Thursday, March 14, 2013

Like, Totally The Best Go-Go's Straight-To-Video Concert Release Ever

Picture, if you will, Miles Copeland and the other head honchos at I.R.S. Records in late 1981, sitting around a table. "OK guys, we need to film a Go-Go's concert for the home video market. What venue should we film it in?" "A high school?" "In L.A.?" Miles twiddles his fingers together, Mr. Burns-style: "Excellent."

In December 1981, The Go-Go's performed at Palos Verdes High School in Los Angeles, and the concert was filmed and released as Totally Go-Go's. Here it is, ladies and gentleman - the eye of the hurricane, the heart of the dragon's lair, or, to paraphrase the article that inspired Saturday Night Fever, the tribal rites of the new Palos Verdes night. Check out the joy on the faces of these cheerleaders and football players as they're told that, yes, the Go-Go's will indeed be playing at their school. Courtesy of some resourceful uploaders, the complete video is now on YouTube. Not everyone can handle a full serving of Go-Go, however. What you need to know is that Totally Go-Go's is like totally representative of a typical Go-Go's concert from this era; I have a couple of bootlegs (don't laugh), and the set lists are almost exactly the same. Here are some of the numerous treasures to be found within:
  1. An early version of "Vacation" with alternate lyrics;
  2. A version of "Our Lips Are Sealed" which features the missing third verse (Yes, there is a missing third verse! It goes "Careless talk/Through paper walls/We can't stop them/Only laugh at them/Spreading rumors/So far from true/Dragged up from the underworld/Just like some precious pearl"); 
  3. During particularly long instrumental portions, Belinda attempts   to ... dance? I don't really know what else to call it. If Michael Jackson were white, female, and from L.A., he might have danced like Belinda does in this video;
  4. Every now and then some random high school kid jumps up on the stage, tries to dance like Belinda, and then dives back into the audience.
In a black dress with a little flower print design, black leggings, and high heeled shoes, Belinda is the queen of the fucking hop. Initially she wears a pink ribbon in her hair, but then rips it off dramatically at the start of "London Boys." Meanwhile, Jane is wearing a raccoon around her neck, and Charlotte still thinks she's part of the British Invasion.

Sprinkled throughout the video are little interview segments, here lumped together into one YouTube clip.

This, I suppose, was the public's first extended glimpse into the sad, tortured mind of the Go-Go's' lead singer, seen here lording over her kingdom in full "good girl/bad girl" splendor. Here's Belinda on her childhood (at 3:12):

"...and then I grew up in ... most of my schooling was in Ventura County in Thousand Oaks ... and I was a real good student ... and I was a cheerleader ... does anybody have a cigarette?"

Belinda on her role models (at 5:40):

"I never really had a role model ... when I was in, in high school ... or, you know, all the role models were ... guys, you know, and there was really no female ... girls to like, sort of, look up to and identify with. But it's really funny, like, when I'm on stage and the rest of us are on stage we'll see these girls, about like, you know, 16 or 17, out there like, singing all the lyrics, like all this feeling in their faces, it's really great. I wish I had someone that I could identify with."

In other words, "My childhood was really awful and ... God, I hope nobody call tell how fucked up I feel right now." Belinda on why she ended up being the singer (at 6:45):

"The only thing that was left for me was drums and singing, and I am like ... not ... I'm too lazy to play drums (laughs). So I thought, I might as well sing then."

Here Belinda gets this look on her face of absolute terror, as if the thought of having any sort of responsibility, even the mere responsibility of playing drums, is too much to bear (Warning: if you happen to catch any of the other band members' interviews, brace yourself for Gina's amazingly thick Baltimore accent).

But that's not all! The movie contains a few numbers that the Go-Go's performed with regularity during this period but never recorded in the studio (three of these "concert only" songs eventually appeared on Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's). Here's what Jane says about "London Boys":

" 'London Boys' was the first song I ever wrote and it was just when the band started and it's one of the few surviving songs from our beginnings. At the time it was before I'd ever gone to England and all my life I've been real enamored with English boys and how much cuter they seemed than American boys, and that's how that got written."

Seen your pictures in the 'zines
And you look real good
Pale blank faces, black and white keen
London boys, cigarette lean

London boys
Wish you were here
London boys
Wish we were there
London boys
Seem real cool
London boys
Hey, this one was pretty good! Hell, I can think of at least a couple of songs on Vacation that probably should have been jettisoned in favor of "London Boys," but oh well. Totally Go-Go's also documents the band's superlative taste for early '60s cover material. "Let's Have a Party" was originally recorded by Elvis, and later made famous by feisty country/rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson.

Here, the Go-Go's perform the song in about one minute and thirty seconds.

"Let's Have a Party, and Bring Some Cocaine" is perhaps what this version should have been called. Don't take my word for it:
By the time we returned from a brief end-of-November swing through the East Coast and played a small show at Palos Verdes High School (which was videotaped and released as Totally Go-Go's), I was doing coke regularly and not thinking twice about it.

Well, that's not exactly true. I thought a lot about it - how much I loved it ... it sent me into a happyland, far away from whatever else was on my mind ... A couple of drinks and sometimes a hit of coke was the way I got ready. What was the big deal? A dancer stretched, a rock star partied. That's the way I rationalized my behavior. More than twenty years passed before I faced the fact that I never went onstage sober not because I was a rock star but because deep down I was scared shitless - scared that I wasn't any good and the audience would see me as the fake I feared I might be.
We can see you Belinda! We can see right through you!!

Every punk and New Wave band had at least one "semi-ironic" cover that was meant to be a withering post-modern deconstruction of a rock or pop classic. Devo had "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," the Sex Pistols had "My Way," the Dead Kennedys had "Viva Las Vegas," etc., etc.

The Go-Go's had "Remember (Walking in the Sand)."

As originally performed by the Shangri-Las in 1964, "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" was a haunting, doom-laden ballad of teenage despair. Following the introductory, ominous piano chords, Mary Weiss sang of desperate longing for her departed, while the other Shangri-Las painted the scene with moody "oohs" and "aahs" in the background.

As performed by the Go-Go's, "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" has been stripped of all its melodrama and angst. If the Shangri-Las' version was the "tough New York biker chick" version, the Go-Go's' version is the "bored, apathetic Valley Girl" version.

Listen to how Belinda bellows the lyrics with deliberately stilted phrasing. Where the Shangri-Las sang "And then this letter ... came for meeeee!" the Go-Go's sing "That's when ... this let-ter it came to ... meh hey." Where the Shangri-Las broke down with a tragic series of "Oh nos," Belinda deadpans "Oh no" in mock horror. After she lets out her patented little growl, Gina starts gently tapping her cymbals as if imitating a lounge act. Belinda sounds like she couldn't care less about the guy, stating dispassionately, "The night was so exciting/His lips were so inviting" in the tone one might use to exclaim that they didn't know what they wanted for dinner.

But then! Then the band kicks it into high gear and the tempo practically doubles! The Go-Go's are taking '60s girl group pop and they're kicking it in the ass! Jane and Charlotte jump in with some frenetic shouts of "Remember" and after another minute or so, the band collapses in a big heap. Belinda manages one last "Bye," grabs her purse, which probably has a couple of grams in it, and walks off the stage.

The girl group is dead. Long live the girl group.

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