Belinda Jo Carlisle (born August 17, 1958) is an American singer and songwriter. She gained worldwide fame as the lead singer of The Go-Go's, one of the most successful all-female bands of all time, and went on to have a prolific career as a solo act.
Raised in Southern California, Carlisle began her music career in 1977 as a member of the Los Angeles punk band the Germs, and went on to join The Go-Go's as the lead singer after the band's formation in 1978. With their chart-topping debut release Beauty and the Beat in 1981, the group helped popularize new wave music in the United States, and were the first all-female band in history who wrote their own songs and played their own instruments to achieve a No. 1 album. The Go-Go's have sold over 7 million records worldwide.
After dissolution of The Go-Go's in 1985, Carlisle went on to have a successful solo career with radio hits such as "Mad About You", "I Get Weak", "Circle in the Sand", "Leave a Light On" and "Heaven Is a Place on Earth", among others, which were major successes in the United States, United Kingdom and internationally as well. Her autobiography, Lips Unsealed, published in June 2010, was a New York Times Best Seller and received favorable reviews. On August 11, 2011, as a member of The Go-Go's, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Belinda Jo Carlisle was born in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California on August 17, 1958 to Harold Carlisle, a gas station employee, and his wife, Joanne (née Thompson), a homemaker. Her mother met her father, who was twenty years her senior, at age eighteen, and Carlisle was born nine months later. She was named after her mother's favorite film, Johnny Belinda (1948). Carlisle was the first of seven siblings, with three brothers and three sisters. When she was five years old, Carlisle's father abandoned their family, and she has stated that she spent most of her childhood poor. As a teenager, she recalled owning "like, two outfits." According to Carlisle, her mother was very religious, while her father was not.
Her mother would later remarry to Walt Kurczeski, whom Carlisle says was an alcoholic, and with whom she had a tumultuous relationship. The family moved frequently during her childhood, from Simi Valley to Reseda, before settling in Burbank when Carlisle was seven years old. At age ten, Carlisle began to express interest in music, and recalled The Beach Boys, Cat Stevens, The Stylistics, and The Animals as being early musical influences.
The family relocated again during Carlisle's adolescence, this time to Newbury Park; she attended Colina Junior High School in Thousand Oaks, and later Newbury Park High School, where she was a cheerleader. During her teenage years, Carlisle became rebellious: "By the time I hit fourteen, I'd gone really wild," she said. "I ran away from home, smoked pot, dropped acid ... you name it, I'd try it." After high school, Carlisle worked at a House of Fabrics store, and as a photocopier at the Hilton Hotels Corporation in Los Angeles at age eighteen. She took night classes attending beauty college, but dropped out within the first year. At the age of nineteen, Carlisle left her parents' home to pursue a career in music.
Early ventures and The Go-Go's
Carlisle's first venture into music was in 1977 as drummer for the punk rock band the Germs, under the name Dottie Danger. She was recruited into the band by Lorna Doom, whom she had met in an art class while a student at Thousand Oaks High School. However, her time in the band was short due to her contracting mononucleosis, and she never recorded or performed live with the Germs. According to Pat Smear, upon quitting, she introduced her friend, Donna Rhia, who became her replacement. Carlisle does appear on one recording introducing the band at a 1977 performance at the Whisky a Go Go, heard on the live album Germicide (1977). Around this time Carlisle did some back-up singing for Black Randy and the Metrosquad.
Soon after leaving the Germs, she co-founded The Go-Go's (originally named the Misfits), with friends and fellow musicians Margot Olavarria, Elissa Bello, and Jane Wiedlin. Olavarria and Bello were soon out of the group and the new line-up included bassist-turned-guitarist Charlotte Caffey, guitarist-turned-bassist Kathy Valentine, and drummer Gina Schock. All five women were largely untrained musicians, and Carlisle recalls having to use tape as fret markers during their initial songwriting: "[Charlotte] had to show us how to plug in our amps," she said.
