I want to begin this post by welcoming my friend Matt to the fold, since he’s started posting his top 100 favorite songs every day, along with these write-ups. He’ll learn that 90% of people just skim it, but that’s ok, these brain- and heart-dumps are mostly for me. Now our team is strong with myself, Matt, and Kelly, who is just a couple of weeks behind me.
I wanted to bring this up because this song naturally prompts a compare-and-contrast with Kelly’s list and mine. It’s an interesting comparison because before we launched this endeavor, I think we both thought that our tastes in music were pretty similar. I think she’s realizing that her taste in music is even quirkier* than she thought as her choices are often deep cuts on albums. That wasn’t really true with her Go-Go’s pick, “This Town,” which wasn’t a single, but definitely an album standout on their first and most successful record, Beauty and the Beat. She said in her write-up that she could have gone with an “Our Lips Are Sealed”-type pick. I am learning that I REALLY DIG THE BANGERS and once again am going on brand and picking the obvious Go-Go’s. OK, but this song is incredible.
*Quirky to the extent that whenever an excessively weird 80s/new wave song comes on a Spotify playlist, Pete will say “this is Kelly Stitzel music.”
I was kind of too young for the Go-Go’s in their time. They broke up when I was 6 years old and by the time I had the juice to transcend passive music discovery, I was into punk, which typically strictly forbids intermingling in your record collection with pop music. Such was actually not the case with the Go-Go’s and others such as Blondie, bands that history recognizes for their pop output but for whom the lines were super blurry early on. It’s no longer a well-kept secret that the Go-Go’s were originally a legitimate LA punk band and that Belinda actually played with the Germs, a band with more of a reputation for being punk than being good. The inverse of the Go-Go’s for a long time.
Beauty and the Beat is an excellent record, beginning to end. Kelly is not wrong about “This Town,” but my “This Town” pick would be “Can’t Stop the World,” which bookends the album as the last track, opposite “Our Lips Are Sealed.” A jarringly upbeat breakup song, it’s sunny and exuberant in signature Go-Go’s style. It also includes probably their best-known-song “We Got the Beat,” which feels like “Can’t Stop the World’s” more successful cousin.
“Our Lips Are Sealed” is just a classic, enduring track. In the recent Go-Go’s documentary, they talked about how songwriter Jane Wiedlin is not a trained musician, so the song structure is unusual in an infectious way. I’m much less of a trained musician, so even having heard this and listening to the song a couple of times now, I’m not sure what they were talking about. I think what’s appealing about the song is the change from the verses to the hook? It’s an abrupt but harmonious change. The melody in the chorus is simple and repetitive but builds to this really really logical but sharp right turn. I think the first thing that comes to mind regarding this song is Jane’s ethereal vocals in the bridge that contrasts sharply with Belinda’s bubbly, playful lead vocals.
THEN, consider that Jane wrote it about a scandalous affair she had with Terry Hall of the Specials during their joint European tour and oh, it’s so good! According to the documentary, all the Go-Go’s took their turns with different members of the Specials and Madness, which makes me want to giggle aloud with delight as I’m typing this. As we were watching, when they mentioned that Jane snagged Terry, I said aloud to Pete, “Yeah. She definitely got the prized pig, there.” And deservedly so, Jane is obviously the best Go-Go. Then immortalized it all in the perfect Go-Go’s song on a record full of perfect Go-Go’s songs. Damn, do I love this band.
I also can’t say enough about the music video for “Our Lips.” It is, once again, perfect. I learned again, from the documentary, that the only reason IRS had any money to get them to shoot it was because labelmates The Police had some money left over from a video they’d shot just ahead of the Go-Go's. So they rented a convertible and just winged it, which is amazing. The best part is near the end when they all pile into a public fountain, splashing and frolicking, completely devoid of self-consciousness. In the documentary they said that they were trying to get arrested in such a manner where you think they were a little offended they didn’t get arrested. When I was a kid, I always wanted to live in LA because it was a big deal, kinda dangerous, and so glamorous (to paraphrase “This Town”). This video captures that spirit I aspired to as a little kid.
As I mentioned, the Go-Go’s broke up in 1985 and I’ve been thinking a lot about why recently. Like any dissolution of its kind, it was a lot more complicated than this, but a lot of it had to do with money. They didn’t share songwriting credits, so a couple of members were paid significantly more than the others. While we were watching the documentary and they were talking about the disparity I was initially like--yeah. There’s no band without songs. Songs are different than performances, they’re basically eternal. But at the same time, what are those songs without Belinda? Not just her voice, which is a fine voice, but there is no Go-Go’s without Belinda’s charisma and dynamism. “We Got the Beat” is not the same enduring pop anthem without Belinda’s performance. This was an issue with the Talking Heads as well, though it’s even muckier because there are questions about whether the credits were fairly made given the band’s songwriting process. This is sad and frustrating and reinforces my theory that art should never be commodified. It fucks everything up. It can’t possibly remain pure. This is easy as hell for me to say because I don’t write and we “share” our “profits” (lolololol) totally equally, so disregard if this is just naive and not naive and correct.