Go-Go’s Album and Song Rankings

40 years after the Go-Go’s debut album was released they’re about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This is a band I was only casually familiar with up until this past year when their documentary came out. Since then I have listened to every album, b-side, and live release to death. It was easy to dismiss the band as an 80s pop act, but seeing their origins as a punk band and hearing/seeing the evolution over the years through new wave and pop rock gave me a whole new appreciation for their music, and their abilities as songwriters. Here is a ranking of all 4 of their studio albums, as well as all songs from those albums. Also included are the 3 new recordings from 1994’s ‘Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s’ and the 2020 new single ‘Club Zero’


4 – Vacation (1982)

The exclusive criticism of this album seems to always be that it was rushed. That’s even the opinion of the band. There’s no doubt it was a rushed job, as barely over a year after Beauty and the Beat, and was recorded some 8 months after their debut was released. It’s more interesting to pinpoint what was more rushed, the writing or the production. The production side definitely suffers as most songs sound like little more than demos. That’s not to say that bare bones production would have been a bad thing. One of the most interesting things about the Go-Go’s is how they sound like a polished pop-rock act when recorded, but no matter how poppy the songs are they always have that energy and a fair amount of punk aggression live. This album is anything but energetic. If there had been more time to spend in the studio I can see a lot of the less impressive songs being taken up a few notches. The bigger issue I see is the rushed process of songwriting. Some of the less memorable songs like This Old Feeling, The Way We Dance or Get Up and Go have a spark of something interesting going on. An example may be in ‘He’s So Strange’ where a few notes on the keyboard between verses and chorus give you the idea it’s about to take off. Same with the bass/drum intro of ‘Get Up and Go’. Unfortunately at least half of the songs on the album have that sound of being ready to take off, but in the end they sound unrealized. Without a doubt there are some strong songs on here that do play as fully realized. The title track Vacation being a good example. In the case of Vacation, it was based on a song Kathy Valentine had already written years earlier before joining the band, so that’s a case to be made for the album needing more time to develop. They had more time on Vacation which is why it’s a stand out. The real highlight of the album ‘Beatnik Beach’, a surf style song that does capture the energy of their live performances. That also was one they had been playing live for a while before ever recording the album. Overall the album is still a lot stronger than many bands of the early 80s were releasing. If the worst thing about it is that it’s inferior to 3 other truly outstanding albums, that’s not a knock against it at all.

3 – God Bless the Go-Go’s (2001)

If Vacation was a rushed effort, God Bless the Go-Go’s is the exact opposite. Coming 17 years after their last studio album and 7 years since the last new material they had recorded for a compilation. Who knows how long they actually worked on the writing and recording, but it’s clear the years of repairing the working relationships and improving the chemistry in the band did wonders for the finished product. This album sounds like a band having the time of their life. The energy alone that can be heard on the opening two tracks, La La Land and Unforgiven, is as strong as anything they’d recorded since their debut 20 years earlier. Even some of the mellower songs like Apology or Automatic Rainy Day are more rock songs than pop songs. For the first time ever the band wrote entire songs together, whereas in the past it was mostly solo writing efforts or combinations of Jane and Charlotte, with some Jill thrown in there. Almost half of the songs include guest writing contributions such as Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day, Susanna Hoffs from the Bangles and Jill Sobule, but every song sounds like the Go-Go’s. The album is the most polished the band has ever sounded, which is impressive considering the layoff they had. When I say polished I don’t mean over produced either. Musically this album just sounds like a perfectly performed and recorded live show. The years of extra experience all band members had is what likely gives it that polished sound. If there’s one negative to the album it’s the length. That’s maybe being a little too critical considering it clocks in at only 45 minutes, but all previous albums were around the 35 minute mark. At 13 songs there are maybe 2 or 3 that could have been cut or saved as B-Sides, but again it’s only when comparing it to their 2 best albums that this comes up a little short. You’d have a hard time finding any band coming back from this long of a hiatus and still delivering an album this listenable.

2 – Talk Show (1984)

I would almost consider calling this a tie for 2nd between Talk Show and God Bless the Go-Go’s. While I slightly prefer the style of God Bless, the perfect pacing of Talk Show gives it the slight edge. Only 10 songs, and not one on here that I’d leave off. I’m sure I’m not alone in the fact that I always associated the Go-Go’s as more of an 80s pop band and less of a rock band, and the fact is by Talk Show they were much more pop focused. With the exception of ‘I’m the Only One’ and maybe ‘Turn To You’ it does sound more like a pop group, but then again, everything did by the mid 80s. Proof of that is David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, The Who’s It’s Hard or George Harrison’s Cloud Nine. Talk Show is just an album of the times. Some of the pop songs are among the catchiest you’d hear from any group of this era. Head Over Heels and You Thought in particular will stick in your head for days. What’s more impressive than anything on this album are the ballads, something the band had never done a lot of before. I wonder how big ‘Forget That Day’ would have been had it been released as a single. On top of that the closing track ‘Mercenary’ is not only the best ballad the band ever recorded, but one of their best songs period. Considering the band was literally breaking up in the middle of writing and recording this album, and would literally be breaking up by the time they were touring, the album itself is a near perfect effort. The finished product here may be as good as it is despite the issues the band members were having, but I can’t help but wonder had they been in a better place as a unit what future albums in the 80s and maybe even early 90s could have sounded like.

