35 Years Ago: The Go-Go’s Make History With Their Debut, ‘Beauty and the Beat’
The Go-Go’s hit the top of the charts with their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, which was released on July 8, 1981. The LP spent six weeks at No. 1, the first time an all-female group that wrote and performed their own music had topped the charts.
The quintet grew out of the late-’70s L.A. punk scene, and later added elements of New Wave and surf-rock to its sound. Yet the Go-Go’s had a hard time landing a record deal: As keyboardist Charlotte Caffey recalled to Billboard, “People at the record labels were like, ‘We don’t want to sign you, you’re girls’ — sexist, ridiculous nonsense.”
The band finally landed on I.R.S., the label co-founded by Miles Copeland, brother of Police drummer Stewart Copeland, signing their deal on April Fool’s Day, 1981, with Beauty and the Beat recorded and out in the world three months later.
At first the band wasn’t happy with Beauty and the Beat, which was produced by Richard Gottehrer (Blondie) and Rob Freeman (the Ramones). The band, as well as Copeland, initially wanted a rougher sound, but the critical and commercial acclaim that the poppy sound caused them to change their minds.
“A couple of us were concerned about how our peers in L.A. perceived us,” Carlisle told Billboard. “With the small amount of success we’d had, people said we sold out, we weren’t punk after all, blah, blah, blah. Hearing the album made us feel like they were right — we sounded like we sold out. Also, my voice on the album is sped up, so it’s hard for me to listen to. I sound like the Chipmunks.”
The Go-Go’s landed an opening slot for the Police thanks to the Copeland connection, and “Our Lips Are Sealed” made it into the Top 20. But the obvious hit was “We Got the Beat,” a song Caffey recounted to Billboard she had written in “two minutes” on New Year’s Day 1980. After being released as a single, it peaked at No. 2 in early 1982. (The band was kept out of the top spot by Joan Jett‘s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”)
Nevertheless, the success of “We Got the Beat” is what finally put Beauty and the Beat on top of the album charts, and it ended up selling over two million copies. As X‘s Exene Cervenka told Billboard, “The Go-Go’s’ success was a big deal for women, I thought. The thing that upset people was when they were on the cover of Rolling Stone in their underwear. These days, they’d be named and Photoshopped, but back then, people were held to a different standard, especially women, because we were fighting for credibility.”
Added Carlisle: “Looking back, I believe that energetically, you can achieve anything you want to achieve. That’s what we did, against all odds. It was a total energetic thing. I know it sounds airy-fairy, but to me, no other explanation makes sense.”
Go-Go’s Albums Ranked in Order of Awesomeness