Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Take Two: "Our Lips Are Sealed" (The Go-Go's vs. Fun Boy Three)


[This is an article I originally wrote for CHIRP Radio.]

Can you hear them? They talk about us
Telling lies…well, that’s no surprise
Can you see them? See right through them
They have no shield, No secrets to reveal
It doesn’t matter what they say, in the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed


The First Version: A fun, punky-Pop single by a band that briefly took over America thanks to a great album (1981’s Beauty and the Beat) and the influence of MTV. The song is a perfect sample of the group’s energy and spirited attitude, propelled along by upbeat rhythm guitars, a slithering melodic bass line, and the strong, confident vocals of Belinda Carlisle, one of the more underrated singers to come out of the ‘80s Pop scene.


The Other Version: A dark, moody anthem for all the soon-to-be “Goths” suffering their way through high school. The driving drum beat from the first iteration is pushed into the background by a timpani, and the guitars (except for one that nervously picks a single string all the way through) are swapped out for chamber instruments, including a cello and grand piano. Throw in a ghostly chorus of background singers to accompany the sensitive beta-male lead vocals, and the song sounds like it might have been recorded in a dark cathedral on Halloween night.


The terms “original” and “remake” don’t apply to these two songs since the versions were created around the same time. Jane Wiedlin, one of the Go-Go’s guitar players, was dating Terry Hall, the lead singer of The Specials, when their bands were on tour together, unbeknownst to Hall’s girlfriend back in England. The two wrote the song together as a reaction to the inevitable sideways looks and reactions that must have resulted from band mates and others. Wiedlin’s version was released first, with Hall’s arriving a couple of years later ( on the 1983 album Waiting) after he had formed Fun Boy Three. The contrast in styles is telling, and amplified by the songs' respective videos – the guy’s version is all indigo and violet, while the gal and her pals are skip-dancing in a fountain in the California sun, would-be scolds be damned.

Although the Go-Go’s version was the bigger hit, both versions hold up very well today, a testament to how well-written the song is. It’s one of the few pop tunes that the cheerleaders driving around in their convertibles and the Emos smoking cigarettes in the park can get into with equal verve.

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