1 – Beauty and the Beat (1981)

This may sound like an exaggeration to someone who has never heard this album, but Beauty and the Beat is 100% a perfect album. I’d go as far as calling it one of the most perfect albums of the 80s. I’d go even further and say this might be in my top ten favourite albums of all time. If you listen to any of these songs performed live you can hear how the Go-Go’s evolved from a pure punk band. While other acts around this era such as Elvis Costello, Blondie and Talking Heads had already started to bridge the gap between punk and what would become New Wave, there’s a more raw sound to the Go-Go’s that sets them apart in 1981. The final sound they settle on sounds almost like early R.E.M. before R.E.M. was a thing. The behind the scenes story of their biggest hit ‘We Got the Beat’ is like a prologue that tells the story of the band. Charlotte Caffey wrote the song and almost didn’t want to play it for the rest of the band, as she feared it would be considered too poppy for their punk sound. It’s interesting how the band not only took to the song, but arguably allowed the sound of it to influence every other song on the album. Again, you can listen to their live recordings and hear how different this album would have sounded if produced differently. While I’ll continue to argue that Go-Go’s live music should be heard to fully appreciate them, I believe this album and the band as a whole is better for pulling away from the punk sound. They ended up with 11 perfect songs with the best hooks anyone could write in the early 80s, and yet unlike some of their future recordings, the Go-Go’s are still 100% a pure rock band on Beauty and the Beat. Not enough good things can be said about their debut. If the Go-Go’s only existed with this one album, and never recorded again after this, they would still have been worthy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With this being the 40 year anniversary, I can’t think of a better year for them to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Song Rankings

50 – Talking Myself Down (God Bless the Go-Go’s – 2001)

49 – The Way We Dance (Vacation – 1982)

48 – I Think It’s Me (Vacation – 1982)

47 – Cool Jerk (Vacation – 1982)

46 – Beautiful (Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s – 1994)

45 – Yes or No (Talk Show – 1984)

44 – Insincere (God Bless the Go-Go’s – 2001)

43 – Get Up and Go (Vacation – 1982)

42 – This Old Feeling (Vacation – 1982)

41 – Kissing Asphalt (God Bless the Go-Go’s – 2001)

40 – I’m With You (Talk Show – 1984)

39 – Good Girl (Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s – 1994)

38 – He’s So Strange (Vacation – 1982)

37 – Here You Are (God Bless the Go-Go’s – 2001)

36 – Capture the Light (Talk Show – 1984)

35 – It’s Everything But Partytime (Vacation – 1982)

34 – Vision of Nowness (God Bless the Go-Go’s – 2001)

33 – Automatic Rainy Day (God Bless the Go-Go’s – 2001)

32 – Beneath the Blue Sky (Talk Show – 1984)

31 – Throw Me a Curve (God Bless the Go-Go’s – 2001)

30 – Worlds Away (Vacation – 1982)

29 – You Can’t Walk In Your Sleep (Beauty and the Beat – 1981)

28 – We Don’t Get Along (Vacation – 1982)

27 – Stuck in My Car (God Bless the Go-Go’s – 2001)

26 – Tonite (Beauty and the Beat – 1981)

25 – I’m the Only One (Talk Show – 1984)

24 – Fading Fast (Beauty and the Beast – 1981)

23 – Girl of 100 Lists (Vacation – 1982)

22 – Sonic Superslide (God Bless the Go-Go’s – 2001)

21 – The Whole World Lost It’s Head (Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s – 1994)

20 – You Thought (Talk Show – 1984)

19 – Apology (God Bless the Go-Go’s)

18 – Turn to You (Talk Show – 1984)

17 – Can’t Stop the World (Beauty and the Beat – 1981)

16 – Daisy Chain (God Bless the Go-Go’s – 2001)

15 – Lust To Love (Beauty and the Beat – 1981)

14 – How Much More (Beauty and the Beat – 1981)

13 – Vacation (Vacation – 1982)

12 – Forget That Day (Talk Show – 1984)

11 – Beatnik Beach (Vacation – 1982)

10 – Unforgiven (God Bless the Go-Go’s – 2001)

9 – This Town (Beauty and the Beat – 1981)

8 – Club Zero (Single – 2020)

7 – Our Lips Are Sealed (Beauty and the Beat – 1981)

6 – Mercenary (Talk Show – 1984)

5 – Head Over Heels (Talk Show – 1984)

4 – La La Land (God Bless the Go-Go’s – 2001)

3 – Skidmarks on My Heart (Beauty and the Beat – 1981)

2 – Automatic (Beauty and the Beat – 1981)

1- We Got the Beat (Beauty and the Beat – 1981)

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