Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"Head Over Heels": It Can't Be Your Secret Favorite Go-Go's Song, Because It's My Secret Favorite Go-Go's Song

I may have been dimly familiar with the chorus of "Vacation," but (to my initial loss and belated enjoyment) the only Go-Go's song I really, truly knew until about three years ago was "Head Over Heels." I knew "Head Over Heels" because it was one of the tracks on my infamous '80s Tape. In fact, it was one of the hardest rocking songs on that tape, and I remember being surprised that one of the hardest rocking songs on that tape was by the so-called "all-girl group." And yet, despite being impressed by that, I didn't take the Go-Go's very seriously or bother to listen to their other music ... for another fifteen years! Well, to everything there is a season, but in the meantime, there was "Head Over Heels."

Now let me describe to you what I feel like when I listen to "Head Over Heels." When I listen to "Head Over Heels," I feel like I've just stumbled out of bed at 6:00 in the morning and I've splashed my face with cold water. When I listen to "Head Over Heels," I feel like I've just jumped out of an airplane and I'm hurtling seven thousand miles per hour toward the surface of the earth. When I listen to "Head Over Heels," I feel like I've just snorted ten zillion grams of coke and I'm running around Los Angeles like a crazy person. "Head Over Heels" is three minutes and thirty-eight seconds of pure, concentrated pop energy.

The song is a collaboration between Charlotte and Kathy (Charlotte claims that she wrote the bulk of it and that Kathy merely helped out, but then I've heard Jane refer to it as "Kathy's song," so let's just call it even). I used to think "Head Over Heels" was a cookie-cutter love song, with the singer being "head over heels in love," but after having learned a little more about the Go-Go's, I now realize that it's more of a song about tumbling head over heels through "life," which is not necessarily a good thing:
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

Been running so fast
Right from the starting line
No more connections
I don't need any more advice
One hand's just reaching out
And one's just hangin' on
It seems my weaknesses
Just keep going strong

Head over heels
Where should I go
Can't stop myself
Out of control
Head over heels
No time to think
Looks like the whole world's
Out of sync

Been running so hard
When what I need is to unwind
The voice of reason
Is one I left so far behind
I've waited so long
So long to play this part
And just remembered
That I'd forgotten about my heart
Somebody check this entire band into the Betty Ford Clinic! This ain't no love song; it's more like a first-person account of drug addiction. The Go-Go's were a runaway freight train and apparently they knew it; as Belinda writes of the song, "It perfectly captured our state of mind at that point in time." I continue to be impressed by the manner in which the Go-Go's were able to write lyrics that do not seem particularly highbrow or intellectual, and yet still manage to avoid cliche. I mean, songwriters have been rhyming "part" and "heart" since songwriting has been a thing, but no one has ever expressed quite what that last verse expresses with that rhyme, i.e. blindly chasing a goal without taking care of oneself. And if slant rhymes were your drug of choice, Charlotte and Kathy would be your dealers: "time/signs," "me/deceive," "line/advice," "on/strong" ... I think "part/heart" is the only genuine rhyme in the whole damn song. And the best part is, I noticed none of this until about ten minutes ago, because who even notices the lyrics when the music rocks this hard?

When rock critics talk about "power pop," they tend to mean '70s bands like the Raspberries or Cheap Trick, but what they should mean is a song like "Head Over Heels," which has that "power," and yet it is so absolutely ... "pop." You get me? The track storms out of the gate with Charlotte's electric piano and never lets up for one nanosecond, as the hooks just pile on top of each other like streaks of paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas (Did I just compare the Go-Go's to Jackson Pollock? Why yes I did). Jane does a nice job singing high harmony with Belinda on lines like "from the starting line" and "anymore advice," trying to tame the beast, but this beast can't be tamed. "Head ovah heeeeels," she growls like a panther. "Can't stop myself": she wants it all and she wants it now.

But's that not the best part of the song. Oh no. The best part of the song is the solo. Charlotte hammers away at that electric piano like it's about to take away her heroin fix, playing a melody line that doesn't appear anywhere else in the song, and then suddenly she slides her fingers along the keys and starts rocking out Jerry Lee Lewis style, while the band roars along behind her. Goodness gracious, great ovaries of fire!

The first time I listened to the second disc of Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's, I was riding Muni on my way to work. I'd been so transfixed by the first disc, of course, that it had taken me a couple of months to get around to the second disc. The point is, I hadn't heard "Head Over Heels" in a long, long while, and I'd almost forgotten that it was even on that collection, or that it was even one of the Go-Go's' later hits. I briefly wondered if I'd like it as much as I used to, or be sick of it, but when it came on, no sir. It was like hearing an old friend tucked in between all these new Go-Go friends. At any rate, I was standing up and holding on to one of the bars because the car was packed. But when I got to that solo, I twisted and contorted so that I could reach down to my mp3 player and turn that shit up. Because, if that solo doesn't make you want to crank up the volume in your headphones, then I don't know what would.

That night, I went on YouTube and thought, "There's no way the video could match the sheer energy of the recording." Thank God I didn't bet on that, because I would've lost my life savings, even though the band is performing on some empty sound stage with bad multi-colored lighting. Despite wearing a baggy grey off-the-shoulder sweatshirt/sweatpants combination (?), Belinda actually looks pretty cute here, although the haircut isn't doing her any favors. At 0:29 you can actually see her look down for her "mark" on the set, most likely a piece of tape. Uhh, Belinda ... we're not supposed to "see" you doing that, but whatever.

Then come the real special effects. Belinda twirls around and the set goes dark. Suddenly, the lights come back up, and ... she's on the same set! "Why did they turn the lights off in the first place?," you're asking. Because it looked cool! And it looks even cooler when spotlights suddenly shine over Kathy, Charlotte, and Jane in succession. It's like the studio was filming test footage, and then decided they liked the footage and left it in the video. Then there's a bizarre interlude where Jane is reading a book on a monitor while a couple in silhouette starts kissing behind her. All is essentially normal as Charlotte starts the solo, but when she runs her fingers across the keys for that little glissando ... the keys fly off the piano! At that point, all hell breaks loose as we're treated to a surreal, disorienting montage of normal-seeming L.A. buildings, freeway traffic jams, dancing cartoon L.A. buildings, random Go-Go's close-ups, and a ring placed on Gina's finger that suddenly turns into a Beetle. What the hell just happened. It's like they spent 80% of the budget on that one little montage. And yet, it may have been worth it.

Then, as Kathy's bass solo and the immortal hand claps grace our ears, Gina and Kathy find themselves on an airport runway without seeming to have moved in the least. The director closes out the clip by dividing up the screen into little strips so that the Go-Go's can all take their turns singing and/or keeping Belinda from hogging the entire screen. But in the final seconds, Belinda performs her supremely chaotic dancing, she tosses her hands into the air, and the song comes to a crashing halt. Whoo!

Although "Head Over Heels" became a reasonably sizable hit, peaking at #11, I've rarely heard it on the radio and I thought I was the only person who knew about it and/or liked it (nevertheless, I almost dropped my zucchini when I heard it come on the speaker system at my local supermarket a couple of weeks ago; nothing like a coked-out '80s girl band to give me energy while I'm wreaking havoc in the produce aisle). Little did I know that, at least according to the commentators over at the A.V. Club, it's everyone's secret favorite Go-Go's song. One commentator started a "game" of "Pick your favorite Go-Go's song," and these were some of the responses:
Best Go-Go's song -- Go!
I pick "Head Over Heels."

Seconded. Must be the handclaps.

seconded....the bridge with the handclaps is a killer

I'd pick Head Over Heels. The video has the best example of 80s "Go-Gos dancing" you'll ever see. Plus a one-shouldered sweatshirt AND someone wearing a proto-Kill Bill (or, retro Bruce Lee) yellow jacket!

Our Lips are Sealed was the first time I heard them, so it's a special song for me. But I am a sucker for using the piano as a rhythm instrument, so Head over Heels wins for me too. The piano rock out music before the hand claps is the moment in the song I wait for.

"Head Over Heels" is great. One of those rare songs that's actually enhanced by its' 80s production.

I had no idea this many other people love "Head Over Heels." It should be played on the radio more than "Come On Eileen" and "Coming Home (Major Tom)" combined. It has a freakin' bass solo, for Pete's sake. A real, live eighties bass solo. And everyone else is correct about the handclaps.

You could fit my patience for most 80s pop into a thimble, but "Head Over Heels" is one of those great singles. It's one of the few uses of synth from back then that doesn't make me feel sad and icky.

I'm pretty sure there is no synth on "Head Over Heels," although there is an electric piano.

I absolutely love "Head Over Heels" and feel it's their best song by a mile, but based on the video, Belinda Carlisle dances like my mom.
I guess the secret is out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pls just draw it .tell me others bands as cool as the go go's.