Why the Go-Go’s matter in rock history

Posted on April 13, 2011


I happen to believe in historical and factual accuracy. So did Ben Franklin. Spin is one thing. We can argue all day about “who” is most influential in rock music history. But it’s simply ludicrous to completely ignore the as-yet-unduplicated album chart success of the Go-Go’s, the first all-female band to write their own songs, play the music AND hit #1 on the Billboard album charts.

In short, The Go-Go’s epitomize “Women Who Rock.” So why is it that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland makes no mention of the Go-Go’s in its upcoming Women Who Rock exhibit.

Look for a definition of “Women Who Rock” in any music history encyclopedia and the Go-Go’s will be included. Look for the Go-Go’s in the Women Who Rock exhibit of the Rock and Roll Museum and you won’t find them–at least not in the promotional materials. It remains to be seen whether they will be included in the exhibit, which opens May 13 in Cleveland.

Quick aside: This is a rant about why the Go-Go’s aren’t included in the exhibit, not the Hall of Fame. I’m saving my rant about putting the Go-Go’s on the ballot for the Hall of Fame for another day. I hope you’ll save that fight for another day, too.

The Go-Go’s are the first all-female band to (1) play their instruments, (2) write their songs, and (3) score a #1 album on the Billboard album charts (and hold the position for six weeks!). Before the Go-Go’s no other all-female band had accomplished this.

This isn’t a diss on any of the following “named” artists (nor a diss of anyone I fail to mention)…..I’m just making a case here for why it’s ludicrous to omit the Go-Go’s from an exhibit that purportedly reflects the history of Women Who Rock:

Before the Go-Go’s….

* Solo women “rock” artists had success–Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, Ann & Nancy Wilson, Lita Ford, Janis Joplin (although she might be considered a “front” woman, too, and that category is covered later), Wanda Jackson, to name a few. I don’t mean for this to be an exhaustive list.
* All-girl “bands” (singers, not musicians) had achieved #1 status, but mostly with singles (the Supremes, etc.)
* More than a few bands featured a woman as lead singer. My fave: Debbie Harry fronted Blondie. Blondie was a HUGE influence on my taste in music. But Blondie was mainly four guys and one woman. Nothing significantly “new” here–other than their “new wave” sound and sensibilities.
* Some bands included women who played instruments (Tina Weymouth in Talking Heads, for instance, or Karen Carpenter–who had a rep as a very good jazz-type drummer, on top of her amazing voice)
* A few bands featured all-female lineups (Most notable example: the Runaways)

But it was the Go-Go’s who put together the whole package. The Go-Go’s were the first all-female band to take the package and achieve platinum-selling success. Without a svengali. The Go-Go’s first album, Beauty and the Beat, hit #1 on the Billboard album charts March 6,1982 and held that position for six weeks. No other all female band has done this. Beauty and the Beat stayed on the charts for 72 weeks.

Let me repeat: No other all-female band who play their instruments and write their songs has achieved #1 album status for six weeks. Before or since 1982. Let this sink in. The Go-Go’s album chart success has not been replicated by an all-female band who write and play their original works. (Which brings up another question for another day: Why can’t all-female bands achieve this level of success?)

Again, not to show any disrespect to the following, but there’s a qualitative (and/or quantitative) difference in the careers of these women who achieved success in the years since the Go-Go’s hit #1 with Beauty and the Beat:

* The Bangles achieved great success in the wake of the Go-Go’s. The Bangles had lots of hit singles, but they never had a #1 album.
* Madonna is a pop singer. She’s had major, record-breaking success, but she’s not a rocker and she’s not a band and, until recently, she made no effort to be a “musician,” as opposed to being a vocalist.
* Cyndi Lauper happens to be a great songwriter, but she is had one big hit album as a solo artist (the Hooters and studio musicians backed her up).She’s done great work since, but she’s known for her first album. Update: Correction to note that her second album went platinum, as well.
* The Breeders: Love this band but the Go-Go’s broke the barriers that allowed them to gain college radio airplay.
* Pink: Pink rocks but she’s solo, not a band.
* Britney: Pop “singer.” She has songwriting credits. Not sure if she plays an instrument. Celebrity.
* Avril Lavigne: Wouldn’t have had a chance if the Go-Go’s hadn’t opened the doors.
* Miley Cyrus–Good singer but get back with me when she’s 25. (Wanna know who wrote some of her songs? one of the Go-Go’s).
* Lady Gaga–owes whatever “fame” she has to Madonna. Not sure about any musical achievements, beyond sales.

Keep in mind, folks: There’s no correlation between record sales (or downloads, or whatever) and a band’s scope of influence. Wanda Jackson didn’t sell the most records of any 50s female performer but her influence on rock is more pronounced than perhaps any other white female artist of the late 50s through 60 (excluding perhaps Kitty Wells).

If you care about musicology, historical accuracy …. and less about hype and manufactured music …. I hope you’ll make your opinion known to the “powers that be” who are putting together the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame “Women Who Rock” exhibit. And please keep in mind: This is about the Exhibit, not induction into the Hall of Fame. We’ll save that fight for another day.

Here’s how you can do your part in this revolt:

* Call the Hall of Fame and express your discontent: Phone: 216.781.ROCK (7625)
* Email the Hall of Fame and express your discontent: staff@rockhall.org
* If you’re affiliated with a legitimate news organization (and I include music bloggers in this category) contact the PR department: forthemedia@rockhall.org.
* If you’re on Twitter, start tweeting. Include #GoGosRock as the hashtag. @officialgogos might retweet you. If you have enough characters, reference @rock_hall
* Include a relevant fact about the Go-Go’s and why the exclusion from the exhibit is so “asinine.”
* If you’re on Facebook, start posting. Create buzz.
* If you’re a blogger (or know someone who is a blogger): Start posting. Include Go-Go’s, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Women Who Rock exhibit, etc. as “tags” to your blog post. In other words, make sure to tag your post so it will show up in search engines. (your efforts now may pay off later, too).
* Find music bloggers and post comments to their blogs and mention the Go-Go’s and this ridiculous oversight. Include a link to your blog (or this one).
* Visit music sites and comment, join in chats. Focus on the Exhibit, not induction.
* Link back to this post, if you’re so inclined.
* Link to www.gogos.com website.
* Post links to your blog within Facebook

Thanks for reading this rant. I hope you’ll join in. Comments are welcome.

If you find a mistake, correct me. I value accuracy (unlike, apparently, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame powers-that-be).

Find me on Twitter: @ree_tweets

Go-Go’s biography via MTV site

Posted in: History, Music