The wealth of primal rock energy on the Go-Go's' "Beauty and the Beat" (IRS SP 70021) almost obscures a salient truth that just won't go-go away: Los Angeles' all-girl rock quintet is being called "the Girl Beatles," when all they really are is the 1981 version of Fanny and the Runaways. Were they not women, it's doubtful the Go-Go's would stand apart from any of a hundred California bands who mine the same basic territory. Interestingly, the group doesn't capitalize on its gender; most of its songs would make as much sense coming from a male band. With few exceptions, what remains is basically a California Pop concern with cars, dancing, dating and controlling the night.
The fate of all-girl bands has been predictable since their heyday in the mid-'60s, though good old ultra progressive England seems to have more than its share right now. The Go-Go's, who will be at the 9:30 club on Friday night, rely heavily on the post-punk insouciance and semi-pro enthusiasm of the B-52s and the exuberant simplicity of '60s influences as disparate as the Shangri-Las, the Zombies, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Ronettes, Shadows of Knight and Ruby and the Romantics. There are even some Byrds-like harmonies, while Charlotte Caffey's lead guitar owes almost everything to Duane Eddy. The end result is a trashy but genuinely enjoyable surf-punk dance music that attempts to prove little and ends up gratifying a lot. The Go-Go's are like the Runaways with a sense of humor, cool cookies instead of tough ones.
"We Got the Beat" was a hot item in the rock discos of America and England last year and it's easy to see why; producers Richard Gotterher and Rob Freeman have managed to recreate a Phil Spector-ish "wall of sound" -- heavy, clattering drum accents, echoing guitar and bass, gamey group vocals. Most of the other songs on this album are less garish, built around rudimentary chords and uncomplicated lyrics. When the production is full or when the pace is breakneck, it works fine. The only weak moments occur when the album slows to a crawl and mimics punk minimalism (as on "Automatic").
The Go-Go's' lyrics, written mostly by Caffey and rhythm guitarist Jane Weidlin and unaffectedly sung by Belinda Carlisle, range from the cliche'd ("Getting tired of your greasy antics/My pride's getting hurt by the mile/Blow her engine, blow my mind/Keep her shocks and breaks aligned/I see that you're all jacked up/Leaving me and your exhaust behind" on "Skidmarks on My Heart") to the banal ("Fading Fast" and "Tonite"). Most of the action in the songs is at nighttime ("There's a charge in the air/It's kind of electric out there/and we're all out on the town") and in the pack ("This town is our town/It is so glamorous/Bet you'd live here if you could/and be one of us"). The concerns are typically teen-age -- seeking out the peer group, finding acceptance in it, puppy love gone to the dogs, and so on.
Sometimes, though, the Go-Go's step away from the fun, as on "You Can't Walk in Your Sleep (If You Can't Sleep)," a chilling portrait of the downside of hedonism. Throughout the album, the playing is bright and aggressive (if not proficient), a compendium of the punchy guitar riffs, simple bass lines and elemental drum patterns that inhabit so much home-grown music in America. "Beauty and the Beat" is not great art, but it is solid, danceable fun.
If the Go-Go's came to rock 'n' roll for the fun of it, Rachel Sweet ended up in a similar place via a totally different path. The Akron-born belter made her first record at age 11, when she was already a five-year veteran of the state fair circuit opening for Mickey Rooney and Bill Cosby. Sweet released her first rock album in 1978 when she was 16. With "And Then He Kissed Me" (Columbia ARC 37007) she tries -- unsuccesfully -- to prove that she has come of age.
Part of the problem is that while Sweet posseses a bold, brassy voice reminiscent of Brenda Lee, Timi Yuro and Connie Francis, she faces the same dearth of material that affected her predecessors (Lee excluded). She comes off best on a Phil Spector-Ellie Greenwich-Jeff Barry compilation that segues from the title song into "Be My Baby." Rick Chertoff's production is empathetic here, as it is on "Shadows of the Night," a D.L. Byron song that succumbs to Sweet's obvious obsession with Bruce Springsteen. Her originals -- "Billy and the Gun," "Party Girl," "Fool's Story" and "Streeheart" -- are full of Springsteen devices, from the swaggering street talk to sax breaks a la Clemmons. "Everlasting Love," yet another rehashed oldie, is an inconsequential duet with heartthrob Rex ("Penzance") Smith.
Rachel Sweet has a glorious voice that's best suited to a straight-ahead rock delivery, as on the bouncy "Party Girl." What she needs more than anything is the kind of challenging material she's obviously not getting.