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The Go-Go’s’ – Beauty and the Beat

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Karen Carpenter

BY DENA TAURIELLO / MODERN DRUMMER MAGAZINE / SEP 2013

One of the most iconic vocalists in pop history was also a drummer—and a damned good one. So why do we still need reminding?In a 1975 Playboy magazine readers poll, Karen Carpenter was voted the best rock drummer of the year—beating out Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. Clearly insulted, Bonzo quipped, “She couldn’t last ten minutes with a Zeppelin number.” Carpenter was more than capable on her instrument, though. So why did this strike such a chord? One must consider the gender factor. Let’s face it: In the ’70s women were not known for being drummers. It wasn’t common—it wasn’t even cool. Yet there was Karen Carpenter. At the time, no other female drummer had reached the same level of prominence or achieved as much worldwide acclaim. Yes, there was Maureen “Moe” Tucker of the groundbreaking Velvet Underground, but despite its long-lasting influence, the VU didn’t come close to the commercial success of the Carpenters.

 

Carpenters Karen and Richard were the most successful American music act of the ’70s. Karen is known first and foremost as the lead singer of the pop duo, delivering haunting and lush alto melodies on such smash hits as “(They Long to Be) Close to You”, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Top of the World,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” and “Merry Christmas, Darling,” to name but a few. Single and album sales in total exceed 100 million units. The music, particularly Karen’s voice, is credited for having influenced many artists, including Madonna, Sheryl Crow, Kim Gordon, Shania Twain, and K.D. Lang. The focus on her lower register and the success it brought led Karen to jest by saying, “The money’s in the basement.” Notwithstanding her iconic sound and style, Carpenter always considered herself “a drummer who sang.”

Richard was the brains of the operation, responsible for song selections, arrangements, production, even working with Karen on her phrasing, but his kid sister was the face and the voice. Perhaps Richard’s most daunting task was telling Karen that she would no longer be the band’s live drummer, shifting her role to lead singer. By now she had agreed to take a backseat on some of the recording sessions, with Hal Blaine playing on most of the singles released between 1970 and 1975. Karen played the album tracks on those six records, in addition to several singles, like “Sing,” “Yesterday Once More,” and “Please Mr. Postman.” On the four albums released between 1976 and 1983, the drum tracks were played by Ron Tutt, Jim Gordon, Larrie Londin, Cubby O’Brien, John Robinson, or Ed Green....

BY DENA TAURIELLO / MODERN DRUMMER MAGAZINE / NOV 2020

Among the facts that the band’s recent Showtime documentary made clear: Without the crucial early leadership of drummer Gina Schock—or her crack drumming—we likely wouldn’t be talking about them forty years later, and the history of rock would be a significantly different story.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Okay, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic in the case of the Go-Go’s’ Gina Schock. But today the drummer happily admits that the success of their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, was a nice way to quietly give all the labels who passed on the band—simply for being female—a sort of middle finger.

Schock will be the first to insist that the band “never thought about being girls in a band. We just did what we loved to do.” The classic Go-Go’s lineup coalesced by the end of 1980, and their historic debut album was released on July 8, 1981. Beauty and the Beat remains the only album by an all-female group to top the Billboard albums chart with songs its members had played on and written. To call this album groundbreaking and pioneering is truly to understate the case.

Beauty and the Beat spent six weeks at number one, selling over two million copies and earning double-platinum status. It ranks on Rolling Stone’s list of the top 500 albums of all time and in the top 75 of their 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time list. It’s considered one of the essential albums of new wave, and its single “We Got the Beat” is among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock ’n’ Roll.

“I was fearless,” Schock tells Modern Drummer. “I didn’t think for one minute I wasn’t going to be a rock star.” Thanks to the support of her parents, Gina says that she grew up believing, “I could do anything, I could achieve anything, if I worked hard enough.” That work ethic proved invaluable for the Go-Go’s once Gina became a member in 1979. After seeing the band perform live, she arranged for them to jam two days later. “I felt like there was something really magical about the band. It felt very complete to me.”

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