During the early days of rock music, women were not really considered musicians. The one exception to that rule was Carole Kane of L.A.’s session musicians called The Wrecking Crew. She played bass on many hits of the Sixties, most notably one of my favorite albums, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. The rest were forced into vocal girl groups run by a producer, such as Phil Spector’s The Ronettes and Berry Gordy Jr.’s The Supremes. By the end of the Sixties, strong-willed female singers were making inroads on their creative process, like Janis Joplin or Aretha Franklin. Even those bands with female singers allow the women in on the songwriting, like Grace Slick did with Jefferson Airplane, then Jefferson Starship.
In the Seventies, female music heroes were popping up as strong solo artists (Patti Smith) or lead singers in bands (Deborah Harry of Blondie). Then, finally, Heart hit the big time with “Magic Man” from their debut album called Dreamboat Annie. Yes, Heart had a female lead singer, Ann Wilson, but Heart also had Ann’s sister Nancy playing both lead and rhythm guitars, while the two ladies wrote the songs. That happened in 1976.
1976 was an important year in that rock music was peaking in quality, punk was being to rumble in the Bowery of NYC and disco was giving us some very good music. All the while, rock impresario Kim Fowley decided it was time to create an all-girl rock group. He gathered five teenage girls, including Joan Jett and Lita Ford, got the group to practice and write songs and provocatively named them The Runaways. Although The Runaways were prefabricated in much the same way The Monkees were, the band struck a nerve with women all over. By the time the Eighties rolled around, girl groups like The Slits or The Raincoats were becoming commonplace in the underground scene.
By 1981, rock music was ready for an all-girl rock band. That’s when five California young women released an energetic album chock-full of buoyant pop-punk, new wave classic songs. Today, the album, Beauty and the Beat, by The Go-Go’s is considered one of rock music’s 500 Best Albums of All-Time, according to Rolling Stone.
The Go-Go’s were the perfect group to break the glass ceiling for women in rock in 1982 when that very album hit number one. They had hit songs from the album, like “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat”. Now, boys were ogling the Go-Go’s and choosing their favorite band member (me? I was always partial to Jane Wiedlin) much like the girls did 20 years earlier with the Beatles.
Unfortunately, The Go-Go’s were really party animals and not All-American girls. Their record company made them go back to the studio to record their sophomore album when they were not ready. Then, health problems and addiction got in the way and their music suffered. But, over the next couple of years, The Go-Go’s left us a couple more great singles with “Head over Heels” and “Vacation”, but the squabbling and the addictions were too much, and the band parted ways.
The good thing is that The Go-Go’s paved the way for more all female bands like The Bangles. Now, women are playing lead guitar in male artists’ bands. Jack White and Prince recently recorded and toured with all-female bands, who could blow most all-male bands off the stage. Slowly, over the past 35 years we are getting equal rights in rock music.
In the words of The Go-Go’s last album title: God Bless The Go-Go’s!