1981, Music

Beauty and the Beat (1981) by Go-Go’s

This is undoubtedly an important record. It is possibly the most successful debut album by an all-female band, at least to this point and history and it might have also been the first all-female band album to hit US#1 (though I’m not 100% sure where I read that and can’t find it now). It’s trailblazing perhaps even to a greater degree than the Runaways both because this album was bigger than anything they did and also because the Go Go’s write all their material. But the idea that this album, released in July 1981, close to half a decade after the birth of new wave (on record, as live it would have been earlier) is a foundational document of American new wave is, well, ridiculous. The Go Go’s might have been a close-to-pioneering new wave band if they could have convinced someone to record them when they first formed, but by 1981 the second (less interesting) wave of new wave was already happening and it’s rewriting history to suggest that this album (and this group) is anything other than part of that second wave.

The songs are quite catchy. Like basically all second wave new wave, the emphasis is on catchy songs – basically power pop – over the artsy quirkiness and herkyjerky rhythms of the actual (American) new wave pioneers. Some have claimed the singles are the catchiest songs here and I guess that’s mostly true but there are some decent deep cuts in terms of catchiness. And the deep cuts are definitely more interesting and closer to actual “new wave” in its original sense. And the lyrics are pretty good.

The vibe is barely new wave a lot of the time. Like so much of second wave new wave, it’s much closer to power pop. But Carlisle sings with a bit of attitude and the retro vibe of some of the songs was pretty common in the poppier punk of the time as well as plenty of other punk-adjacent music that people couldn’t categorize (so they just lumped it in with new wave). And the guitars and keyboards are modern-sounding enough that it’s hard to really associate them with ’70s power pop. (No, or very little, distortion on the guitars, for example. The keyboards sound ’80s even when straight up pianos.)

The production is very early ’80s – though more British post punk than mainstream ’80s pop – but mostly the band and Carlisle in particular are good enough that you don’t worry about why that particular echo is here or whatever.
It’s an impressive debut, and one I would like more if the world wouldn’t try to pretend it’s some kind of key new wave record. (That’s not on the Go Go’s.)


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