By Warren Kurtz
Charlotte Caffey is the surf-styled electric guitarist, keyboardist and co-composer of some of The Go-Go’s biggest hit singles of the ‘80s including “Head Over Heels” from their third album, the title tune “Vacation” from their second album and from their debut album, the sole writer of their biggest hit and lone gold single “We Got the Beat.” Goldmine was able to discuss some of her compositions, not only with The Go-Go’s but also for her trio The Graces and other acts she has written for, as she prepared for The Go-Go’s Farewell Tour.
Goldmine: When your debut album “Beauty and the Beat” was released 35 years ago, you wrote or co-wrote most of the 11 songs including the music for “Skidmarks On My Heart,” which later became a flip side for the 1994 cassette single “The Whole World Lost Its Head,” and another fan favorite “This Town.”
CHARLOTTE CAFFEY: “Skidmarks” is always in our live set. When we were starting, we all had day jobs. Belinda worked for Petersen Publishing Company, the home of the magazines “Teen,” “Tiger Beat,” and others including “Motor Trend.” She wrote the lyrics on a break at work, including the line, “You want Motor Trend.” She took them home and it spoke to the band. With “This Town,” Jane wrote those lyrics about Hollywood, where I have lived all my life. We loved her line, “We’re all dreamers — we’re all whores.”
GM: After The Go-Go’s mid-‘80s break-up, you continued to write songs with and for Belinda including one which was the flip side of “I Get Weak” and her version of “I Feel Free,” my favorite Belinda Carlisle flip side, “Should I Let You In,” about the apprehension of a new relationship.
CC: The songs I write are generally personal, in a way. I was part of a new trio, The Graces with Meredith Brooks and Gia Ciambotti, from the late ‘80s through the early ‘90s. I wrote the song for us and Belinda wanted it too, which was cool.
GM: On The Graces’ album “Perfect View,” with your version of “Should I Let You In” on it, I also love the final song, “Out in the Fields,” which served as the flip side of your “Lay Down Your Arms” single. The vocal harmony you, Gia and Meredith brought to the couplet “Unspoken words tear me apart, another hole right through my heart” is stellar and the “I am free” lines feel somewhat spiritual.
CC: I often write using a stream of consciousness and this one worked out. In addition to co-writing this with Belinda, my brother Tom was also a co-writer. He generally writes scores for documentaries. This took a while to come together. I love how our three voices singing brought an almost gospel sound to the recording. Belinda later recorded a version of the A-side of the single “Lay Down Your Arms” on her 1993 CD “Real” with me and Tom on it.
GM: The following year I not only enjoyed your “Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s” double CD but also the “If I Were a Carpenter” tribute CD, which was my first introduction to your husband Jeff McDonald’s music on the creative and powerful reading of The Carpenters’ “Yesterday Once More,” with his band Redd Kross.
CC: Jeff is very creative. Redd Kross has a new album of rarities coming out this summer called “Hot Issue.” Our daughter Astrid McDonald is in the band The Side Eyes, and they will have a single coming out also.
GM: On a Friday in the fall of 1996, my wife and I and our daughter were watching a new television show and heard a theme song with a chorus which sounded like “Vacation” to us. I bought the CD single the next day, opened it up and saw you were the co-writer on it.
CC: “Ordinary Girl” from “Clueless.” I wrote that with Anna Waronker. She is the daughter of the producer Lenny Waronker and Donna Loren from the “Beach Party” movies. Anna is in the band That Dog and she is incredible. I love China Forbes’ voice on the song. She now sings in the group Pink Martini.
GM: When the “God Bless the Go-Go’s” CD was released in 2001, your composition “Insincere,” with Gina’s steady drum beat tempo, was one of my favorites. I love the line, “Your heart is a gravity well, it drew me in, I fell,” and the ending, where the break-up happens with the final line repeated several times with the topical phrase, “Have a nice life.”
CC: I love that song too. I had most of the music done and I gave it to Jane to finish. Definitely a cool song. I love it!
GM: Another part of your catalog that I admire is your co-writing with The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson Cowsill, beautiful songs like “Something That You Said” from 2003’s “Doll Revolution and “I’ll Never Be Through With You” on 2011’s “Sweetheart of the Sun.” I guess there is no Go-Go’s versus Bangles rivalry.
CC: It was never a competition. We are different bands. I’ll dispel that press rumor. Susanna and I have written a lot together over the years. Those are really cool songs and we co-wrote them with Vicki. The Bangles are so darn talented.
GM: What plans do you have when the Go-Go’s Farewell Tour is over?
CC: Well, The Go-Go’s aren’t over, we just won’t tour anymore. I can see us doing some concerts but not a full tour. One thing we have coming up is a musical called “Head Over Heels.” It is the music of The Go-Go’s with the story written by Jeff Whitty, known for “Avenue Q” and “Bring it On.” The musical is based on the 16th century love story “The Arcadia.” The director will be Michael Mayer who revived “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” but that’s all I’ll say for now as “our lips are sealed.”