The first all-girl band to write their music and play their own instruments, The Go-Go’s burst onto the music scene four decades ago.
Now, they’re back in a new Showtime documentary that premieres Friday at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Coinciding with the release of “The Go-Go’s,” the band will drop a new single, “Club Zero,” on Friday.
The documentary lays bare how the band known for beloved hits such “We’ve Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” came together. And it wasn’t easy.
Along the way, band members were fired and replaced, unscrupulous businessmen tried to convince them to sign away rights to their music and there was drug use (and abuse) among some members, including cocaine and heroin.
The group initially disbanded in 1985, although members have come back together for projects since then.
Ahead of the premiere, here are five takeaways from the documentary:
The Go-Go’s had punk rock roots
While their best-known works are pure pop, the group’s roots date back to the Los Angeles punk rock scene in the late 1970s.
“If you were terrible, you were cooler,” lead vocalist Belinda Carlisle said. “Anybody could do whatever they wanted. It was total freedom.”
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Little did members know that within about a year’s time, they’d trade in dive bars for arenas such as Madison Square Garden. The bandmates bonded quickly.
“We hated our parents and society, but we supported each other,” rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin said.
The punk scene was a sanctuary
While most of The Go-Go’s acknowledge they were outcasts growing up, Wiedlin, in particular, had a tough childhood stemming from her father leaving her family.
“I always felt like I didn’t fit in,” she said.
That led to a suicide attempt when she was 15. Then she discovered, via an issue of Women’s Wear Daily, London’s punk rock scene and its wild fashions. She identified with punk’s “energy and anger.” Soon, she was making her own clothes to emulate the tough-as-nails movement.
“People used to cross the street when they saw me,” she said.
Carlisle, the oldest of seven children, says punk immediately appealed to her, too.
“I was always feeling I was pretending to be something I wasn’t,” she said. “That opened up a whole new world for me.”
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.
Drummer Gina Schock knew she was ‘going to be a rock star’
While The Go-Go’s all had musical backgrounds, when they started the band, most had to learn how to play the instruments we know and love them for.
Take Charlotte Caffey, the group’s lead guitarist. Her roots are in piano, which she started playing when she was 4, even studying music at Immaculate Heart College, a private Catholic school in Los Angeles.
When she made the move to punk, she says, “all this music theory, rules had to be thrown out the window.” She had to pick up the guitar, and fast.
“We were pretty crappy in the beginning,” Caffey said. “We really didn’t sound that great.”
Gina Schock was an exception. As one of only a few female drummers at the time, she acknowledges she had her pick of gigs.
“When I left Baltimore, I told everyone, ‘Next time you see me, I’m going to be a rock star.’ “
Early days in London were a mixed bag
Early on, The Go-Go’s were recruited to London, where they opened for a number of ska bands. The concerts frequently attracted large numbers of white nationalists and it wasn’t unusual, members said, for audiences to spit on them and toss bottles and other items on stage.
“They hated us,” Wiedlin said. “We were Americans and, worst of all … we were chicks.”
“Here are these five little girls from Southern California up on stage playing to these scary skinheads,” Caffey said. “It was frightening.”
Still, the trip proved to be worth it, helping to boost their profile back home.
“Everyone thought we were huge stars in London and we weren’t telling them otherwise,” Wiedlin said.
They thought the ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ video was a ‘waste of time’
MTV got its start in 1981, leading artists to start producing music videos for mass consumption.
The Go-Go’s got in on the action, filming a video for “Our Lips Are Sealed” for just $6,000.
“That money came from a Police video that they didn’t spend all their money on,” Wiedlin said.
Band members didn’t take the shoot seriously, Caffey said. In fact, when they were splashing around in a fountain, she says they hoped they’d get arrested.
“We had no idea how important video was going to be,” she said. “We thought this was a big waste of time.”
That video, at one point, was being played every 30 minutes on MTV and catapulted them into pop culture history.
Follow Gary Dinges on Twitter @gdinges