Those First Impressions: The Go-Gos Debut Single

Stiff Records | UK | 7" | 1980 | BUY 78

The Go-Gos: We Got The Beat UK 7″ [1980]

  1. We Got The Beat [ver. 1]
  2. How Much More [ver. 1]

It seems hard to believe now, but there was a time when it was considered odd for females to form a band, write their songs and play their instruments; all without taking direction from a guy. There had been earlier all female bands but Fanny and The Runaways were more talked about than played. The Go-Gos had formed in 1978 as nascent punk rockers centered around Los Angeles Canterbury/Masque scene. As they developed their chops there was a move toward New Wave pop and by the time they had recorded their first demos, they had managed to score opening act status when Madness, in their ska-revival phase hit Los Angeles. Impressed, Madness asked the band to reprise their opening status back for the group in the UK. Like any New Wave era Anglophiles, they jumped at the chance.

While in the UK, the band managed to get a one-off single released through their connections with Madness on the nutty boys’ label at the time, Stiff Records. It was then that the original versions of “We Got The Beat” b/w “How Much More” from their ’79 demo sessions reached my ears for the first time. Like any New Wave fan, I gave attention to Stiff Records releases since the label’s style, packaging and sense of fun made them a label to watch. I can’t remember exactly where I first heard their debut single, chances are it was in store, but I remember liking it a lot. I snagged a copy in a store that stocked lots of imports.

In any of its incarnations, “We Got The Beat” is an infectious power pop anthem with a killer rhythm section in original bassist Margot Olaverria and drummer Gina Shock. The bassline is definitely a classic of its kind. It’s also refreshing to hear singer Belinda Carlisle before she got ruined forever by those singing lessons aprés Go-Gos. Here, she is delightfully free from vibrato, which in my book, is vastly overrated! The middle eight of the tune is the biggest difference from the later, number one hit version on their album, “Beauty & The Beat.” On the Stiff version, the middle eight is just a solid beat with the chanted title. None of the call and response from the hit version is in evidence yet. Maybe that evolved as they played the song in concert. The bulk of the song is comparable, however. Paul J. Wexler’s production is more spartan than the lush sound Richard Gottherer gave them a year later, but under the circumstances, it works really well. Well enough so that the import 7″ of “We Got The Beat” charted high in Rockpool’s club charts and also on Billboard’s Dance Charts.

That got I.R.S. Records sniffing around and they signed the band who recut these songs with the master of girl group sound Richard Gottherer in 1981. I.R.S. was a perfect label to sign the band. They were as close an analog to England’s Stiff Records as was possible in America at the time. I bought “Beauty & The Beat” as soon as it was released and played it into the ground. The newer recordings of the debut single were much slicker sounding but retained all of the charm evidenced in the originals. The original bass player, Margot Olavarria, had by this time been replaced with Kathy Valentine; a veteran of the Textones.

The first US single was “Our Lips Are Sealed” and it was a big hit on college radio from the get go. By the Fall of 1981 the single had been kicking around long enough to get pop traction and I watched in amazement as this all female New Wave band managed to ride this great pop hit into the top 20! That was only the beginning. Their next step was the coup de grace of releasing the new version of “We Got The Beat” and seeing it scale the charts to number two as it became a massive hit in 1982. Ironically, the song was only kept out of the number one slot by ex-Runaway Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock & Roll.” At least the Go-Gos managed to see “Beauty & The Beat” top the album charts at number one; the first female band to achieve this.

I thought for certain that both sides of this debut single had made the leap to digital on the 1992 Stiff Records Box Set but shockingly, this slice of Go-Gos history was completely missing from that version. It remained until the 2007 re-release on Salvo of the Stiff Box [with different contents] until the A-side was available on CD. The B-side version of “How Much More” is still lost in the vinyl wilderness. The song that got them off of the launching pad remains a big beat classic and in the words of Bootsy Collins, a real “party on plastic.”

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10 Responses to Those First Impressions: The Go-Gos Debut Single

  1. Tim says:

    ”Our Lips Are Sealed” was co-written by Terry Hall, who at the time was between The Specials and Fun Boy Three. I figure most folks who come this way already know that, but one never may be sure. Any Terry Hall BSOG projects in the works?

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  2. Tim says:

    The first proper solo album (Home) is dead good, IMNSHO not one bad track on the whole album.. I wasn’t much of a fan at all until that one.

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  3. Tim says:

    I bought ”Home” on some sort of 6 Degrees of Separation that had to be important to me 15-ish years ago when it came out and when I heard it I was pretty gobsmacked that I had ignore Terry Hall for so long and have come to enjoy The Specials quite a lot.

    He & Dave Stewart did an album under the name Vegas that is quite good, although I have to say I prefer a lot of versions of the songs from that one on that live set that Dave Stewart did as a career retrospective.

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    • Echorich says:

      Big fan of Terry Hall here! Home is a wonderful album as well as The Colourfield output. Vegas was a good project and Dave Stewart doesn’t overburden it.

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  4. Taffy says:

    this post makes me wanna score a copy of that single, having never heard the original versions of either song. i’ve been thinking very pleasant go-gos thoughts since seeing them (with the b-52s) last month. really energetic show, and was very pleasantly surprised they did “cool places,” with belinda subbing for sparks! another highlight – they covered the stone’s “mother’s little helper” (presumably so we could all nod knowingly when belinda sang “what a drag it is growing older…”).

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – (Spoiler alert) Funny you should mention the B-52s. My next Those First Impressions is the primordial “Rock Lobster” 7″ on DB Records! “Cool Places!” Much envy! I’d like to see the Go-Gos but my town lacks decent venues for the summer shed circuit. We have a famous 1000+ cap. club in The Orange Peel but after that, all bets are off.

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  5. Echorich says:

    I’ll save my B52’s story for the next TFI post for sure! Lots of Go-Go’s sightings in my youth. IRS sent them on the usual small club circuit in NYC to generate word of mouth back in 81. Interestingly their NY PR flacks thought that they should do the Teen Magazine rounds at first rather than the music mags…more to do with not knowing what to do with a New Wave Girl Group, or possibly a lack of confidence that the rock press would take them seriously.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I remember when they were making the college radio rounds and playing the small clubs. I remember hearing them on WMNF with them playing the Cuban Club on that first tour. They could have been playing the moon as far as it went for me in Orlando at that time. I have to say I never thought they’d break like they did, but I was ecstatic to see it happen to a band I liked that much. That album is classic fun.

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