By Matt Worley with Jon Worley
We didn't listen to music on the radio when Beauty and the Beat came out. It was just a year or so too early for us. I have no visuals associated with any song on the album, because we didn't have MTV either (and who did in 1981?). But I remember seeing the video for the follow-up, "Vacation," way too many times (and the whole water skiing thing, which was achieved by clunkily adding the Go-Go's faces to actual water skiers). I'm sure we got Beauty and the Beat from the Columbia House record club at about the same time we got the album Vacation. There might have been a sale.
Most debut albums are stocked full of songs the band has been playing for the last few years while they're trying to get a record deal. They've gigged tons of times playing these songs. They've got 'em down. And it probably didn't take too long to record this sucker.
It's a glossed up punk album, and you can hear that propulsion in most of the songs. Keyboards are added (but not as heavily as they would on subsequent albums), slippery guitar licks sound more New Wave than punk, but the punk is still there. Even with all of the multi-tracked vocals.
On October 26, 2012, my band played the annual Night of the Living Cover bands at Low Spirits. We were the Go-Go's. All of the songs were from this debut album, and our costumes aped the spa towels and face mask cover.
It's really hard to play in towels. I think it's actually pretty hard to do anything in just towels, especially when you have to move around a lot. You know when the girl has a towel on in movies and it just falls off. That's not a special effect--it happens without much provocation!
We didn't worry about this much before the show (although it was my first thought because I'm a drummer, but then again, any costume is tough when you're drumming). We didn't rehearse with the towels, we just tried to figure out how to keep them on. Safety pins (so punk) were our solution.
In the men's bathroom at Low Spirits we were trying to get into our costumes for the first time (and no, we weren't going commando, we had colored bikini skivvies on). It was evident that, safety pins or not, keeping the towels around our chests was going to be tough. A few guys walked into the bathroom while were were making ourselves up, and were shocked (thinking they'd gone into the wrong bathroom) before realizing what was going on. I'm kind of glad we did this at Low Spirits instead of the Launchpad, because Low Spirits has much cleaner bathrooms.
In August, we were talking about what band we wanted to cover for the Halloween show. After going through the usual suspects (Elvis Costello, Liz Phair, Joy Division), we started playing "We Got The Beat." Sort of. One of those attempts from memory, mostly wrong, definitely out of key sketch of a cover. We didn't play the whole song, but it seemed right. So I sent a message to one of the many bookers at the Launchpad about doing the Go-Go's for Halloween.
Very quickly I got the "both shows are full" message back.
We'd asked a couple of months before the show. And these line-ups are pretty fluid going up to the show. Lots of bands say they'll do something (and you have to realize most bands don't get paid for these special many-band shows), then realize they'll actually have to rehearse and learn songs. So we put the Go-Go's out of our mind and started working on new songs of our own.
Then, in late-September, we found out we were next to last on the Low Spirits show as the Go-Go's. We had about four weeks to learn four songs.
After considering "Vacation" and "Head Over Heels" (off of Talk Show), we ended up choosing all four songs off of Beauty and the Beat. There were at least six songs that seemed possible from this album, and they weren't keyboard driven (more like keyboard enhanced).
But, holy shit, those girls could play. The drummer, Gina Schock, is relentless. I had to simplify the parts because there ain't a drum fill Gina don't like. The guitar lines are crisp and clean, and Malcolm had to "get better" at playing guitar to pull them off. Nathan knew the songs pretty well, but then went back and forth about changing keys to be able to sing them easier.
All of us had to figure out how to sing these things. That's the thing about our band, no one gets a free ride when it comes to singing. Everyone takes a turn for these special shows (and in our own songs as well).
The vocals have multiple layers and backgrounds. You can harmonize with the lead, thinking you're singing the lead. And Belinda Carlisle hits some high notes, but, as we studied, also let the harmonies do a lot of the high singing work.
Once we had our first three hour slog of a Go-Go's practice, we went from lamenting our rash decision of band (it sounded like a good idea at the time), to thinking we could pull it off. Providing we improved exponentially with each practice.
"Our Lips Are Sealed", "Lust To Love", "How Much More" and "We Got The Beat" (which was my lead vocal) became our set. "This Town" was a close fifth, but we never really worked on it.
Five great songs from one album. That's pretty good. You see a lot of albums (including the other two Go-Go's albums) with a lead single and nothing else. Or maybe a secondary hit, but definitely nothing memorable, just a kind of a coattail hit. Five out of eleven (and I could, after listening to Beauty and the Beat for a month and a half, go with four of the other six) are pretty stellar. Not album of the year or decade, but pretty good.
The Go-Go's flamed out pretty fast, but they weren't a one hit wonder. Three albums in five years and done. Belinda Carlisle went solo in the late 80s, and that was that. Jane Wiedlin, the pixie cute guitarist, had a bit of a movie career (most notably as Joan of Arc in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure). But Beauty and the Beat showcases a tight band at the height of their powers.
Fast Times at Ridgmont High, the seminal high school movie from 1982, begins with "We Got The Beat". It propels the opening montage that sets up every character in the film. We didn't see this when it came out, but on cable a few years later (it used to take a while to get to video and cable). And Jennifer Jason Leigh was the first peek of full frontal female nudity I remember. Sure, Phoebe Cates had the iconic front opening red bikini scene (and wouldn't that solve a lot of groping around the back to the get the bra off comedy routines), but JJL was my favorite (she was the nice girl who seemed to get into the most problems...Cates' character was kind of a bitch).
Before Full Speed Veronica went onstage, we stood in the crowd, holding our towels to our chests. Trying to keep the wrapped towels on our heads. Smiling through white face and red lipstick.
The band before us played early Tina (and Ike) Turner hits, the singer in drag and loving it (he couldn't stop grabbing his fake breasts and shaking his ass for the crowd). The rest of the band was professional. They effortlessly tore through "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" and "Proud Mary" like they'd played them a thousand times. And maybe they have.
Full Speed Veronica ripped through our four Go-Go's songs (with one original in the middle) in less than 20 minutes. Our towels dropped almost immediately, but were somewhat held up by the guitars and the fact that I was sitting down. My head wrap fell off in the second song. Then again just as I was ripping into "We Got The Beat" (our closer).
The crowd was enthusiastic, and we did the best we could.
It's been a couple of days, but the Go-Go's are still in my head. It'll probably take a few days to get these songs obliterated by something else. And then I'll take a break from the girls for a while.
But I'll always come back to Beauty and the Beat. It's a quick, catchy blast. And, even though it's slightly out of time for me (I got into it a few years after it was hot), it's still 80s--so 80s--but also an example of a punk band that learned to play, learned to write songs (while they had some writing help on Beauty and the Beat, it's mostly them) and then dressed up in day-glo to do the pony.