NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.
Hello! And welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, the show that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.
My name is Claude Call, and I’m socially distant. But that’s my usual schtick, so it’s no wonder I have a solo podcast.
Remember to check out the website, How Good It Is Dot Com, and the Twitter, and the Instagram, and of course the Facebook page, which can be found over at Facebook dot com, slash, (ow) How Good It Is Pod.
Here’s some trivia for ye today: most everybody knows that model Pattie Boyd was the inspiration for a bunch of popular songs—and if you don’t, you’ll learn about it in a future show—but among her siblings, Pattie has a sister named Jenny. And Jenny, as it turns out, also inspired a hit song which went to Number Five in the UK and to Number 26 in the United States. What song did Jenny Boyd inspire?
I’ll have that answer to that question near the end of the show.
So I was originally going to talk exclusively about the Go-Go’s first big hit, “Our Lips Are Sealed,” but I kept finding myself coming back around to their sort-of-second hit, “We Got The Beat,” so I said, Why not talk about both of them? Because that’s how much I like you guys. Bonus material everywhere.
So let’s first turn the clock back to 1978, because while most people think of the Go-Go’s as an 80s girl group, the band really got their start during that year, in Los Angeles. And at that time they had a slightly different lineup, and a very different sound.
The first lineup of the Go-Go’s was Belinda Carlisle on vocals, Jane Weidlin playing guitar, Margot Olaverria on bass and Elissa Bello playing the drums. And they were a pretty solid staple of the LA Punk music scene. Later in 1978, Charlotte Caffey joined the group, adding another guitar and keyboards, and by the following summer Gina Shock had replaced Elissa Bello on the drums.
In 1979 this lineup put together a five-song demo record, and they followed it up with a tour supporting the band Madness, which was also still up-and-coming. It was because of this tour that they spent a lot of time touring both England and the US, but the fan base really managed to grow in the UK when “We Got the Beat” became a hit over there. Because here’s the thing: a five-track album doesn’t fly in the US, but in England you can call it an EP and let it go. And so, this demo version of “We Got the Beat” started gaining sales over there, and eventually made it back to this side of the Atlantic as an import single.
[WE GOT THE BEAT DEMO]
It doesn’t have that drumming intro, and the guitar is a little more subdued. Plus, you don’t have Belinda Carlisle doing that dopey chant during the bridge. But for my money, it’s the superior version. Now, once again, maybe that’s because this was my entry to the Go-Go’s and I heard this one first but I think I like that slightly punky edge they still had at that point.
But I’ll give you this: that drumming intro makes it pretty instantly recognizable, and the addition of the piano is a subtle underline to the guitar. Charlotte Caffey wrote the song, thinking that it would be a kind of echo to Smokey Robinson’s “Going to a Go Go”. She was drawing on the old Motown beats and thought it would be amusing to work out “Going to a Go Go” as a cover song, especially since it was a song that mentioned the name of the band. So while she listened to Smokey’s song repeatedly, the song that she ultimately wrote doesn’t really sound a lot like it. But it pretty much became the band’s signature tune.
OK, I’m going to turn away from “We Got the Beat” for now, but I’ll come back to it soon.
Now, at the end of 1980 Margot Olaverria, the bass player, fell ill with Hepatitis. The rest of the band was starting to break away from Olaverria anyway because she didn’t like the direction that they were taking, so they used the illness as a reason to replace her with Kathy Valentine. Valentine wasn’t really a bass player, but then again most of the band weren’t especially experienced musicians either when they started out.
Early in 1981 they signed with IRS Records and recorded their first album for that label, Beauty and the Beat. They recorded a bunch of songs, including a re-do of “We Got The Beat,” probably to make it a little more poppy, and probably so they wouldn’t have to pay Olaverria for her work on the demo-slash-import version.
Now, around 1980, guitarist Jane Weidlin was dating British musician Terry Hall, who at the time was the lead singer of The Specials, and later on he sang with Fun Boy Three. As Wiedlin explained in an interview with Songfacts dot com, the Go-Go’s were playing at the Whisky on the Sunset Strip, and The Specials were in town from England. They liked the Go-Go’s enough that they were asked to be the opening act for The Specials’ upcoming tour. During the tour, a little romance sprung up, and that’s when things got complicated. You see, Hall was already in a relationship with someone back in England, and apparently there was talk about them getting married and such. In retrospect, of course, she sees the callow 20 year old she was, and how it turned into a lot of drama with the sad correspondence and such.