The Go-Go's would go on to become one of the most successful American bands of the 1980s, helping usher new wave music into popular American radio, and becoming the first all-female band who wrote their own music and played their own instruments to ever achieve a No. 1 album, Beauty and the Beat, which featured the hits "We Got the Beat" and "Our Lips Are Sealed". The Go-Go's recorded two more studio albums on I.R.S. Records, including 1982's Vacation, which went gold. "Head over Heels", from their 1984 album Talk Show, made it to No. 11.
In 1984, Carlisle made a foray into acting in the movie Swing Shift, starring alongside Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.
The Go-Go's disbanded in 1985 and Carlisle embarked on a solo career. Carlisle's first solo album Belinda was released in 1986, also on I.R.S. Records. This album was successful in North America and was certified Gold in the United States and Platinum in Canada. Her summer hit "Mad About You" peaked at No. 3 in the United States, topped the Canadian Singles Chart, and charted in the top 10 in Australia. "Mad About You" was followed by the Motown-influenced single "I Feel the Magic" written by Charlotte Caffey, and by a cover version of the Freda Payne song "Band of Gold". All three songs were included on her debut album. The single "Since You've Gone", co-written by Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, was used only for promotion. Susanna Hoffs co-wrote the single "I Need a Disguise" in which she also sang back-up vocals along with Jane Wiedlin. Duran Duran's Andy Taylor played guitar on some album tracks and appeared in her "Mad About You" video clip.
During this time, Carlisle also had songs featured on movie soundtracks, notably "In My Wildest Dreams" from the movie Mannequin, "Shot in the Dark" from the Anthony Michael Hall thriller Out of Bounds, as well as "Dancing in the City" from the Whoopi Goldberg movie Burglar (1987).
The musical style of 1987's Heaven on Earth eschewed the 1960s-influenced pop of Carlisle's first album in favor of slickly produced 1980s power-pop. It was released in the United States through MCA, and in the United Kingdom through Virgin Records. The album became a Top 5 bestseller in the UK and Australia, and was nominated for a Grammy Award. Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas; and Chynna Phillips and Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips sang backup for the album. Thomas Dolby played keyboard on some album tracks.
The album's first single, "Heaven Is a Place on Earth", topped the single charts in the United States and the UK, with the dance mix of the song also topping the Billboard dance chart in the United States. The promotional video was directed by Academy Award-winning American actress Diane Keaton. The second single from the album was the Diane Warren-penned "I Get Weak", which peaked at No. 2 in the United States and No. 10 in the UK. The third single from the album was "Circle in the Sand", another Top 10 hit in the United States, the UK, and Germany. "World Without You" was another British hit. Following the success of the album, Carlisle embarked on the Good Heavens world tour, which sold out Wembley Arena in London.
Carlisle's follow-up to the success of Heaven on Earth was Runaway Horses, released on October 23, 1989. The album hit the Top 5 in both Australia and the UK, certified double platinum in Australia and platinum in the UK and in Canada. The first release, "Leave a Light On", peaked at No. 11 in the United States, and became another Top 5 smash in the UK, Australia and Canada. The song features a slide guitar solo by George Harrison; he also played on the song "Deep Deep Ocean."
The second United States single, "Summer Rain", reached No. 30 in early 1990. The song reached No. 6 in Australia. It was the final release from Runaway Horses in the UK where it was released as the album's sixth single in December 1990, peaking at No. 23 in January 1991. Three further singles were released: the title track; "La Luna", which reached the Top 10 in Switzerland and Top 20 hit in Germany and Australia; and "(We Want) The Same Thing", which reached No. 6 in the UK.
In the late autumn of 1990, The Go-Go's reunited for a tour to support their first best-of album, Greatest, including a new recording of the cover song "Cool Jerk" (The Go-Go's original cover was featured on their 1980 European EP, with a second version being released in 1982). A notable feature of the tour was an anti-fur campaign, where the band members supported the animal rights organization PETA.
