“The Go-Go’s” has pretty much everything you’d want in a rock documentary, presenting an oral history of the chart-topping all-female group with sex, drugs, music, money, and the intramural squabbling and wounded egos great success tends to unleash. Hard to believe it’s been 40 years, but anyone who remembers the band should fall head over heels once again.
The Go-Go’s have the distinction of being the first and last female rock group that played their own instruments and wrote their own songs to have the No. 1 album, “Beauty and the Beat.” That milestone came while they were still opening for the Police, amid a stratospheric rise that saw them quickly go “from dive bars to Madison Square Garden.”
For the band, their sudden ascent represented a surprising and divisive turn of events. Having started in the L.A. punk scene, they unexpectedly morphed into a pop commodity — a shift that felt like having “sold out” to original member Margot Olavarria, who was fired before the Go-Go’s really took off.
Slowly, the pieces came into place, with the addition of bass player Kathy Valentine and drummer Gina Schock, who actually forced her bandmates to rehearse. “I was determined to whip them into shape,” Schock says.
Despite being told that “all-girl bands don’t sell records,” the group enjoyed a breakthrough hit with “Our Lips Are Sealed” and made early inroads via MTV, with a little help from manager Miles Copeland.
The big break, however, was accompanied by big problems. Guitarist/songwriter Charlotte Caffey became addicted to heroin, which went ignored until Valentine confronted her. Internally, grievances emerged over unequal payment and a dismissive attitude toward Jane Wiedlin when she asked to sing lead on one of their songs.
The term “betrayal” is bandied about more than once. Belinda Carlisle, the lead singer, enjoyed some solo success, but as is so often the case in these stories, the alchemy that made the Go-Go’s click proved difficult to replicate.
It’s a familiar story, but one addressed with clear eyes as well as a warm sense of nostalgia, by women who weathered the storm and (mostly) mended old wounds. The documentary thus serves as the calling card for what the band announced will be its first new song in 20 years, “Club Zero,” which, in a non-coincidence, becomes available the same day.
Directed by Alison Ellwood (“History of the Eagles”), “The Go-Go’s” arrives during a boom time for music-related documentaries, following CNN Films’ Linda Ronstadt biography. This week also brings “Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind” and “Marley,” being re-released in celebration of Bob Marley’s 75th birthday.
As noted, the tale of “The Go-Go’s” carries echoes of any number of stars who became sensations only to experience the darker side of achieving those dreams. Still, it’s presented as only the people who lived it could — whose lips, happily, aren’t sealed.
“The Go-Gos” premieres July 31 at 9 p.m. on Showtime.