ARTIST: The Go-Go's
WRITERS: Kathy Valentine, Charlotte Caffey, Jane Wiedlin
ALBUM: Vacation on I.R.S. Records
SITE: Go-Go's, Kathy Valentine
Thirty-four years ago today, the all-female punk/pop/new-wave band, the Go-Go's, released the first single from their second album, Vacation. The title track would go on to be one of the band's highest-charting singles, and would contribute to their legacy of being the first (and only ever) band of women to write and perform their own music and top the Billboard charts. The song is infallibly catchy, perfectly performed, and the very best song about vacation that I've ever heard. I'm so grateful to have had an opportunity to talk with its writer, Kathy Valentine. She's a legendary bassist, guitarist, and a songwriter. Like a true artist, she's busy with several projects, including a solo album, the Bluebonnets, and a book.
BA: Kathy Valentine! What a pleasure it is to be able to speak with you. I saw you play for the first time when I was a kid. I'm 100% certain it influenced who I am today. Thank you for that, and thank you for doing this!
KV: You’re welcome, thank you for your interest.
BA: This has always been my favorite Go-Go's song. I love the melody, I love the lyrics, I love the production. This song was yours before you were even in the Go-Go's right?
KV: Yes, I wrote the original “Vacation” in 1979 and played it with the Textones, we also recorded it.
BA: Are the lyrics based on a real life experience? My favorite line has always been:
"Vacation, meant to be spent alone."
I think about it every single time I get to go on a vacation. Tell me about that idea, if you will.
KV: Yes it was written after a visit to my hometown of Austin where I had a fling with a charming boy. He found out many years later that the song was inspired by him!
BA: Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin are credited as the other writers on the song. How much, and what, did they contribute?
KV: I showed the song to Charlotte, who was my closest friend and ally in the Go-Go’s. She loved it but didn’t hear enough chorus and asked if we could work on that together, so we did. I remember it perfectly, where we were, everything. When we were recording the song, as Belinda was going into the vocal booth to sing it, I got insecure about the first line, which went “I’ve thought a lot of things about you.” I said to Jane, how can I change this first line, and she said, off the top of her head “Can’t seem to get my mind off of you.” I was quite generous with the songwriting credit to both of them, all things considered.
BA: So, "Vacation" is from the album by the same name. It looks like this record is where you really started to contribute more as a writer in the band; is that right? When did you bring this song to the other band members? Did they want it right away?
KV: The band had been together 3 years before I joined, and so they had most of the material needed for the first album. Charlotte knew it was important to me to have a song on that one, and pushed for it. By the time we got to the second album, we’d been working most of the year and hadn’t had time to write a lot, so my input was more important—just to have another writer generating material in a shorter time span.
BA: I feel like sometimes we write songs and know they have something different about them . . . that they stand out in some way. When you wrote "Vacation," did you have a sense that it was a special song? That it would go on to be hugely popular?
KV: No, I never thought about things like that. I just wrote what was in my heart. I think that’s why it resonates with people, it isn’t the most clever or crafted song, but it’s authentic and real in the intent and place it was written from. That factor isn’t one to be discounted lightly. It is rare in songs I hear on the radio today.
BA: I've watched many videos of "Vacation" being performed live, from 1982 to 2010. That iconic lead keyboard part from the album recording was always replaced by Charlotte Caffey's lead guitar live. How was the decision made to have it be keys on the record, and not guitar?
KV: It was always played on guitar, the record just doubles the guitar part with keys.
BA: Ah. That makes sense. The song's producer, Richard Gottehrer, is such an established songwriter in his own right. Did he change anything about the way the song was presented? Did you enjoy working with him?
KV: It’s possible that Richard came up with the intro, but I’m not positive.
BA: I do love that intro. Now, I've seen three studios listed for the recording of the album: Sunset Sound, Studio 55, and Indigo Ranch. Where was this song tracked, specifically?
KV: We tracked at Indigo Ranch and did overdubs at the other studios. We were at Sunset Sound for mixing, and the song was mastered off a cassette mix. For some reason, the board mix couldn’t match what we’d taken home to listen to, something just didn’t translate, so Richard just decided to go with the cassette that had the magic.
BA: Were you feeling like a natural bassist at that point? I know you switched from previously playing mostly guitar in bands when you joined the Go-Go's.
KV: I never really felt like a “natural” bassist—I just felt like a musician playing the instrument I was playing, coming up with parts that helped define or identify or support the song. I always think the song is king; everything else is there to serve it.
BA: Did you write the song on bass or guitar?
KV: I’ve never written a song using a bass.
BA: Interesting! You played bass with a pick (which I love) on this song. What or who were your stylistic influences for bass? Did any of them inform your part or playing?
KV: I loved Paul McCartney’s playing and Bruce Thomas in Elvis Costello’s band. I loved Nick Lowe. I always used a pick since I was a guitar player, also I’m a lefty that plays right-handed, so my right hand probably would never have the ability to play bass with my fingers. I’m lucky my right hand can hold a pick and hit the right strings. If I had learned to play left handed, I’d probably have a lot more dexterity, but who wants to start over?
BA: You guys were the first all-female band to write your songs and perform all of the music - and to dominate the Billboard charts. But, you were no stranger to being in bands with other women when you joined the Go-Go's. You'd played with Girlschool, the Violators, and the Textones, right? Were there any other women in music that were influencing you back then? Any peers?
KV: Not really. Most of my influences were men. Suzi Quatro showed me women could be rock stars—it hadn’t occurred to me I could do that until I saw her. But as a player, I was inspired by Keith Richards. That’s who I wanted to be like.
BA: I have to ask about the video. I've seen comments here and there from other members of the band about the process. Was it fun at all? Was it just tedious? Did you personally like the final product? They had you in a tiara . . . thoughts?
KV: I loved the final product, much more than the other videos we’d done. I actually liked the way I looked for the first time ever in that band. I loved the water ski idea, matching the album cover. It was beyond our patience capacity, the time on set was long and boring, and we were into drinking and partying, so that’s how we passed the time.
BA: What's your favorite song right this minute?
KV: I don’t think I have a favorite song at the moment. Maybe “Drag Queen” off The Strokes new EP. And, I guess I’d have to say maybe the song I’m working on and writing at this given time. Until the song is out, and I’m satisfied that I’ve done the muse justice, it kind of stays circulating around in my head.
BA: I can relate! Thank you so much for participating in the series, Kathy. Thank you for being a pioneer and positive example for generations of female musicians. I hope I get to see the Bluebonnets live someday soon! Take care.
KV: Thank you again for your interest and thoughtful questions. The Bluebonnets are working on a new record, and I’m writing to have a solo record to accompany my first book.