As an indie rock aficionado, getting back to 1981 and looking for an album that is interesting to me and has something larger I can say about it is trickier. There were punk albums coming out back then, of course, but no real notable ones to me. This is a time when bands like Grand Funk Railroad could plausibly release albums. Mission of Burma released their first EP, and the Replacements dropped their debut album Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. I dig the Replacements, but that album is a bit forgettable.
Hell, U2 was at the beginning of their career, releasing the early also October. U2! They are the epitome of classic rock at this point. There is an album that came out basically 40 years ago, though, on July 8, 1981 that is well worth talking about. That is the Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat.
This is yet-another debut album, but this one immediately grabbed people. It made them a hit band, though the fact MTV debuted in 1981 probably helped as well. Funnily enough, the Go-Go’s also started as a punk band. They were California punk rockers with a reputation for partying as hard as anybody. This album opens with the song “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Try and parse that in your brain.
By the time of Beauty and the Beat, the gals of the Go-Go’s weren’t making punk music anymore. It would probably also be a stretch to call it pop-punk. By this point, the Go-Go’s are at the forefront of new wave, and they became one of the faces of that genre, and of the early MTV era. Some of that is probably based on the fact they were five women who many thought were attractive at a time when musical artists had to consider their appearances for a new era involving music video. That being said, any band who got their start in the California punk scene put their time in.
While there are 11 songs on Beauty and the Beat, you can be forgiven for only remembering two of them. Side A opens with “Our Lips Are Sealed,” and Side B opens with the even better “We Got the Beat.” Those songs are catchy. They are infectious. The rest of the album has a similar sound, but old albums are defined by their hits. These are two real deal hits for an album to produce, though.
That being said, on the whole Beauty and the Beat got good reviews back then and have gotten strong reviews from contemporary sources as well. Rolling Stone has it at 400 on their list of the 500 Best Albums of All-Time. Drugs and in-fighting took the Go-Go’s down pretty quickly, but in a way maybe that was a throwback to their punk roots as well. They may have seen glamorous, but they never lost the edge.