This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #468: Our Lips Are Sealed by the Go-Gos.
The Go-Gos were a five-piece, all-female band out of Los Angeles that gained fame with a string of hits that included, “We Got the Beat”, “Vacation”, “Head Over Heels” and “Our Lips Are Sealed”. They consisted of lead singer, Belinda Carlisle, Charlotte Caffey on lead guitar, Jane Wiedlin on rhythm guitar, Kathy Valentine on bass and Gina Schock on drums. Over the course of a career that saw them rise out of the ranks of L.A.’s Punk Rock scene, to playing the main stages of stadiums all over the world, the Go-Gos have sold almost ten million albums worldwide. They have split up and reformed numerous times. Band members have gone off to pursue solo projects, too. But, in the end, they were always more than the sum of their parts. The Go-Gos were special.
It is easy to under-estimate this band. On the surface, they present as”Pop princesses”, frolicking in fountains and shopping in stores (as seen in their videos). Pop songs, as a musical genre, are not often accorded the credit they deserve by purists. But, scratch even just a little bit below the surface of this band and you will find a group of immense substance and importance. The Go-Gos cut their musical teeth as punk rockers in L.A. Being an all-girl band in a predominantly all-male work environment was both a blessing and a curse. It was tough for them as women in the same way it is tough for any woman in any male-dominated field of employment. For much of their early career, the band was never taken seriously by fellow musicians nor by promoters. They were considered as “eye candy” more than as musicians and had to endure much misogynistic behaviour. In such an environment, one of two things tend to happen: you shrink back under the intensity of the pressure or you use the negative energy as fuel that builds strength. The Go-Gos chose to stick together. They bonded in ways that tend to occur when under siege. All the while, the members of the band were perfecting their craft; learning how to properly play their instruments, learning how to create playable songs, learning about harmonies and melodies, too.
They emerged from the Punk scene armed with the musical chops that would lead to their debut album Beauty and the Beat. From that album came some of their biggest hits like “We Got the Beat”, Head Over Heels” and “Our Lips are Sealed”. They suddenly found themselves with a #1 album and #1 songs. In doing so, the Go-Gos became the very first all-female group to play their own instruments and write their own songs to achieve a #1 hit on the music charts……ever!!! In the past, groups like the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas and so on, all had plenty of hit songs but, they usually never wrote their own material nor did many of them ever play an instrument on stage. The Go-Gos were pioneers who took control of their career and charted their own course.
The song, “Our Lips Are Sealed” has an interesting back story, too. One of the first public acknowledgements of their musical skills came from a band (that was profiled by me last week) called The Specials. *(You can read that post here). This Ska/TwoTone band from the UK was touring in the Los Angeles area and happened to catch a Go-Gos show. They were impressed enough with the energy and musicianship on display that they asked the Go-Gos to open for them on the rest of their tour. The Go-Gos agreed. The Specials were a large band of a dozen or more, mostly male, players. During the tour, there were backstage antics aplenty between bands and, coming out of it, lead singer Terry Hall of The Specials and Go-Gos guitarist Jane Wiedlin had a brief affair. The problem was that Hall was already involved with someone back in England. The song, “Our Lips Are Sealed” is the musical child borne from that brief union. When you listen to the lyrics of this song (which was written by Hall and sent to Wiedlin), you can easily tell that these are the words of someone trying to hush up an indiscretion. So what did Wiedlin do? She turned it from a warning to be quiet and instead, amplified the message and broadcast it to the world.
The Go-Gos, who project as Pop Princesses were anything but, in reality. They were feminists who knew how to deliver a message and pack a punch. They were strong, capable women who took charge of their own affairs; musically, sexually and otherwise. They didn’t need to sing about empowerment, they embodied it instead. In doing so, they blazed a trail for every all-female group or solo artist that followed. The members of the Go-Gos all say that the highest compliments they receive are not from people telling them that they like their music, it is, instead, from every female musician who tells them that they had the courage to get into music and express themselves on their own terms because of the example set by the Go-Gos.
The Go-Gos were voted in for induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2021. Not that they needed the validation but, just the same, it is a fitting acknowledgment by the Music Industry that there was something substantive about this all-girl band that is worthy or commemoration and of respect.
The link to the cover version of Our Lips Are Sealed by ex-boyfield, Terry Hall (now of Fun Boy Three) can be found here.
The link to the awesome website from The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame can be found here.
Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.
The Go-Gos have a wicked website that can be accessed here.
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