[OUR LIPS ARE SEALED]
At any rate, at some point Hall sent Wiedlin the lyrics to “Our Lips Are Sealed,” and it was pretty clear to her that what he’d written was about their relationship. She finished the lyrics and wrote the music to it and, as she says, the rest is history. Now: the bridge for “Our Lips Are Sealed” was sung by Jane Wiedlin, and I’m sure you’d agree it’s a really sweet sound. Wiedlin campaigned to sing lead for the band more often, but she was frequently rebuffed by other band members, and ultimately it’s what led her to leave the group in 1985 to strike out on her own as a solo artist.
The video for the song was financed by leftover money from the budget for videos by The Police, and coincidentally it was directed by Derek Burbidge, who directed The Police’s videos around then as well. There’s no real story attached to the video, partially because the budget was so low: it alternates between the band playing the song in what appears to be a small club, interspersed with shots of them cruising around Los Angeles in a Buick convertible. At one point Belinda Carlisle, who’s driving, parks the car in front of a lingerie store, and the girls pile out, leaving Jane Wiedlin alone in the car to sing her part. After that bridge, we see the band cavorting in a public fountain instead of driving around, and we still see shots of them playing in the club.
“Our Lips Are Sealed” was selected as both the opening track to Beauty and the Beat, and the first single from that album. And a successful single it was, making it to Number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, Number 10 on the US Dance charts and a Top Five single in Canada and Australia. It didn’t fare as well in the UK, peaking at Number 47, but from a charting standpoint that was better than the original “We Got The Beat” release. “Our Lips Are Sealed” also had a long life on the Billboard chart, spending a total of 30 weeks on the Hot 100. That sounds unusual nowadays, and nowadays it IS unusual, but the early 80s had a bunch of songs that managed to linger on the charts for inordinate amounts of time. For example, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” hung around for 43 weeks that same year. These numbers have been surpassed by other artists, but I’m pretty sure that longevity on the charts isn’t as common as it used to be.
OK, let me come back to “We Got The Beat.” As I just mentioned, “Our Lips Are Sealed” spent a long time on the chart, long enough that it was still charting when the re-recorded “We Got The Beat” was released as a single in January 1982. “We Got The Beat” ultimately spent three weeks at Number Two, held out of the top spot by Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”. Oddly, the official video for the song is a live performance that the Go-Go’s did at Palos Verdes High School in California. At any rate, “We Got the Beat” was ultimately the band’s biggest hit.
And one final note about both of these songs. On November 14, 1981 the Go-Go’s were one of two musical guests on Saturday Night Live, and during that show they played both “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got The Beat”. Now, the Go-Go’s were known to imbibe a few, ah, adult beverages before most of their performances, but if you can find the video online—it’s a little bit tough but it can be done—you’ll see that there’s clearly something off about their performance. To me they seem a little off-speed. But whatever it is, there isn’t much doubt that the earlier drinking kind of caught up with them.
[HILARY & HAYLIE]
In 2004, sisters Hilary and Haylie Duff recorded a cover for the soundtrack to the film A Cinderella Story, in which Hilary starred. I don’t know that they’re bringing a lot to the table here, but I do like the guitar work. And the video is clearly homage to the Go-Go’s in that the Duff sisters are again seen tooling around in a convertible, which is interspersed with closeups of them singing and a few shots from the movie. AND it ends with them cavorting in a fountain, although in this case soap bubbles have been added to the water.
And finally, let me leave you with this cover version…
[FUN BOY THREE}
…this is from 1982, and it’s the Fun Boy Three recording, with the song’s other writer Terry Hall singing lead and June Miles-Kingston providing drums and backup vocals. This version did better in the UK, making it to Number Seven. So far as I know it didn’t chart in the US.
And now, it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked about the song that was inspired by Pattie Boyd’s sister Jenny.
I kind of feel as though this one was maybe a little obvious? But maybe not. The song was this one…
“Jennifer Juniper” was written by Donovan about Jenny Boyd while she was in the middle of a recovering from a heroin overdose. He wrote it just before they departed along with The Beatles to Rishikesh. Donovan and Jenny never had a romantic relationship, probably because of her on-again, off-again relationship with Mick Fleetwood, though Donovan later admitted that he did have a little crush on her. The last verse of the song is sung in French, but it’s pretty clear that Donovan wasn’t a French speaker, so that was a little experiment he didn’t try again. And finally: why “Jennifer Juniper”? Well, Juniper was the name of a boutique she ran. Simple as that.
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Next time around, we’re going to find out How Good It Is when you feel like I do.
Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you next time.