Go-Go's look back as band brings farewell tour to Ravinia
With their 1981 debut album, the Go-Go's would hit the top of the charts. But "Beauty and the Beat" was more than just one of the most successful debuts of all time: It made music history.
The Go-Go's became the first -- and, even now, only -- all-female act to top the album charts writing and playing their own music. It's the type of feat that proves just how difficult it can be for female artists to overcome the boy's club mentality of a male-dominated record industry, a fact not lost on Go-Go's guitarist and songwriter Charlotte Caffey.
"It was ridiculous. All the heads of (record) companies were like, 'We can't sign you because you're girls.' And we were like, 'Oh my Lord …' Even though we were selling out, we had all these great songs and had a hit in England," said Caffey.
What began back in 1978 comes to a touring close as the Go-Go's embark on the "Going Going Gone" farewell tour that brings frontwoman Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, Gina Schock and Caffey to Ravinia Festival Friday, Aug. 19.
In an interview leading up to the show, Caffey looked back on the band's barrier-breaking history.
She credits Miles Copeland, founder of IRS Records, for taking a chance on the Go-Gos. He put together a roster of artists that included R.E.M., The Damned, Dead Kennedys and others who would go on to define both punk and new wave music.
"Miles was really the only one that was insane enough, wacky enough and visionary enough (to sign the Go-Go's). When our record went to No. 1 -- which was shocking, we never thought that would happen -- we wrote little notes to all those guys that turned us down and we said, 'Sorry! So sorry for you!' We got a little bit of revenge," said Caffey.
Trained classically as a pianist with a bachelor's degree in music, Caffey played piano on Jewel's 1997 hit "Foolish Games." She's also cowritten the Keith Urban country hit "But For the Grace of God." As a primary Go-Go's songwriter, Caffey is responsible for writing the group's biggest hit "We Got the Beat."
Formed in 1978, the Go-Go's were heavily influenced by the burgeoning punk scenes which started to develop in London, New York and around them in Los Angeles. But, from a songwriting perspective, Caffey helped bring a bit of a pop sensibility to a band that prided itself on its punk rock pedigree.
While Caffey could write from a pop perspective, it took producer Richard Gottehrer to round down the band's rough edges just enough on record to push "Beauty and the Beat" onto the radio and into the mainstream. Nobody expected the album to hit quite like it did, reaching double platinum status in the U.S. And the band members' first impression of their finished debut wasn't exactly a positive one.
"When we heard the end result we were crying and cursing him! We called him and said, 'You ruined them!' Then, when we got the songs on the radio, we understood there's no way they would've put them on had we sounded like we did live. And that made a huge difference," Caffey explained.
Even then, breaking away from sexist industry stereotypes was difficult.
"We would go to photo sessions and it was just the most ridiculous stuff. It was like, 'Here, lick on these lollipops.' And we're like, 'What?!' It was horrifying. But we would laugh," Caffey said. "In reality -- and we've always said this -- yes, we are girls, women, but, first and foremost, we're musicians and we're songwriters. No one says, 'Oh, there's an all-guy band!'"
As the group's success grew, so did their behind-the-scenes reputation for enjoying the stereotypical rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Caffey says it was a rise drenched in irony given the media-pushed narrative of the Go-Go's as "America's Sweethearts." "We were anything but 'America's sweethearts.' On the inside we were total sassy rebels."
As the farewell tour gets underway, Caffey is quick to point out that it doesn't necessarily spell the end for the group.
"We're not ending our career. We're just not going to be doing those tours anymore. Certainly, if there's some one-offs or some benefits, whatever comes up that's an opportunity for us to play, we're keeping that on the table," she said.
And as fans look back on the Go-Go's, Caffey is clear about the group's legacy.
"The legacy is the songs. Really, how that evolved -- it was kind of an organic process. No one ever planned it. The spirit of the Go-Go's is fun."
Go-Go'sWhen: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19; gates open at 4 p.m.
Where: Ravinia Festival, 200 Ravinia Park Road, Highland Park, (847) 266-5100, ravinia.org
Tickets: $55-$80 reserved seats, $38 lawn, $43 day-of lawn