Get Dressed Up and Messed Up

This has been Go-Go’s Week on SiriusXM’s 1st Wave channel. They’ve been playing songs from the recently inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famers every hour, and later this afternoon they’re premiering a new concert of the band playing at one of their old haunts, the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. This fall has also marked the 40th anniversary of the release of their landmark debut album Beauty and the Beat, the first by an all-female band to reach #1 on the LP chart. It’s all made me decide to revisit a piece I started a couple of years ago in which I provide a personal ranking of BatB’s tracks.

I was a senior in HS when the Go-Go’s broke out; they broke up (the first time) before I got out of college. To a decent degree, theirs was a classic case of a band not knowing what to do once success came their way: neither of their other 80s albums, Vacation and Talk Show, came close to matching Beauty (though “Vacation” may be my single favorite song of theirs).

This week I discovered I wanted to shuffle the original order made two years ago, mostly among the songs ranked #4-#7. Here’s where they fall today.

#11. “Can’t Stop the World.” There are a few albums I’ve fallen in love with over the years for which the last two or three tracks just aren’t quite up to the same quality as the rest. Beauty is one of those (a couple others are The Stranger and Marshall Crenshaw); so, guess which three tracks we’re seeing first? The last song on side two is Kathy Valentine’s sole songwriting credit.

#10. “You Can’t Walk in Your Sleep (If You Can’t Sleep).” Like the Fifth Dimension’s “I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All,” this song is an ode to a Unisom failing to do its duty, except that it’s written in second-person sympathy rather than first-person anguish.

#9. “Skidmarks on My Heart.” The only track on the album that has a Carlisle co-writing credit. Full marks for extending a metaphor seamlessly (and amusingly) throughout the whole piece (as well as for the retro guitar solo).

#8.  “We Got the Beat.” Time to stir the pot a bit. I was not nearly as much of a fan of “We Got the Beat” in real time as I had been of “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Don’t get me wrong—it’s a plenty good song, deserving of being a (big) hit.

Its success on the chart, reaching #2 as a second single, had a parallel from almost three years earlier in Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.” In the end, the Go-Go’s wound up with greater fame and acclaim, of course, but at the time it felt to me like both of those songs—each group’s biggest hit—scaled their heights partially out of building momentum.

#7. “Lust to Love.” A worthy entry in the “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” genre of song. The album’s first side is just so good.

#6. “This Town.” Echoes of the sixties abound in this sarcasm-drenched take on the joys of living in L.A.  Like “Lust to Love,” there’s musical interest in the repeated shifts in tempo between verse and chorus.

#5. “Automatic.” I didn’t buy this album until three or four years after its release. My first exposure to the non-singles came soon after I went to college in the fall of 1982. I walked over to the women’s dorm one Friday afternoon early in the semester to visit a classmate who grew up close to where I did—I was giving her a ride home for the weekend. Her roommate was playing side two when I got there. This one, along with “Fading Fast,” made an immediate, positive impression. The minimalist lyrics and the metronome-y beat still work some magic.

#4. “How Much More.” In listening again to BatB this week, I’m picking up on how often Gina Schock goes the rapid drum fill route. Perhaps my friend Warren, who’s worked his share of gigs behind a kit and knows much more about the history of rock drumming than I do, can tell me how much she’s trying to evoke the past on this record.

#3. “Fading Fast.” A great kiss-off tune. I like the way we don’t get the reason for the breakup until the end of the second verse. It’s a simple line that Charlotte Caffey is playing on keyboards in the chorus, yet it may be as responsible as anything for making me want to own this record.

#2. “Tonite.” A brilliant portrait of the band’s hard-partying days (okay, nights) before they made it big; I am sorely, sorely tempted to rank it first. Peter Case, then a denizen of the same scene as a member of the Plimsouls, has a co-writing credit.

#1. “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Maybe a little boring/predictable to go with one of the hits at the top, but this is a truly landmark piece, still plenty fresh. I loved it from the start—it made #1 on my own chart in January of 1982. (I hinted in this post from almost two years ago it would rank a lot higher than “We Go the Beat.”)

For the video feature, though, let’s go with “Tonite.” Here’s hoping it’s part of their show at the Whiskey. The clip is from a show they gave at a high school on 12/4/81, just as things were starting to break for them.

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