Beauty and the Beat [30th Anniversary Edition]

by: Go-Go's

It’s not quite right to say that the Go-Go’s' 1981 debut, Beauty and the Beat, is where new wave caught hold in the U.S., but it’s not quite wrong, either. Prior to this, there had certainly been new wave hits -- Blondie had been reaching the Top Ten for two years running -- but the Go-Go’s ushered in the era of big, bright stylish pop, spending six weeks at the top of the U.S. charts and generating two singles that defined the era: the cool groove of “Our Lips Are Sealed” and the exuberant “We Got the Beat.” So big were these two hits that they sometimes suggested that Beauty and the Beat was a hits-and-filler record, an impression escalated by the boost the Go-Go’s received from the just-launched MTV, yet that’s hardly the case. Beauty and the Beat is sharp, clever, and catchy, explicitly drawing from the well of pre-Beatles ‘60s pop -- girl group harmonies, to be sure, but surf-rock echoes throughout -- but filtering it through the nervy energy of punk. With the assistance of Rob Freeman, producer Richard Gottehrer -- a veteran of the Strangeloves (“I Want Candy”) who also wrote the girl group standard “My Boyfriend’s Back” -- sanded down the band’s rougher edges, keeping the emphasis on the hooks and harmonies but giving the Go-Go’s enough kick and jangle that at times the group resembles nothing less than early R.E.M., particularly on “How Much More” and “Tonite.” But this isn’t Murmur; there is nothing murky about Beauty and the Beat at all -- this is infectiously cheerful pop, so hooky it’s sometimes easy to overlook how well-written these tunes are, but it’s the sturdiness of the songs that makes Beauty and the Beat a new wave classic. [For the 2011 30th anniversary edition of Beauty and the Beat, Capitol/IRS added a bonus disc of an August 1981 live show recorded at the Metro Club in Boston. Far rougher and rawer in audio quality and performance than the proper album, the show makes the Go-Go’s' punk roots plain in a way the record itself never does. It’s a lengthy 17-track set but the energy never flags, even when the group salutes its early-‘60s roots with “(Remember) Walking in the Sand,” one of many covers here, including Wanda Jackson’s “Let’s Have a Party” and “Cool Jerk.” The latter would pop up on their sophomore album, Vacation, whose title track also gets a breakneck sneak preview (as does “Beatnik Beach”), additions to the Beauty and the Beat material that help make this into an invigorating live show.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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