Belinda Carlisle, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock, House of Schock, Jane Weidlin, Kathy Valentine, The Blue Bonnets, The Delphines, The Go Go's, The Graces
Taking apart The Go Go’s and exploring their solo work really highlights how much the band is a synthesis of their different and very talented individual musical personalities. No one is free riding here. Everybody is pulling the band’s music in a slightly different direction, which helps explain how they arrive in such a unique space creatively. It’s why The Go Go’s are an amazing band. But solo, each Go Go is pretty damn good too. In this whirlwind take on The Go Go’s going solo, we’ll eschew the hits to focus more on some special deep cuts from the various releases.
Rhythm guitarist and contributing songwriter Jane Weidlin was the first to leave the band and the first to release a solo album, both in 1985. Scanning her solo records it’s clear that Weidlin was the quirky alt and art rock influence on The Go Go’s. Think Sparks, the Talking Heads, Television – that sort of stuff. From her self-titled debut I like her cover of Wire Train’s “I Will Wait For You.” You hear a strong Kate Bush tinge to her vocals. On 1987’s Fur “Give” grabs me, probably because it’s the most Go Go’s-ish of the songs, with guitars more up front than the rest of the album’s more synthy polish. 1990’s Tangled features at least two marvelous deep cuts, the beautiful co-write with Cyndi Lauper and Richard Orange on “Paper Heart” and the wonderful jangly “Big Rock Candy Mountain” (no relation to the folk song). 1998’s Very Best of Jane Weidlin includes a lovely stripped-down version of “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Weidlin’s vocal has a brittle intimacy, revealing further nuances of a song she co-wrote with Terry Hall of The Specials.
No one was really too worried about a Belinda Carlisle solo career. Band vocalists are up front and, rightly or wrongly, often seen as the star of any band. Then again, Carlisle was the only member not to contribute much in the way of songwriting. But she hit the ground running in 1986, charting numerous hits over the next decade. Carlisle’s solo career marks her as the most commercial influence on the Go Go’s. From her self-titled debut album I love the Motown-esque “I Never Wanted a Rich Man.” From her monster hit album Heaven on Earth, I’d select “Should I Let You In” with its Go Go’s guitar resonance. Then turning to her many subsequent albums I’d single out Real, a record that reunited her with Caffey as her principal songwriter. That resulted in a slew of great song performances like “Goodbye Day” and “Lay Down Your Arms.”
Lead guitar player Charlotte Caffey wrote the lion’s share of the Go Go’s material, which makes her slight solo releases somewhat surprising. She certainly wasn’t idle, regularly contributing material to Carlisle’s solo albums as well as other performers. Her biggest solo endeavor was as a member of the Graces whose 1989 album is possibly closest thing to a Go Go’s album from one of the band members. The 1989 LP Perfect View has two bona fide should be hits, the title track “Perfect View” and “Lay Down Your Arms.” Personally, I love the guitar rumble and vocal work on “Should I Let You In.” Given all these great contributions, an actual solo album from Caffey would have been most welcome.
Bass player Kathy Valentine’s solo work underlines how she clearly brought an indie and roots-rock influence to the band. Her prior work to the Go Go’s with The Textones certainly illustrates this, particularly on the original version of “Vacation.” Valentine’s two post Go Go’s bands showcase her versatility with The Blue Bonnets “Don’t Pass Me By” exuding the rough charm of Chrissie Hynde’s early Pretenders work while The Delphines has a smoother melodic rock feel on tracks like “Crazy.” Her 2005 solo record Light Years had a nice spartan Go Go’s feel, particularly on songs like the Beatles-y “Getting By.” More recently Valentine has been taking her work in a more experimental direction. In 2016 she put a beat poet swagger into the single “In My Closet” while in 2020 she created a full-on book/music synthesis with the autobiography/album All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir. Check out the hooky cut-and-paste technique animating the chapter 17 song selection “Regular Format.”
Drummer Gina Schock kept busy after the Go Go’s initial break up, playing with other bands (guesting on drums with Norwegian band a-ha, among others). People worry about drummers when a band breaks up because, typically, they’re not the songwriters or the vocal focus of the band. I mean, even Ringo’s career took a dive when the quality material from John, Paul and George dried up post-1975. But Schock impressed a lot people when her new band House of Schock released a pretty polished album in 1987. Give “Middle of Nowhere” a listen and see if you don’t hear elements of The Motels’ sophisticated style here and there. She went on to become a songwriting powerhouse for a wide variety of performers.
Checking out the Go Go’s solo work really underlines how the band functions as a team, with each member contributing something important to the mix. They’re all musicians, songwriters, singers and kick-ass live rock and roll performers. They made history as the first all-female band writing and playing their own songs. But they’ve remained popular because they’re great by any measure. Can’t wait for the new album!