'The Go-Go's' Preview: How one girl group revolutionized the music industry with their talent, grit and charm
Emerging out of the punk movement in LA during the 1980s, the all-female new wave ensemble wrote and played their own anthems, and became a multi-platinum success story
'The Go-Go's', a new music documentary about the legendary girl group from the 1980s, the Go-Go's, will be airing on the Showtime network this Friday, July 31, with a repeat telecast on August 1. Here's everything you need to know about the feature, which was directed by Alison Ellwood, of 'History of The Eagles' and 'Laurel Canyon' fame.
Speaking about her lovingly crafted story, which earned rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, Ellwood explained, "I’ve always been a huge Go-Go’s fan. When the band asked me to direct this film, I was thrilled. Like a lot of people, I thought of them as this wonderful, bubbly, all-girl pop band from LA. What I’ve discovered is a much more complex and deeper truth.” Elaborating further, she noted, “While their musical hooks are perfect for a summer release, if you listen to their lyrics, you discover a grittiness and sophistication that serves as subterfuge beneath a seemingly effervescent surface."
Like Elwood, most listeners and members of the MTV generation remember the Go-Go's for their bubbly charm and undisputable songwriting chops. As the band themselves proudly declared at the start of the documentary, "We are the first all-girl band, that wrote their own material and played their own instruments, to be really successful." Their multi-platinum-selling albums and numerous Billboard hits speak for themselves, as the band rode an unprecedented wave of girl power and punk-pixie attitude into an era of mega-stardom. But this documentary also chronicles the painful vices and in-fighting that plagued the band, even while they were still coming to terms with their burgeoning success in the early '80s. As the press release for the documentary stated, “This candid archive-rich biography assesses the group’s place in pop history and examines the personalities and dynamics behind their rise, fall, and numerous reincarnations. Until this film, there has never been a serious appraisal of the Go-Go’s talents or achievements –as musicians, groundbreakers, but even more so, as survivors.”
And that's really what this documentary is about, with survival being the crowning glory of this group's myriad achievements. Ellwood shows us the origin story of The Go-Go's during the height of the LA punk scene in the late '70s, giving screen time to each band member as they piece together the multi-hued narrative of this explosive and talented girl group. We're treated to archival footage of past performances, as well as present-day interviews with lead singer Belinda Carlisle, lead guitarist/keyboardist Charlotte Caffey, rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin, bassist Kathy Valentine and drummer Gina Schock. We also get to hear from former band members like bassist Margot Olavarria and drummer Elissa Bello and the replacement bassist Paula Jean Brown. Also making appearances are former manager Ginger Canzoneri, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, Lee Thompson of Madness, Lynval Golding of The Specials, the punk poet Pleasant Gehman, Stewart Copeland aka the drummer of The Police and Miles Copeland of IRS Records, among others.
We're even treated to some tasty bits of trivia and anecdotes, like how a disappointing Sex Pistols show fuelled the girls' need to start a band, how a 'Twilight Zone' episode inspired their first hit, how they got extremely drunk before an SNL appearance. We're also astonished to learn that a generous Sting had once surprised them with champagne in their dressing room to toast his touring partners on their new number one album, beating his own band, The Police, in the process. There are even some hilarious gems about how bawdy the spirited quintet could get, declaring, "Let’s go get some booty tonight” after a recording session and even a startling revelation that they wanted to get arrested while filming the music video for 'Our Lips Are Sealed' on a tight budget. Speaking of tight budgets, the towels that they used for the 'Beauty and the Beat' album cover actually had to be returned after the photoshoot because they couldn't afford to keep them. The 98-minute documentary is littered with interesting tidbits like this and keeps you engaged throughout.
There's both glory and drama captured here; The Go-Go's had one of the highest-selling debut albums of all time in 'Beauty and the Beat' (1981), which contained catchy gems like ‘We Got The Beat’, ‘This Town’ and ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’. Their second album, 'Vacation', which was also a success, became a Billboard Top 10 hit as well. But tensions, drug addictions and fights about the band members' roles and earning potential had started to form cracks in the strong foundation of the Go-Go's. After their third album, 'Talk Show' released in 1984, the group had reached a breaking point, despite having two more Top 40 hits and disbanded in 1985. The individual band members pursued their solo careers, but the band of sisters couldn't let go of their treasured bond, reuniting numerous times during the '90s. There were plenty of lawsuits and controversies as well, but the band stuck through the muck and grime to resolve their personal differences. They eventually released another album, 'God Bless the Go-Gos' in 2001, which peaked at No. 57 in the Billboard 200 chart. And on the day the documentary drops on Showtime, July 31, the band will be releasing their first song in nearly 20 years, 'Club Zero'. A live version of the song can also be seen in the documentary, as the band prepares for a reunion show, so there's a nice mix of past and present in this well-presented feature.
As director Ellwood revealed, “The summer of 2020 will certainly be different for most of us. It’s fantastic that the Showtime audience will get a chance to see our film and experience the Go-Go’s in a new and meaningful way.” The band also concurred, saying: "We lived it and we survived it. Now, looking back on our history through this film, we can appreciate our journey, laughter, triumphs, and struggles as a band. We hope this documentary will show the world what pioneers we were, and how our experience paved the way for other musicians."