Decades after the Go-Go’s early ‘80s heyday, bassist Kathy Valentine and the band are finally getting their due for their contribution to pop music history. On Oct. 30, the band will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
This comes after The Go-Go’s, a documentary about the all-female band, premiered on Showtime last year to critical raves and the band released “Club Zero,” its first new song in 19 years. Valentine also published her acclaimed 2020 book, All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ’n’ Roll Memoir (named after a lyric from “Vacation,” the Go-Go’s 1982 top 10 hit that she cowrote).
And in May, Valentine, 62, graduated from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, with an interdisciplinary degree in fine arts and English, while her 18-year-old daughter, Audrey, graduated from high school.
“In a perfect world, I would have graduated at a different time than my daughter,” Valentine says, referring to possibly overshadowing Audrey’s big moment. “But it might make for some pretty good photo ops. And I keep tormenting her by telling her I’m going to apply for grad school wherever she gets in as a freshman. And she gives me a look, like, ‘I’m horrified.’ ”
Getting her college diploma later in life was “kind of like a bucket list thing” for Valentine, who’s eager to start the next chapter of her life as a writer. “Every time I take a class, I’m just so fired up by the possibilities I could go in,” she says. “Life just always seems to open up with education.”
In her younger years, Valentine pursued music over academics. Writing in her memoir, Valentine credits her mother, who allowed the teenage Valentine to run wild and experience the pleasures and pain of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Not an approach everyone may agree with, but for Valentine, it paid off.
“It’s not all like her being negligent or her being not present or her not giving me guidance or boundaries,” Valentine says. “That’s a big part of the story, but also about her support that enabled me to do this. If I had stayed in a regular, traditional school, I probably wouldn’t have learned the guitar. I think she’s very much part of why I became a musician.”
Picking up the guitar while attending an alternative school about 40 miles from her native Austin, Texas, Valentine started her first band by the age of 16. After gigging with a few bands and jamming with such Texas legends as Doug Sahm, Valentine moved to Los Angeles when she was 19. In L.A., she and singer-guitarist Carla Olson formed the Textones, and it was with that band that she first recorded her song “Vacation.” She opted to jump ship and switch to bass to join the Go-Go’s in late 1980.
Just a few months after she joined the band, the Go-Go’s were signed to I.R.S. Records, for which they recorded the album Beauty and the Beat. Featuring such hits as “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat,” and fueled by video play on MTV and frequent touring, the album rose to number 1 on the Billboard pop albums chart, becoming the first album by an all-female band who played their own instruments to top that chart. The Go-Go’s — Valentine, singer Belinda Carlisle, guitarists Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey, and drummer Gina Schock — went from punk rockers to pop queens.
“Vacation,” retooled with input from Caffey and Wiedlin, was tapped as the title track for the band’s second album, released in 1982, and became a top 10 single.
Valentine also cowrote “Head Over Heels,” the hit from the Go-Go’s third album, Talk Show. But by 1985, the Go-Go’s collapsed in a haze of drug and alcohol abuse, overwhelming personal problems and ill will over songwriting royalties.
While writing her memoir, Valentine came to the realization that male musicians had repeatedly stepped up and helped her during her career. “After the Go-Go’s, I was quite lost after we broke up and I got sober. I was a little lost musically,” she says. “I wasn’t sure of my identity anymore, and the musicians in my life that were guys kind of rallied around me, made a band with me and helped me figure things out again. So it has been a lifelong pattern. I was really happy to be able to write that and get that out there.”
Following the Go-Go’s demise, Valentine played with a few other bands, but they failed to match the success of the Go-Go’s, who reunited in the ’90s. In 2012, a broken wrist kept her off a Go-Go’s tour, and in 2013, Valentine was fired from the group. She sued the group, alleging her ex-bandmates were trying to deprive her of her fair share of the band’s revenues. That’s also when she began writing her memoir.
“Writing the book really healed those feelings in a lot of ways,” she says. “There were a lot of silver linings to that. Part of it was being out of what, for a time, was a rather dysfunctional and toxic environment. I was not the first and only person to bear the brunt of that kind of negativity,” she adds. “On one hand, I did take it personally. On another, there was a whole other part of me that recognized that it wasn’t just about me. That it was a dynamic that had gotten very toxic.”
Valentine’s lawsuit against the band was eventually settled out of court, and she rejoined the Go-Go’s in 2018, just before the jukebox musical Head Over Heels, a 16th-century romance set to the group’s music, opened on Broadway. Valentine had planned to play dates with the band in the summer of 2020 and 2021, but they were scratched due to the pandemic. Still, the Go-Go’s are in a good place, and in late June they announced concert dates for December and January.
“I think the documentary and coming together in our 60s — really healing and letting go — is one of the highest points we’ve had,” she says. “It’s almost like it’s gone beyond creating and having this collective momentum that is charging toward success. That was exciting and exhilarating. But for where I am now, what’s happening with us as human beings is a real highlight.”
