It may seem that, of late, that I’ve been surfing my “essential” albums as if on some sort of erratic spacetime wave, lurching one way before lurching another. I’m not. No, instead I’m replicating the way the mind works, which isn’t as logical as we like to think. As often as Memory X leads to the next stop on the timeline, aka Memory Y, it also leads us back or ahead to a tangentially linked event days, weeks, months or years before or after X occurred.
For instance, when I think of CSN’s Daylight Again, which I picked up in January 1984, my mind doesn’t leap ahead to any of the CSN-and-related albums I splurged on in the weeks and months that followed, or even to when I first saw them in concert eight months later. No, my mind’s eye centers on a spring day in my freshman honors English class. Our assignment: bring in a 45, LP or cassette, play a song from it, and then dissect it.
Yeah, I know: Fun times!
My pick is beside the point – though, given my recent CSN/Stephen Stills obsession, I’d wager fairly predictable. No, my appearance is more important: I had longish hair. A mustache. Unshaven, as it was an off-work day for me. Bedecked in jeans and a flannel or paisley shirt, with a leather jacket draped over the back of my desk chair. And the distinct scent of cloves exuded from me – I smoked clove cigarettes in those days. I looked and smelled far from the clean-cut Young Republicans of the day, in other words, and more like a holdover from Ravi Shankar’s Sunday afternoon set at Monterey Pop.
At the front of the class, a young woman – who looked like a picture postcard for everything preppy and peppy – surprised me by playing “Beneath the Blue Sky,” a song by the Go-Go’s from their recent Talk Show LP. She explained how the lyrics echoed the Cold War concerns of the day – a thematic anomaly not just for the group, she said, but for the pop music of the day.
When she was finished, she took her seat beside me and asked how she’d done. “Good,” I assured her, before telling her how I thought Talk Show was a great album.
“Of course,” I said. “What’s not to like?” (As my desk diary shows, I bought it two weeks after its release, on May 31st.) I recommended she give the Call’s Modern Romans a spin, as “When the Walls Came Down” seemed like it might be up her alley.
Like many in those days – and these days, for that matter – she made certain assumptions about me based on my yesteryear fashion sense. (Just as, to be fair, I assumed certain things about her based on her polished looks.)
Anyway, “Beneath the Blue Sky” – written by Kathy Valentine and Jane Wiedlin – is a cool song. Lyrically, it’s a smart call for peace that goes the person-to-person route. Musically, it’s pop and perky, which was the canvas the Go-Go’s often worked from, yet complements the words.
To back up a moment, the Go-Go’s were a breath of fresh air in the sometimes stale climate of the early ‘80s. Their 1981 debut, Beauty and the Beat, swatted away the ‘70s cliches of the breezy SoCal Sound by blending elements of pop, punk and surf-rock into snappy songs that never went on too long. It’s perfect, just about, and – to my ears – their best work.
As a whole, Talk Show is moodier and, at times, lyrically downbeat, with tracks tackling – in addition to the Cold War – isolation, breakups and depression, as well as the old stand-by of romantic attraction. It’s more rock than pop, with raucous guitars accenting many of the tracks.
“Head Over Heels,” the infectious first single, just missed the Top 10. Written by Charlotte Caffey and Kathy Valentine, it’s a bit of an outlier due to the prominence of the piano.
Written by Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin, “Turn to You” – the second track and single (which topped out at No. 32) – better makes the case for raucous guitars.
(If you didn’t click play on the video, you should. It features a young Rob Lowe as well as four-fifths of the Go-Go’s making like Joyce Hyser in Just One of the Guys a year before that movie was released.)
Another highlight: the Jane Wiedlin-penned “Forget That Day,” a dramatic tour de force that’s also the longest song in their canon.
“I’m the Only One,” written by Kathy Valentine, Danny B. Harvey (of the Rockats) and Carlene Carter, flat-out rocks.
“Capture the Light,” another Wiedlin-penned tune, is my favorite song on the album; it features one of Belinda’s best-ever vocals and lyrics that mean more than most. “Everybody wants/To touch the stars/Take a piece of happiness/Hold on tight/Keep trying hard/To capture the light…”
As most fans know, behind the scenes the band was at loggerheads for a myriad of personal and creative reasons, with the tensions undoubtedly fueled in part by their hard slog to success. (In a sense, the LP’s cover reflects the divisions within the band.) Overnight success is rarely overnight, and the pressure to stay on top takes a toll, including on those who got there with you. As a result, on Talk Show the effervescent fun of a few years earlier is replaced by more serious – aka adult – concerns. While it may not be the equal of Beauty and the Beat, it is a great work.
It was also, despite the retro-hippie mode I was in for much of the year, my favorite album of 1984.
The track listing: