The GoGos started as a “joke” group at the Toubadour Club in LA in 1978, playing their instruments badly and acting ditzy. After a few personnel changes, they got a contract with IRS Records and released their first hit, “We Got the Beat,” in 1979. (They still weren’t that good — the song still sounds a little off-key to me.)
They became a megagroup not so much because of their music, but rather the girls themselves. (I know, it should be “women,” but look at them, for God’s sake.) Like the Beatles 20 years before, the 5 GoGos had such distinct and easily-categorized personalities that the choice of one’s favorite GoGo was a sort of quicky Meyer-Briggs test — was it girl-next-door Belinda? Ditzy Jane? Bad-girl Kathy? Brainy Charlotte? Competent Gina? The brilliant Annie Lebowitz photo of the girls playing around in their bras and panties on the cover of Rolling Stone made them America’s sweethearts.
Contrary to expectations, they didn’t stay incompetent for long. (Paradoxically, the better they got, the fewer people listened to them.) Their second album, “Vacation,” had some good stuff on it. But it was their swan song, “Talk Show,” in 1984, that contained their best work.
The first two songs on the B side, “Head Over Heels” and “Turn To You,” are two of the best, most exhilarating pop songs ever recorded. A music critic once noted that songs themselves aren’t great, but moments in them are. He’s right, and these songs are full of moments: the opening fortissimo piano riff, Gina’s authentic drums slaps (no drum machines here!) and cool fills; the sparse handclaps (once every eight bars in the chorus, and on the second beat, too); Jane’s wall-of-sound guitar just before the piano solo; the octave-wide dip in the title phrase in “Turn To You;” the always cool harmonies. These songs remind you how good a pop song can make you feel.
Things haven’t gone will for the Go-Gos since then. They had a nasty break-up shortly after this album, got back together briefly in 1994, and the last I heard Gina was suing the others over lost wages. It’s a shame. They were just getting good.
Note: I recently went to the OLGA archives to find the chords for “Head Over Heels.” The guy who posted them noted that he plays in a bar band, and that he thinks that “Head Over Heels” is the second greatest bar band song ever written, after “What I Like About You” by the Romantics. The man has good taste.