols.