Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Go-Go's' B-Sides (Get An "A" In My Book)

You wouldn't expect that a band with only a three-album discography would have tossed off too many rarities or B-sides in their day. And you would be correct. But there are three such items in the Go-Go's catalog - one for each album, in fact. Surprise of the century: I like all three. And why do I like them, you ask? What I like about the Go-Go's' B-sides is that they're all wildly different from each other and they each reveal an overlooked aspect of the band's sound - only fitting for an act whose influences, according to AMG, included X, Lesley Gore, Darby Crash, The Monkees, Patti Smith, and The Ohio Express. You know, the usual. So before I finally delve into the band's untimely demise, I thought I would take one last look at their musical brilliance, which, honestly, shines through even in their scraps.

Here's a genre that was not at its peak in 1981: instrumental surf rock. Charlotte sought to single-handedly rectify that situation with the B-side to "Our Lips Are Sealed," "Surfing And Spying." Well, it's not entirely an instrumental, since it does contain two lyrics. Those lyrics? "Surf" and "Spy." To quote Oscar Wilde, "Brevity is the soul of wit." The band shouts the crucial words at the 0:39 mark with a sneaky, tongue-in-cheek, echo-heavy menace. Eat your heart out, Dick Dale.

The serious gem of the B-side litter (argue with me if you dare) is probably "Speeding." Like much of the material on Vacation, this B-side to "Get Up And Go" was a leftover from the Beauty and the Beat days, but with its rockabilly guitars and kitschy keyboard, it eats the A-side for breakfast. You mean to tell me there was room for "Cool Jerk" on the album, but they couldn't find space for "Speeding"? Get that coke out of your ears, girls.

The lyrics use driving as a metaphor for ... drugs? Sex? Sex and drugs? How about all of the above? Belinda's not picky. She lays into the opening lines as if she'd just tooted up five seconds before the tape started rolling:
I can't explain the way I feel
Each time I get behind the wheel
The rush of blood comes
As the power surges
And my right foot urges
The car to push on through the night

Driving faster
Driving past the scenery
On pretty view and
Feel the speed and
I don't dream of
Driving slow some other time

One thing I'm certain that I know
All I want to do is go go go
Everything is rushing by
My heart is pounding deep inside
Got to match the engine's pace
Win imaginary race - yeah!

Driving faster
Driving past the scenery
On pretty view and
I feel as though I've
Got to control my
Reckless need to speed and speed
And speed
And speed
And speed
And speed...

Initially I was crestfallen to think that such a first-rate Go-Go's track would have languished in obscurity as the B-side to a single that hardly anybody actually bought anyway, but I breathed easier when I learned that the song received an extra dose of exposure by being included on the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack. Although both "We Got the Beat" and "Speeding" appeared in the actual movie (which, by the way, I have only seen in pieces), only "Speeding" made it to the official soundtrack album, which, also by the way, is a serious repository of Yuppie Rock sleaze. I guess when Rolling Stone journalist Cameron Crowe is your movie's screenwriter, you can round up a fairly A-list line-up for your soundtrack album: Jackson Browne ("Somebody's Baby" anyone?), Jimmy Buffett, Graham Nash, Donna Summer, Stevie Nicks, Sammy Hagar, Quarterflash - they weren't farting around. Hilariously, the album almost functioned as an Eagles re-union as it featured solo tracks from not one, not two, but four former Eagles: Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, and Don Felder (I didn't even know Don Felder could sing). But one name was conspicuously absent. Still bitter, Glenn? At any rate, surrounded by all that Dad Rock, "Speeding" comes off like a wild blast of unbridled punk fury, the Go-Go's' only partners in youthful vigor on the soundtrack being I.R.S. label mates Oingo Boingo.

Finally, "Good For Gone," the B-side of "Head Over Heels," might be the weirdest B-side of them all. Imagine if the Go-Go's tried to do some sort of jaunty, big band, lounge-pop shuffle. Well, imagine no longer, because here it is. I can see why the band might have felt that this one wouldn't have fit in with the rest of Talk Show, but I'm glad it found its way out somehow. Still, if you can't exactly see Belinda Carlisle as the reincarnation of Ella Fitzgerald, you may not be alone.

In sum: among the many observations that one could make about the Go-Go's, in praise or in scorn, let it not be said that they lacked diversity.

1 comment:

Eric said...

These three were on put on Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's (which also apparently has reunion tracks on it).