Valentine’s “Get Up and Go” Spotify Playlist
“You would think, as a musician, I would be listening to music all the time. But I’m not,” Kathy Valentine admits. “When I’m in a relationship with someone, they imagine some kind of music nirvana — always listening to stuff and talking about the production and the songs. I think I’m a big disappointment because I actually value silence a lot.” However, when Valentine is cleaning the house or getting ready for a show, she does crank the tunes. “I thought I’d pick the latter,” she quips. “It’s a little more glamorous.”. Here are some of her favorites.
It’s Your Thing performed by the Isley Brothers
“It just puts me in a really happy mood. It’s so simple and funky.”
Cissy Strut performed by the Meters
“It’s kind of in the same realm. It’s so tight and funky and yet not over the top. It’s still very much about the melody and song craft. Growing up in Austin, I never did get to see the Isley Brothers. But the Meters would come through town every now and then, and I did get to see them play. To me they just represented — I always thought of New Orleans in the same family of the Texas music I grew up with. They were a different branch, but we were kind of in the same clan.”
Train in Vain performed by the Clash
“It has simplicity, but the words and the melody have this feeling to it that just lifts me up. To me, it is the punk rock equivalent of ‘It’s Your Thing.’ ”
D/FW performed by the Vaughan Brothers
“It’s an instrumental. I love an instrumental, funky kind of blues, so I can sing the riffs. It doesn’t need words. I can sing every riff that Stevie [Ray]and Jimmie are playing. I’m moving. I can’t be doing mascara when that one comes on.”
Shakin’ All Over performed by the Who
“I love the original, too, but the Who’s version … I guess I’m just a guitar freak, because from the minute I hear that guitar going and those drums, it makes me feel kind of excited and ready to go play. I wasn’t a Who fan, but there was something about when they got down and dirty that I really liked. I was more a fan of that kind of stuff than when they got all operatic.”
Start Me Up performed by the Rolling Stones
“It feels like they’re saying it to me, just pulling me along. Get up. Start me up and get going. It’s a perfect pre-gig song.”
Sympathy for the Devil performed by the Rolling Stones
“It’s just part of my rock ’n’ roll DNA. It’s part of the soundtrack of my life and represents my love for the Stones. And that’s part of the reason I’m a musician, because of how much I love music by the Stones. It made me want to be in a band. They were my template of what a band was. It kind of brings in the more subversive elements of rock ’n’ roll. When you’re going out to play, you want to think about all of it. You want to think about the uplifting part, the fun part, the funky part, the low-down part and the subversive darkness. It’s all part of rock ’n’ roll.”
Lust for Life performed by Iggy Pop
“That song has always been on my desert island top 10. From the minute it starts with Hunt Sales’ drumbeat, I’m sucked in. I just feel like I’m revved up. It gets me feeling excited.”
Just Got Paid performed by ZZ Top
“So much of this list is about these guitar parts that just grab me — the tone of the guitar. Also, this takes me back to one of my very first bands, which was a female trio. And we did ZZ Top songs, and that was kind of my thread to whatever age I am now to going back to the beginning.”
Fire performed by Jimi Hendrix
“There’s something about that fast and furious bass part. I’m in the Bluebonnets now and the Go-Go’s — but for a long time I was in a trio called the Delfines, and we covered that song. And there’s something about a trio. There’s just no hiding. [The Jimi Hendrix Experience] get so furious and intense, and there’s just three of them. I think I like trios. Three people rocking out like mad has always been something that excites me.”
Are You Gonna Be My Girl? performed by Jet
“This song transcends so much. My daughter loves this song. She’s loved this song since she was 15, and it it’s just the epitome of rock ’n’ roll. For a while, I thought this is the band that is gonna carry it on. But then they imploded, which was terrible. I don’t know what happened to Jet. Man, that song, as soon as it comes on the radio, I turn it up.”
Take It Off performed by the Donnas
“Because I’m a woman, I want to definitely acknowledge the rock ’n’ roll bands that have women in them. And to me, the Donnas were just, like, ‘Oh, man. If I could have been in that band.’ When I was younger, I would have jumped in that band. They were just rock, through and through.”
Cannonball performed by the Breeders
“I always liked that song. They have a lot of songs that I like, but I can see why that was their breakthrough song. It was just so lo-fi, and yet really hooky. And it’s all about the attitude.”
Suffragette City performed by David Bowie
“That goes back to my early teen years. I get that same feeling when I hear that song as I did when I was a teenager. There’s definitely a style of what I like. There’s a tempo I like. There’s a way the guitars, drums and bass are all kind of playing together. I can see a thread in a lot of this. It soars and makes me feel like I’m soaring right alongside the song.”
See instructions below on how to add the playlist to your phone or tablet.
GET THE PLAYLIST
Every playlist on Spotify has its own unique code, similar to a QR code. Called Spotify Codes, these bars make it easy to add a playlist to your Spotify app on your device. Here's how:
- Download and open the free Spotify app on your phone or tablet.
- In the app, tap Search.
- Click the camera icon.
- Scan the barcode above, then tap the arrow to listen.
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