35 Years Ago: The Go-Go’s Try to Stay on Top With ‘Vacation’
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When the Go-Go’s exploded on the pop scene in 1981 with their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, they came across like a breath of fresh air. Despite their early days as part of the chaotic L.A. punk scene, it was back-to-basics pop music with appropriate nods to mid-’60s girl-group stylings and garage-band attacks. And even with their retro leanings, everything about the band came off as new and fresh. Perhaps it was the youthful spirit and the fact that they didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously.
That album proved the surprise hit of the year, selling into the millions and hitting the top of the Billboard chart, staying at or near No. 1 all summer. It also spawned two hit singles, “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed,” both of which still stand as the band’s signature songs. With all that stockpiled in a short burst of time, it was going to be no easy stunt to follow it up, and within a year no less.
Released in August of 1982, Vacation capitalized on the momentum of the first album, which was still very much alive at radio and retail. The first single from the sophomore LP, the title track, was issued in June and it quickly became another Top 10 hit for the band.
“Vacation” is another perfect Go-Go’s pop song and though it hit No. 8, it failed to reach the heights of the previous singles, and quickly fell. “Beatnik Beach,” “Girl of 100 Lists,” “We Don’t Get Along” and “Get Up And Go” are all great tracks with what had become their trademark sound up to that point. Despite the sonic similarity, there was something missing with the album as a whole.
“We were so busy being famous and partying and everything that I don’t think we put nearly enough thought into the second album,” guitarist Jane Wiedlin confessed on VH1’s Behind the Music. “The record wasn’t as good and of course it didn’t do as well, but we were so wrapped up in our own little private drama by that time.”
It was more dramatic than the album simply not living up to its predecessor, as battles within the band and drug use had started to spiral out of control, especially with guitarist Charlotte Caffey who had, unbeknownst to almost everyone, picked up a heroin habit. “I really felt her absence in that record,” said Valentine. “Charlotte’s a very integral part of the creative vision of the Go-Go’s and I think the record reflects that she wasn’t capable of being there the whole way.” In retrospect, the key song on the album might be the hauntingly sharp “It’s Everything but Partytime.”
Three more songs were plucked from the album and released as singles, but each one failed to even make the Top 40. As fast as their rise had been, the fall was coming just as quickly. Adding to the tension were financial issues, general fatigue and, as Wiedlin remembers, “We were just so jaded. I just remember thinking, ‘I can’t wait ‘til the show’s over so I can go get laid or go get drunk, or whatever.’ We were so not in the moment.”
Sadly, the band’s fortunes would continue to fall with the release of Talk Show in 1984, after which, the band hung it up for the rest of the decade, reuniting for a tour in 1990.
Go-Go’s Albums Ranked in Order of Awesomeness