The Go-Go's began as a comically inept all-girl punk novelty act, but within a few years they had made a #1 debut album that yielded two Top 20 hit singles ("Our Lips Are Sealed" and the gold "We Got the Beat") and were selling out arenas on tour.
Belinda Carlisle, who had been a cheerleader in high school, nearly became a member of the seminal L.A. punk band the Germs. With Jane Wiedlin, another L.A. punk scene regular, she began playing guitar. A more experienced guitarist, Charlotte Caffey, soon joined them, and they recruited a rhythm section in the inexperienced Olaverra and Bello.
The group debuted as the Go-Go's at Hollywood's punk club the Masque, with a 11/2-song set. Though onlookers considered them another hilariously daring bunch of amateurs, they began rehearsing in earnest and soon recruited Gina Schock, a serious and adept drummer who'd toured briefly with cult-film star Edie Massey and her Eggs. By that time the Go-Go's had been playing the punk circuit for nearly a year, their sound gradually growing from punk to a Blondie-ish bouncy pop rock.
They went to En¬gland, where they attracted the attention of British ska-rockers Madness, who had the Go-Go's open a tour there. The British independent label Stiff recorded a Go-Go's single, and "We Got the Beat" became a minor hit in new-wave dance clubs in Britain and America. In early 1980 Olaverra was asked to leave due to her punk style and attitude; the rest of the group thought they wouldn't get a U.S. record deal if they didn't sound poppier. She was replaced by Kathy Valentine, who had played guitar briefly with British all-female heavy-metal band Girlschool and L.A. punk band the Textones. She joined the Go-Go's after a four-day crash course in bass and the band's repertoire.
The first Go-Go's album was produced by girl-group veteran Richard Gottehrer and Rob Freeman, both of whom had worked on Blondie's first album. By spring 1982, Beauty and the Beat was #1, and "We Got the Beat" and "Our Lips Are Sealed" (the latter cowritten by Wiedlin and her lover Terry Hall of Britain's Specials and Fun Boy Three) were long-running hits. Vacation (#8, 1982) was slightly less popular but yielded a summertime Top 10 hit single in the title cut. Talk Show was a lesser hit (#18, 1984) that spawned hit singles in "Head Over Heels" (#11, 1984) and "Turn to You" (#32, 1984), but Wiedlin left the group soon after, prompting its dissolution. The women revealed years later that nearly nonstop touring and the party lifestyle that often went with it had taken its toll on the band; Caffey has spoken openly about kicking her heroin addiction. Schock underwent open-heart surgery.
Carlisle launched a successful post–Go-Go's solo career with Belinda (#13, 1986), on which Caffey and Wiedlin also appeared. It went gold and yielded a hit single in "Mad About You" (#3, 1986). Heaven on Earth (#13, 1987) went platinum, yielding Carlisle's biggest hits, "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" (#1, 1987) and "I Get Weak" (#2, 1987), plus another Top 10 hit in "Circle in the Sand" (#7, 1987). Live Your Life Be Free, however, flopped, as did albums by Wiedlin (Fur did produce a hit single in "Rush Hour" [#9, 1988]), who became an ardent animal rights activist. Caffey, with Meredith Brooks (who later had a solo hit with the song "Bitch") and Gia Ciambotti, recorded one album as the Graces, before the Go-Go's reunited for a tour to promote a 1990 best-of collection. Four years later, they reunited again, this time to record some new material for the compilation Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's. After the album's release, the band embarked on a lengthy tour, with ex-Bangles guitarist Vicki Peterson subbing for Caffey, who was pregnant with her daughter by partner Jeff MacDonald of the band Redd Kross.
Disillusioned after being on the road, the members returned to their individual projects. Valentine and Schock formed the Delphines with Dominique Davalos; Wiedlin fronted froSTed, whose 1996 album, Cold, featured four songs that she cowrote with Caffey. Caffey wrote songs for and with other artists (including Courtney Love) as well as arranged and "consulted" on albums (including Jewel's debut). Carlisle returned to her home with her husband, film producer Morgan Mason (son of actor James Mason), and their son in Europe, where she's continued to have a successful solo career. Then, in 1999, the quintet got together to write a movie treatment about their lives with the band. Invigorated by the team effort, they decided to play two weeks of concert dates on the West Coast and in the southwestern U.S. They also recorded a live album, which they planned to sell themselves on an official Web site. While each member still maintained her own career —including Wiedlin doing voiceovers for cartoons and playing occasional gigs with Caffey in Twisted & Jaded, and Schock performing in the band K-Five and writing music for movies, TV, and commercials —the group remained reunited this time, collaborating on songs, touring across the U.S. in 2000, and recording an album of new material, God Bless the Go-Go's.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).