Anyone who knows The Go-Go's knows they got the beat. But in the new Showtime documentary The Go-Go's, fans learn the true story of how they got it, lost it, and found it again. The film, directed by Alison Ellwood, ends by showing where The Go-Go's are now: making new music together for the first time in 19 years.
The journey back to the studio wasn't an easy one, as this documentary, which offers a candid look at the band that was born from the L.A. punk scene only to grow up and make pop music history, shows. In less than a year, the band that modeled themselves as a punk rock version of the '60s girl group The Shangri-Las went from playing dive bars in Los Angeles to opening for The Police at arenas like Madison Square Garden. Not too bad for "a bunch of scruffy girls" who didn't know how to play their instruments when they first got together.
In 1982, The Go-Go's — Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock, and Kathy Valentine — became the first all-female band who played their own instruments and wrote their own songs to earn a No. 1 record on the Billboard album chart. "No other band has reached that achievement," the documentary informs viewers.
However, the rapid success took its toll on the young band who struggled with drug addiction, money disputes, and communication problems in their all too short heyday. They disbanded in 1985, four years after they released their debut, Beauty and the Beat, and less than a year after guitarist and songwriter Wiedlin quit the band over publishing concerns. They didn't talk for another five years.
Despite each member trying their hand at a solo career, only Carlisle went on to have mainstream success, thanks to songs like "Heaven Is A Place On Earth." By 1990, the women realized they were better together. "You get older and you get wiser and you drop a lot of the bullshit," Schock, who sued Caffey in 1997 over royalties, says in the film. "We are a family that's just what it is."
Over the years, The Go-Go's have continued to tour together as a five-piece. (Schock and Valentine have both left the band for stretches of time.) They also embarked on farewell tours in 2010 and 2016, which never seemed to stick. "Nobody really knows what that felt like to be in The Go-Go's," Valentine, who sued the band over lost revenue in 2013, says in the film. "Only four other people know what that feels like and that's the bond. Nothing has happened so bad that it overshadows that."
In 2018, all five of The Go-Go's reunited to play for the first time in six years, celebrating the premiere of the Broadway musical Head Over Heels, which uses The Go-Go's music to tell the story of the 16th century romance The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia. Before the coronavirus pandemic, they had planned to tour behind the documentary. (They have since rescheduled dates for next summer.) It was their longest string of shows in four years.
It's possible by the time The Go-Go's hit the road again, they will have new music to play. In the final moments of the film, The Go-Go's debut "Club Zero," a sneering pop song that has the women singing about a utopia where they can be themselves with "zero fucks given." It feels like a step forward seeing all five women sitting together writing a song — something they never did in their early days.
While they were inspired by the punk ethos of non-conformity, in the early years, they had a rather rigid idea of their roles in the band. During the recording of their third album, 1984's Talk Show, Wiedlin was told she couldn't sing on the record because she wasn't the singer. "One of them said, 'What makes you think you're good enough to sing this song?'" she remembers in the film. "Which is something I'll never forget hearing."
Wiedlin might never forget, but the band's members have learned to forgive. They've realize there is still more for them to achieve together including being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
It's rather infuriating that the most successful all-female rock band in music history hasn't been inducted yet. However, it's not all that surprising knowing the historic lack of female representation in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Carlisle has her own suspicions as to why The Go-Go's haven't been inducted yet and it all stems from the band's first Rolling Stone cover.
On it, the girls posed in tighty-whities as a way of commenting on sexism in the music industry. Unfortunately, the cover's headline,"The Go-Go's Put Out," did the opposite. The band asked their then-manager Ginger Canzoneri to call Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner to complain about the image. "You girls need to grow up," Wenner allegedly said before hanging up, according to Canzoneri's retelling in the film.
"Maybe that's why we're not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame," Carlisle jokes in the doc, before imagining Wenner, the former chairman and co-founder of the Rock Hall, calling them, "Those ungrateful wenches" for not being more appreciative for the opportunity to grace the magazine's cover.
Ungrateful? Not in the slightest. After all they've been through, The Go-Go's reuniting feels like a victory lap for a band whose music still brings people together. Most notably, the five women who made it.