The front cover of the Go-Go‘s 1981 debut album, Beauty and the Beat, pictured the five women wearing nothing but towels with their faces covered in cold cream. But as bassist Kathy Valentine recently recalled, they couldn’t even keep the towels because they didn’t have the budget.
“Our manager got the towels from Macy’s and took them back the next day, because they were too expensive,” Valentine told Yahoo! “We tried a lot of face products before we got it right. Like, some of them would sting, and some of them would start cracking. I’ve got outtake photos that are funny because they’re just all cracked up. It looks terrible! And there wasn’t really a way to digitally fix that stuff back then. So, it was trial-and-error. We used cold cream because it didn’t crack and it didn’t turn clear and icky.”
Beauty and the Beat topped the Billboard albums chart for six weeks in early 1982 on the strength of its two hit singles, “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed.” It’s still the only time an all-woman group that wrote its own material and played its instruments hit No. 1. That success led to another photo shoot, one for Rolling Stone where photographer Annie Leibovitz insisted they pose in plain white underwear. This stood in contrast to the album’s cover photo, which was at least the band’s idea. Despite protesting, the Go-Go’s eventually gave in, telling themselves that at least they didn’t have to look suggestive in lingerie.
“All of a sudden we get to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, and we’re being shot by this legend,” Valentine said. “So, you kind of go with it. … We respected [Leibovitz] a lot and we were thrilled to be in a shoot for with her. It’s weird – you kind of do what you’re told sometimes. It just depends in the moment. And especially when there’s five people there, one person can still be grumbling and moaning and bitching about something, but they have to pipe down if everybody else is going along with the plan.”
While Valentine allowed for some wiggle room in thinking that Leibovitz was portraying the group members as wholesome girls having a slumber party – which ran contrary to their backstory on the decadent Los Angeles punk scene – she was more offended by the caption Rolling Stone added on the cover: “Go-Go’s Put Out.”
Valentine, who is promoting a newly released memoir called All I Ever Wanted, added that their image fit a convenient marketing narrative.
“I think what happened was, as we got more successful, there was just these archetypes that women are often slotted into: the virgin, the whore, the girl next door,” she said. “There’s these little boxes. And I think [girls next door] was the easiest [category], because we weren’t acting ‘slutty.’ We weren’t wearing real suggestive clothes. We weren’t, like, going out there, being revealing or sexual. We weren’t sexualized at all. So, I think because we weren’t sexual, that meant we were ‘good girls,’ you know?”