Charlotte McCaffrey was the guitarist in a band called The Eyes when a punk with purple hair, ripped stockings and dressed in a garbage bag invited her to join an all-female music group. She did, even though none of her new bandmates knew how to play their instruments. They came a long way, however ,and McCaffrey wrote some big hits for her new band, The Go-Gos, including “Vacation,” “Head Over Heels,” and their first single (released in the UK, second in the US), “We Got the Beat.”
That’s McCaffrey to the left of the stage. She’s the introverted Go-Go who is a proud songwriter but doesn’t crave the spotlight.
Songfacts.com asked McCaffrey about writing “We Got the Beat” and she told them:
I thought it would be very clever to do “Going To A Go-Go.” I thought, Well, let’s try working this out as a cover song. Which is really funny when I think about it. I was listening to it a lot one day, and later that night, the song came to me within 5 minutes. I don’t even know if it has anything to do with listening to that song, but this whole idea came to me. It was one of those things that just went right through me and came out my hand; I wrote it down, recorded it a little bit, and then brought it into rehearsal a few days later.
Here’s Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Going to a Go-Go”:
Familiar opening drum beat, no?
Some random facts about the single’s chart position: “We Got the Beat” stalled at #2 on the Billboard Charts behind Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” (which she didn’t write). That same year, 1982, “We Got the Beat” was competing with the Rolling Stones’ version of “Going to a Go-Go” released as a single off the live album Still Life .
(I remember thinking the Stones looked old in 1982.)
So, I mentioned that “We Got the Beat” was both the first and second single from the Go-Gos. A version was released in the UK before being re-recorded and released again in the States. Here’s the audio from their UK release on Stiff Records (their label-mates included The Specials and Madness):
The sound quality is pretty different — the UK version is definitely flatter and the drums and guitars are muddier. The drums don’t start the song. The subsequent remix for US release in early 1982 is much cleaner and a bit faster.
The AV Club has a very good retrospective of Beauty and the Beat, the Go-gos’ first record. There’s a lot there about the sexism they faced as the first all girl band to write and record their own songs to make a #1 record, and the change from punk to pop. The article quotes the great rock critic and historian Greil Marcus who reviewed the album in Rolling Stone:
Beauty And The Beat sounds innocent mostly because we have learned to associate innocence with the sound of joy; if the album has a message, it’s that it takes toughness and nerve to make that sound.
Early footage of the punk rock phenomenon that was The Go-Gos in 1979. Here they cover Josie Cotton’s terrific “Johnny Are You Queer?” in 75 seconds (it’s worth it to hear Cotton’s version so you can hear the lyrics).
The Go-Gos prove that, Yeah, they “still got it” from September 2012:
One woman (and a looper):
I’m only posting this as a sort of virtual milk-carton, can someone make sure that these kids were not performing under duress? Call home, children.
This is not the same song — it’s “Wipeout” — but the group is called We Got the Beat youth percussion and came up on my YouTube search and I was impressed: