Underrated Classics: The Go

The Go

Each week in Underrated Classics, Cory Clifford digs deeper into the annals of music history to recommend essential unsung acts that have yet to even find a sustained cult appeal.

Recently, I overheard someone at a record shop say “I hate how every band is trying to sound, like, SUPER RETRO, these days.” Hmm. Well, that rubbed the wrong way, particularly due to the fact that: A. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a band successfully pulling off a retro sound; so long as it’s done really really well and B. Most of those “SUPER RETRO”-sounding bands the guy is probably talking about, really don’t sound that retro in comparison. Take a look at bands like Joe King & The Carrascos or The Bangles or The Go-Gos from the 1980s; bands that worship The Byrds and The Mysterians. Looking back at them, thirty years later, those bands still sound like they’re from the 1980s, despite their “old school” influences. Additionally, play me an Elephant 6 record, whose records blatantly and admittedly rip on unsung sunshine pop bands like The Millenium and Sagittarius. But, most of the time, the sounds and styles sound like most bands from the late-90s could.

But I really hope that philistine modernist at the record store really reads this article, because if you want a band that sounds retro, well I’ve got one for you. Not only will they rock your brains in, but they seriously will convince you that they’re from another era. The band that so brilliantly and has achieved this baby-boomer-sound is Detroit’s amazing and underrated act, The Go. The Go are mostly well-known for their debut album on Sub Pop, 1999’s Whatcha Doin’, the fuzzy Stooges and 65 Kinks-love affair that helped kickstart the career of their former guitarist, Jack White. Whatcha Doin’ is undoubtedly a bonafied classic, but the Go took a long time to release a follow-up, and unfortunately their 2003 self-titled effort was a bit of a disappointment in comparison. Despite their following dropping, four years after their self-titled record, The Go released one of the best psychedelic pop releases of the previous decade.

2007’s Howl On The Haunted Beat You Ride, is pop perfection in the vein of everyone from The Beatles to David Bowie to Billy Joel and various one-hit wonders from 1967-75, rock’s golden era. The album opens with the spring reverb’d “You Bangin’ On,” a brilliantly harmonized bluesy rocker. The song is straight out of the catalogs of The Beatles and ‘Stones, and features one of the choruses that is impossible to not sing along to. The album keeps going with one of The Go’s strongest songs, “Invisible Friends.” “Invisible Friends” plays as a lost bubblegum classic filled a blithe spirit about loneliness with beachy melodies and a barrage of excellent post-chorus lead guitar. Next, we have the piano-rocking love ballad “Caroline,” a song that showcases how brilliant The Go can get when it comes to song structure, as “Caroline” twists and turns between verse and chorus.

Things get more psychedelic with “So Long Johnny,” a classic “Told ya you shouldn’t be with him” tale of sorrow and heartache. The song’s bridge has a brilliant and chilling moment that showcases great vocal range in a crescendo of “He never loved you” melodies, before returning back to form. “Yer Stoned Italian Cowboy” has a Warren Zevon/Randy Newman type of honky-tonk to it, that’s so perfectly pop and twangy. Things get very slow with “Refrain,” a song that has the haziness of a late-Doors track and the lyrics of Syd Barrett. The song sounds amazing in your headphones, as the tale-end of the song features random and creepy vibes with studio effects and slide-guitar. “Down A Spiral” has a very cool backwards guitar slow-build intro, before the stadium-sized pysch-pop jam hits you like a ton of bricks. The song’s easily one of their most psychedelic, and shows off brilliant melody as well as studio musicianship.

The glammy “Help You Out” follows, which features speedy pulsating drums, and has the groovy vibes of mid-70s Kim Fowley and T. Rex; it’s one of those songs begging to be in the score of a huge film. “Mercurial Girl” comes in with instant roaring-leads and Lou Reed-style vocal delivery. The song speaks of tempestuous affairs with a “mercurial girl,” and has the danciness of “Incense and Peppermints” yet the sauciness of a track off of Lust For Life. The album’s slowest and prettiest moment, comes with the heart-wrenching “She’s Prettiest When She Cries.” The piano-laden tune is McCartney-esque, and has one of the strongest opening verses of the album with Bobby Harlow belting “She’s much prettier when she cries/cry cry cry/baby goodbye, goodbye baby/don’t want you to die/it’s too late now, baby goodbye.”

The poppiest moment of the album comes with “Mary Ann,” a song that opens with Spectorian drums and “ooo”s. The song is a beautiful ode to a love heroine named Mary Ann who rescues The Go from various difficulties. The second verse of “Mary Ann” is especially brilliant as John Krautner takes on a Davy Jones-like swagger, and hypes the vocal delivery up just slightly enough to excite all the girls in the front row. The album closes with its longest song, the varied and epic “Smile.” “Smile” is the closest thing to The Doors that the band has gotten thus far, but despite the moody verse, the song’s chorus is big and harmonious, just as the band likes it. I love the lyrics of the second verse with “Happiness sits in waves with every new thing/I’m in a brave of my own design, you kinda like it that way,” which deliver in Ian Curtis-style brooding. The song’s bridge of “oh baby”s, kicks the epic-ness and jamming into high gear as the song turns into the perfect album and concert closer.

The Go’s Howl On The Haunted Beat You Ride is a lost psychedelic pop classic, that fortunately is still relatively new. The previous decade released an enormous amount of music, and despite 2007 being within ten years in the past from now, there’s still so much good music yet to be attained by large numbers. The Go are a band that have had a series of tough-breaks, and unfortunately the lack of popularity along with the ambitious and unbelievably well-made Howl On The Haunted Beat You Ride is one of them. Despite the band being oft-overlooked, The Go has reached a dedicated cult-following, including the heads behind California tape label, Burger Records. Burger Records recently released a tape box set of unreleased material from the Detroit band, as well as the vinyl release to The Go’s brand new double-album, Fiesta. The Go’s discography may be overlooked for now, but thanks to the association with rock ‘n roll’s hottest record label, I see them resurfacing into popularity again very soon.