There are truly very few songs for which I can absolutely remember the first time I ever heard them, but “Our Lips Are Sealed” is one. It was released in July 1981, the summer after my junior year in college. I first heard it around the time it started climbing the charts that fall.
I had not been in a good headspace for a while. Thanks to the decision to cut federal funding to education, I had lost a huge chunk of financial aid and was forced to take off that spring semester of 1981, work full-time, and figure out how, and whether, to proceed. That alone felt like a failure, and a potentially life-altering one. I already had the sense that I didn’t want to do what I had gone to school expressly to do – newspaper journalism – but by then I was so far in that changing majors was impractical, even impossible. That I was also deep in addiction didn’t help. There was an awful breakup, and a summer spent stoned and lonely, listening to The Clash and Eddie Cochran and little else, feeling very sorry for myself, trying to figure out a future that I wasn’t sure I wanted.
Fall came, and with the change in seasons came a change in attitude. I was back in school, though still working part-time that was nearly full-time, nights and weekends. I took more serious classes and took them more seriously, did the work, quit the drugs, drank considerably less (which was still plenty). I felt renewed purpose. I thought I saw a path out. It was a nice feeling, one that lasted that entire fall.
The days were bright and the nights were fun. For a while, anyway, my drinking was under something like control, and going to parties was actually fun. I got out and socialized, met new people. And it was at one of those huge, raucous college house parties (I even remember where it was, which shows how sober I must have been) that I first saw a group of women I knew absolutely squeal in delight when this song that I had never heard before started playing. It was “Our Lips Are Sealed,” and they went mad for it.
At that point, I knew zero about The Go-Go’s — didn’t know they’d represent the start of a small but very important wave of all-female acts, didn’t know they’d set off a craze for brightly colored mini-skirts, didn’t know they’d become legends.
I heard it over and over again at parties and in bars and clubs all that fall, and it seemed symbolic of something new, something exciting. It was all part of what was called new wave, a new sound, a little retro but also fresh. There’s something about the new music you discover when you’re on the brink of adulthood that can’t be disentangled from that feeling of endless possibilities, and at that time I really needed to feel there were any possibilities at all. So I’ll always associate that first Go-Go’s album with that time of rejuvenation.
So of course I bought that first album (a cut-out, but not long after it was released), and it was a treasure. Every single song, fantastic. It all had such an energy, something that had been missing from rock for some time and seemed to be coming back with an array of new artists. Loved it, loved it.
I gave this one a lot of play in those last years of college, and I enjoyed the next two albums as well. But the Go-Go’s broke up, time moved on, and although many of the songs were on mixtapes, I didn’t continue to listen to these very much. Remembered them fondly, listened to them seldom, and never got any of them on digital.
So listening to this again this week may be the first time I’ve really heard some of these songs in more than 20 years. Certainly the first time I’ve really listened. Man, they are good. The band is tight, the production is excellent, the songs perfect. “We rule the streets tonight / Until the morning light” — is there a more 22-year-old sentiment than that one from “Tonite”? “Skidmarks On My Heart” is a great post-punk take on girl group songs. And I would argue that “Fading Fast” may have the most perfect reverb ever recorded. Why have I not been listening to this all these years? Back into the rotation it goes . . . one of the values of this project is rediscovering good music that is just taking up space on my shelf.