I wasn’t supposed to like the Go-Go’s, but I did. I was fifteen years old when they had their first hits with “Our Lips are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat” in 1981, and they were all over MTV and the radio.
I was listening to The Beatles, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, and the Go-Go’s were a pop group whose fan base seemed to be primarily teenage girls. They were on Rolling Stone magazine in their underwear, they were dancing in fountains on MTV, and I remember hearing that they had only recently even learned how to play their instruments. I didn’t really have any time for them. I should have made the time. I was wrong. The Go-Go’s are awesome.
The rumors I heard were far from accurate. They knew how to play their instruments, and they knew how to perform. They had cut their teeth in the L.A. punk scene of the late 1970’s, even becoming the house band at the Whiskey A Go-Go, backing up other artists when they came in to perform. They even toured with the great ska band Madness throughout England.
They softened their sound a bit for their major label debut Beauty and the Beat. They were a hard rocking punk band that became a pop band, and they were a hit. The album peaked at number 1 on the Billboard charts, and they were everywhere. I thought their music was poppy fun, but the music was clearly not for me.
They released their debut follow-up album Vacation in 1982, and then I began to hear that the band was falling apart. By the time they released Talk Show, their third album in 1984, the band was done. Drummer Gina Schock had to have open heart surgery to fix, as I remember reading at that time, a hole in her heart Rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin was pursuing an acting career, and lead singer Brandi Carlisle was recording solo music. The band was breaking up, and then they released the single “Head Over Heels.” I don’t think I ever admitted it at the time, but I absolutely loved this song, and I thought it was as good of a rock song as I have ever heard. I still do.
The song begins with guitarist and keyboardist Charlotte Caffey playing dissonant keyboard chords at a rapid clip. The drums, guitar and bass come in after two bars, and we are off.
“Been running so long, I’ve nearly lost all track of time
In every direction, I couldn’t see the warning signs
I must be losin’ it, cause my mind plays tricks on me
It looked so easy, but you know looks sometimes deceive”
Like so many great rock and roll songs, the lyrics don’t add up to much. “It” should be easy, but now she is losing “it.” I don’t know what “it” is, but clearly “it” is important.
This band is tight. Everything works, everything fits. They know how to play their instruments, and they were so much more than the eye candy the record company marketing departments clearly thought they should be.
Hole in her heart or not, Gina Schock is a power house, and rightfully deserves a place in the pantheon of great rock and roll drummers. Jane Wiedlin is propelling everything along with big, wide guitar strums. If she is not doing big Pete Townshend inspired windmills, she should be. Kathy Valentine is an excellent bassist, giving the song color, tone and joy.
“Head over heels
Where should I go
Can’t stop myself
Head over heels
No time to think
The whole world’s out of sync”
I still don’t know what this song is about. Maybe it’s a love song, maybe it’s just a reflection of a busy life. The verses are connected by thumps on the bass drum, and propelled along by the rhythm guitar. We can forgive dated electronic handclaps and the sometimes tinny production, because this band rocks. They rock!
After the second verse, Caffey plays a piano solo that would have made Jerry Lee Lewis proud. Schock continues to crush the drums behind Caffey, and after about 23 measures of that killer piano solo, Schock wraps it up with a delicious drum fill, and along with Valentine on bass, the rhythm section carries the song alone through the next few measures, until Carlisle comes in to sing the chorus one more time as Wiedlin plays crunchy, syncopated chords behind her.
And then….and then at the end of the chorus Caffey comes back in with those great dissonant keyboard chords and the entire band ends the song together beat. Just like that. Take a deep breath. The song is over. Everyone is going to be just fine.
By the time I found “Head Over Heels” the band was over, and I was sad. I was sad that it took me three albums before I realized how great of a rock and roll band that the Go-Go’s were, and I was sad that this would be their last music. They definitely went out on a high note.
“Head Over Heels” is Go-Go’s rhythm guitarist Jane Weidlin’s favorite song by the band. She said the song “just a classic. Like a little pop truffle of chocolate that’s just completely delicious.” I could not agree more.
“Head Over Heels”
Written by Charlotte Caffey and Kathy Valentine
Performed by the Go-Go’s
Released February 21, 1984