Why the Hell Aren't The Go-Go's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

The Go-Go's
The Go-Go's
Carl Timpone

To: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jann Wenner and Whom It May Concern:

You're not as tone-deaf as they say you are. In 2013, you invited Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine to join your committee. As a fanboy, he campaigned to nominate KISS, the enterprising hard-rock band you never would have inducted without his lobbying. You listened in 2014. Last year, when the Oscars were being protested for a diversity problem, you inducted N.W.A, which was a subversive move in the face of your mostly white, rockist audience, many of whom opposed the move. This year, you inducted Tupac and Joan Baez. Well done.

However, in the last few years, as the feminist roar became deafening in music, as our pop stars became activists and America nominated a female candidate for president, you missed an opportunity to do something truly progressive. This, more than any other year, was the year to finally nominate The Go-Go's.

Which begs the question: Do you even know who the fucking Go-Go's are?

The Go-Go's were a rock & roll band made up of five pugnacious women. (I mean that as a compliment.) Their band was born on the dirty streets of Hollywood in 1978, crashing in the scuzzy rooms of the Canterbury Apartments, and nearly took over the world before breaking up in 1985, only to reunite in 1990, and again a few times before ending their final tour this year at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Their debut album, Beauty and the Beat (1981), was the new-wave breakout record from the L.A. punk scene, and a No. 1 album on Billboard for six weeks straight.

The Go-Go's became the first all-female band — who played their own instruments and wrote their own songs — to have a No. 1 album in America. Along with The Bangles (who became popular later), they were the only all-female rock band MTV transmitted into our homes as often as I Love Lucy reruns on Nickelodeon. Every girl in the early '80s wanted to go shopping with them; every boy wanted to take Belinda Carlisle to the prom.

Beauty and the Beat went double-platinum behind some of the catchiest songs in history, among them "Our Lips Are Sealed" and "We Got the Beat." Their music was comparable to the early Beatles in both its bounciness and toughness, especially on heavier material such as "Lust to Love" and "This Town." Guitarists Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin are, to this day, one of the most underrated songwriting duos in rock history.

Their producer, Brill Building legend Richard Gottehrer (author of "My Boyfriend's Back" and "I Want Candy"), took their punk sound and turned it into bubble-gum pop. They took some shit for this. “Had we done it the way we originally wanted, I don’t think we’d have the career we’ve had so far,” Caffey said in the liner notes of Beauty and the Beat's 30th-anniversary reissue. But her openness shouldn't be seen as a confession that The Go-Go's' debut was somehow a product they weren't involved in producing. Like Butch Vig with Nirvana, or George Martin with The Beatles, Gottehrer transformed an already talented group into superstars — arguably, the first pop-punk band. But he wasn't as controlling as Phil Spector. He didn't change the architecture of their sound, just the decor.

The Go-Go's never had a puppet master like Kim Fowley pulling the strings, which might explain why most of the major labels passed them over before they finally signed to I.R.S. Records. They were feminists before anybody in music labeled themselves as feminist. And they were more punk rock than they get credit for. Before she would front The Go-Go's and top the charts as a solo star in the vein of Debbie Gibson and Madonna, Belinda Carlisle played drums for The Germs.

So why is the most successful all-female rock band in history, with their legit L.A. punk roots, still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Why, when they've been eligible for years, do they not even get a fucking nomination?

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Last year, I was in Cleveland and visited your Hall. Next to the Sex Pistols section, I noticed a barely visible smidgen of a display — the Hall's tribute to the L.A. punk scene. It consisted of a few gig fliers from bands like Black Flag, maybe a T-shirt or two. That was it. When I got home, I decided to survey your list of inductees to see if you had ever inducted a first-wave punk band from L.A. And guess what? You haven't. The Germs, Fear, The Go-Go's, Black Flag, X, Devo (who were from Ohio, just down the road from Cleveland, but moved to L.A.) — not a single pioneering L.A. punk band (nor individual member) is in your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I get that you're mostly a bunch of New Yorkers, and New Yorkers have always treated L.A. punk like the bastard stepchild of the New York and London scenes. But then, in 1982, you added insult to injury when you, Mr. Wenner, put The Go-Go's on the cover of your Rolling Stone in their underwear, with the headline "Go-Go's Put Out," reducing them to a sexist wisecrack and cheapening their talents as genuine musicians.

Even though their prime lasted only four years and produced just three albums, they were one of MTV's biggest bands, the creators of a sound that some people associate more with the '80s than even Michael Jackson and Madonna. Their last big hit, "Head Over Heels," from the endlessly overlooked record Talk Show, is a nearly flawless pop song, from the shimmering keys that open the song to Kathy Valentine's smooth bass solo. Their influence extends to some of today's best bands, from Ex Hex to Dum Dum Girls, Colleen Green to Best Coast, through the recent past to legendary bands like Sleater-Kinney and The Donnas, to the pop-punk that was popularized by Green Day and Blink-182.

Sure, The Go-Go's crashed and burned too soon in a cloud of drugs and excess, but isn't that the very essence of rock & roll? Before that they were the symbol of what it was like to be a teenager in the '80s, with a voice and a sound that was strong, honest, sexy, danceable and, above all, relatable. They were Blink-182 in pink bubblewrap, or The Beach Boys meets The Ramones in both their sun-kissed melodies and emotional honesty. And they were pioneers, the first women to top the charts playing rock & roll, the only L.A. punk band with a No. 1 album. Now more than ever, The Go-Go's deserve to be taken seriously, and they deserve to be in your Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.


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