The Go-Go’s (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): When they got the beat

I like good documentaries which illuminate things beyond my current knowledge, and documentary film “The Go-Go’s” is one of such cases. Following the short but impressive history of a famous all-female American punk rock band during the early 1980s, the documentary takes us into that exciting period as listening to its several former members, and it will bring some nostalgia to you if you are familiar with this band and its discography.

At first, the documentary shows and tells us how this band, named “The Go-Go’s”, was formed in California, 1978 and then refined step by step. Around that time, punk rock had been quite popular among many different people in California, and that prompted the four initial members of the Go-Gos to form the band together, though most of them did not have much musical skill or knowledge from the very beginning.

However, it did not take much time for them to distinguish themselves more than expected with considerable potential. Yes, as they all admit in front of the camera, they were really terrible during their first public performances, but you could get away with many inadequacies via those loud and aggressive notes of punk rock music during that time, and they came to improve themselves gradually as practicing and performing more and more.

The major improvement for the band came from the recruitment of three new members. Not long after Charlotte Caffey joined the band as someone to play keyboard and lead guitar, Gina Schock came as a substitute drummer, and her good drumming skill soon became a key factor behind the increasing popularity of the Go-Go’s. In case of Kathy Valentine, she was later hired as a new bassist even though she did not know much about how to play bass guitar, but she also came to function as another key part of the band, and she and the other two new members clicked pretty well with the two original members Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin.

Through several other interviewees, the documentary explains to us more on the singular presence of the Go-Go’s during that period. While there had already been a number of prominent all-female bands such as The Shangri-Las and the Runaways, the Go-Go’s was the first all-female band which not only wrote their songs but also played their own instruments, and this aspect surely brought considerable novelty to the band. In addition, their songs including “We Got the Beat” were pretty good ones, and the serial success of their songs eventually led to their first major album in 1981.

While being on the road to success, the principal members of the Go-Go’s experienced small and big things to remember. When they happened to go to Britain for their opening performance for the concerts of a popular local band, they were certainly pressured a lot, but they did their job as well as demanded, though they were sometimes verbally threatened by some of more aggressive punk rock fans. When they later came to do the opening performance for the concerts of Sting and his band, Sting courteously congratulated them for their first album being on the top of the Billboard album Charts, and that was surely a high point for everyone in the band (Even at present, the Go-Go’s is the only all-female band which achieved that remarkable record, by the way).

Of course, like many other successful bands, the Go-Go’s subsequently came to face that heavy price of sudden big artistic success. After signing a contract with a major record studio, the band began to enter the realm of pop music for more appeal to millions of potential fans out there, and some of the members understandably were not so pleased about that. When they were about to produce the second album, they were all more pressured and nervous as feeling more strains among them, but they somehow produced a fairly good album at least.

In addition, there were several personal problems. In case of one member, she happened to descend into a serious case of drug addiction, and nobody around her knew about that for a while because she managed to hide her problem well from the other members, who did not help her much because they also abused alcohol and drug from time to time as pushing themselves into more concerts and recording sessions.

In the end, there came a major rift among the members due to a petty argument on who had to be paid more, and the Go-Gos eventually broke up in 1985 shortly after releasing their third album. The mood was quite bad among them during that time, but then they had to perform together more as demanded by their contract, and they all remember well how much they endured as waiting for their upcoming breakup and release.

Although it is a shame that “The Go-Go’s” does not delve much into their next 35 years, director Alison Ellwood did a plain but commendable job of presenting her human subjects with care and respect, and it is certainly touching to see the members of the Go-Go’s gathering together again for their future musical project. I did not know much about their music before watching the documentary, but now I think they do deserve a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I am sure you will agree to my opinion after watching the documentary.

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