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Belinda Carlisle

Belinda Carlisle

As the lead singer of the Go-Go's, Belinda Carlisle established herself as an energetic, historically popular new wave rocker. On her own, she pursued a more mainstream, polished sound that also garnered her a great deal of success. Her early albums, such as 1986's Belinda and 1989's Heaven on Earth, reached the top of the charts and featured a number of hit singles like "Mad About You," "Heaven Is a Place on Earth," and "I Get Weak" that juxtaposed her yearning vocals with lush musical backing and struck a chord with a wider audience than even the Go-Go's had, After that initial burst of success, she built a solid solo career while occasionally performing with a re-formed Go-Go's and expanding her musical interests in the form of albums of French chanson (2007's Viola) and Buddhist chants (2017's Wilder Shores.) 2023's Kismet EP was a return to the verdant pop landscapes of her early work and found her voice nearly unaffected by time.

Carlisle was born in Hollywood to a homemaker and a gas station employee in 1958. Her then-teenaged mother named her after her favorite film, Johnny Belinda (1948). After Carlisle's mother remarried, the family moved frequently around California, with Belinda showing an interest in bands such as the Beach Boys, the Animals, and the Stylistics by the age of ten. She was a cheerleader at Newbury Park High School, but also showed rebellious tendencies in her mid-teens, running away from home and experimenting with drugs. Following high school, she attended night classes at beauty school for a year before dropping out and leaving home to pursue a music career.

At 19, Carlisle briefly rehearsed as drummer for L.A. punk band the Germs (under the stage name Dottie Danger) before being forced to drop out of the band due to a bout of mononucleosis. In 1978, she exchanged drumsticks for a microphone and formed the Misfits with Jane Wiedlin (guitar, vocals), Charlotte Caffey (lead guitar, keyboards), Margot Olaverra (bass), and Elissa Bello (drums). The band soon changed their name to the Go-Go's and began playing local parties and small clubs in L.A. In 1979, Bello left and Gina Schock became the group's drummer. That year, the band recorded a demo and got a prime gig supporting the British ska revival group Madness in both Los Angeles and England. The Go-Go's spent half of 1980 touring England, earning a sizable following and releasing a single, "We Got the Beat," on Stiff Records. An import copy of the single became an underground club hit in the U.S., which meant the band was popular enough to sell out concerts, yet they had a difficult time landing a record contract.

At the end of 1980, bassist Olaverra became ill and had to stop performing; she was replaced by Kathy Valentine, a guitarist who had never played bass before. The Go-Go's signed with IRS Records in early 1981 and released their mildly punky, Richard Gottehrer-produced debut album, Beauty and the Beat, in May. It became one of the surprise hits of the year, staying at number one on the Billboard 200 for six weeks and eventually going platinum. The single "Our Lips Are Sealed" hit number 20, and a re-recorded version of "We Got the Beat" spent three weeks at number two while peaking at number three in Canada.

The following year, the group released the slicker, more new wave-adjacent Vacation. Like their debut, the album made the Top Ten and went gold. It also spawned the Top Ten hit single "Vacation." The band were unable to hit the road in support as they had to take time off while Caffey recovered from a broken wrist. In 1984, the Go-Go's returned with the Martin Rushent-produced Talk Show, their most musically ambitious album. It had two Top 40 hits -- "Head Over Heels" and "Turn to You" -- and took the group's music one step closer to the mainstream without sacrificing their adventurous spirit and songcraft. By the end of the year, Wiedlin had left the band, and the rest of the Go-Go's parted ways in May 1985.

Belinda Carlisle became the most successful solo artist to emerge from the group, reaching number 13 on the U.S. album chart in 1986 with her first LP, the adult pop-styled Belinda. Featuring the number three hit single "Mad About You," the record went gold and established her as a viable hitmaker on her own. The following year, she released Heaven on Earth, her greatest solo success. Continuing the immaculately produced mainstream pop of Belinda, it featured the chart-topping "Heaven Is a Place on Earth," the number two single "I Get Weak," and the Top Ten ballad "Circle in the Sand." A year later, "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" received a Grammy nomination Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

Runaway Horses, released in 1989, was another successful full-length for Carlisle, reaching the U.S. Top 40 and spawning the hit singles "Leave a Light On" and "Summer Rain." 1991's Live Your Life Be Free and 1993's Real were successful in the U.K., both reaching the Top Ten. She put her solo career on hold to join the re-formed Go-Go's in 1994, recording three new songs with them for the double-length compilation Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's. The band's reunion was short-lived, even though it was widely praised.

Carlisle returned to solo recording in 1996 with A Woman and a Man. A myriad of collections and compilations followed, as well as another Go-Go's reunion. The band appeared on VH1's Behind the Music series in 2000 and released an accompanying best-of album, VH1 Behind the Music: Go-Go's Collection. God Bless the Go-Go's, the group's first studio album comprised entirely of new material, followed in 2001.

Carlisle released her seventh solo album, a collection of covers of French pop songs sung in French titled Voila, in 2007. An appearance on the eighth season of Dancing with the Stars followed in 2009, as did a role in a London production of Hairspray. After touring with a reunited Go-Go's in the early 2010s, Carlisle released a song called "Sun" as part of the 2013 compilation Icon. Further catalog releases appeared in the next year, including double-album reissues from Edsel in 2014 and a compilation called The Collection. Wilder Shores, an album consisting of chants that drew inspiration from Carlisle's interest in Kundalini Yoga, arrived on Edsel in 2017.

In January 2020, a documentary about the Go-Go's -- simply titled The Go-Go's -- premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It was accompanied by the original song "Club Zero." The Go-Go's were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in October 2021 and they celebrated by launching another tour. In 2022, Carlisle issued the holiday single "Silver Bells" and followed it in 2023 with the Kismet EP. The release was her first collection of English-language pop songs in over two decades and featured songs written by Diane Warren, who had penned one of her biggest hits -- "I Get Weak -- in 1987. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Marcy Donelson

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