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.
For their third album, the Go-Go's abandoned all pretense of being punk, or even new wave, and went for an unabashed mainstream pop masterpiece. They nearly achieved their goal with Talk Show, an album filled with great pop songs but undermined by its own ambition. Talk Show has a sharper sound than its predecessors, with bigger guitars and drums, which helps drive home the accomplished pop hooks of "Turn to You," "I'm the Only One," and "Yes or No." However, the record is cluttered with half-realized songs and an overly detailed production which occasionally prevents the songs from reaching their full potential. But when the production and song are teamed well, the results are incredible, such as the surging "Head Over Heels," another classic single.
Of all the various best-ofs and compilations that have come out over time that cover the Go-Go's career, this one is the clearest winner, by a long shot. Though by default it doesn't tell the full story, appearing as it did in 1994, in terms of containing both the famous hits and a slew of rarities and unreleased tracks, Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's is equally valuable for both neophytes and hardcore fans. The first 11 tracks alone make for an entertaining peek into the band's earliest days, with a slew of live cuts from both early rehearsals and gigs, including a number of songs taped at the legendary SF punk venue the Mabuhay Gardens. Everything's rough, energetic, and merry fun – while it's no surprise why some compositions remained unheard in later years, it's still worth hearing how the group pureed everything from straight-up punk to spaghetti Western guitar and girl group right from the start. A real treat is a romp through "Johnny, Are You Queer?" which would later get a more famous (and much more sedate!) take by Josie Cotton. Plenty of rare B-sides from the group's commercially dominant days surface here and there, and as for the big hits, they're available a-plenty: "We Got the Beat," "Vacation," "Our Lips Are Sealed," "Head Over Heels," "Turn to You," and more. Choice album cuts include "Skidmarks on My Heart" and "This Town".