In 1991, Carlisle released her fourth solo album, Live Your Life Be Free. The album marked somewhat of a return to 1960s-influenced music for Carlisle and included songs mainly written and produced by Rick Nowels but also two songs co-written by Carlisle. The single "Do You Feel Like I Feel?" was accompanied by a video inspired by the B movie Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. The title track, "Live Your Life Be Free", released as first single outside the United States, was a Top 20 hit single in many countries reaching No. 12 in the UK and No. 13 in Australia. Subsequent releases "Half the World" and "Little Black Book" (co-written by Marcella Detroit under her real name Marcy Levy) were also hits outside the United States. The album was also a success in Europe (Top 10 in the UK and Gold certification). To date, "Do You Feel Like I Feel?" is Carlisle's final single to enter in the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at No. 73.
Still active in Europe and Australia with a record contract at Virgin Records, her 1992 greatest hits album The Best of Belinda, Volume 1 reached No. 1, and was certified double platinum in the UK and platinum in Australia. This first greatest hits album included all the hits taken from Heaven on Earth, Runaway Horses, and Live Your Life Be Free. The United States version of the album was named Her Greatest Hits and also included songs from the first album Belinda.
Carlisle's fifth solo album, Real, was released in 1993 on the Virgin label in the United States and in Europe. Produced without Nowels, the disc was a departure from Carlisle's polished pop music formula. Even the album's cover photograph featured her with little or no make-up. Carlisle co-produced and co-wrote much of the album, collaborating heavily with friend and ex-Go-Go Charlotte Caffey. The album was Carlisle's fifth consecutive to reach the UK Top 10 peaking at number 9. It peaked also at number 23 in Sweden. Its first single, "Big Scary Animal", peaked at No. 12 in the UK. The second single from Real was "Lay Down Your Arms", which made the Top 30 in the UK. Gregg Alexander of the New Radicals co-wrote the single "Here Comes My Baby".
The Go-Go's reunited in 1994 to support the retrospective double-CD Return to the Valley of The Go-Go's, their second collection, which featured three new songs, including the single "The Whole World Lost Its Head". However, the band broke up again, soon after the promotional tour.
Carlisle returned to the recording studio, and resumed working again with Rick Nowels. In 1996 she released in the UK and Australia her sixth solo album, A Woman and a Man, on the Chrysalis label. This album, consisting of mostly relaxed adult pop, revitalized her solo career in Europe, and included several hits. The leadoff single, "In Too Deep", returned Carlisle to the UK Top 10 for the first time in six years, reaching No. 6. "Always Breaking My Heart", written and produced by Roxette's Per Gessle, also made the UK Top 10, peaking at No. 8.
The album spawned two further hits in the UK: "Love in the Key of C", and "California", which featured arrangement and back-up vocals by Brian Wilson. The album reached No. 12 in the UK, and was certified gold. As a result of A Woman and a Man's UK success, the album was released in the United States during the summer of 1997 on the small Ark21 label. In 1997, she recorded "I Won't Say (I'm in Love)" for the Disney movie Hercules. The song was released as a single exclusively in France and Germany.
In 1999, Carlisle released a greatest hits album in the UK, a double-disc on the Virgin label, collectively titled A Place on Earth: The Greatest Hits. The first disc featured Carlisle's hits plus three new tracks recorded for the album: the single "All God's Children", and the songs "A Prayer for Everyone" and "Feels Like I've Known You Forever". The second disc, subtitled A Place on Earth, contained previously released remixes of some of her hits and some B-sides which had not previously been released on CD. Some of the remixes were by William Orbit. A Place on Earth: The Greatest Hits was certified Gold in the UK and went on to sell in excess of one million copies worldwide. A European version was marketed with an interview CD in which Carlisle provides answers to over 40 questions sent in by fans.
Later recordings and Go-Go's reunions
God Bless The Go-Go's received mixed reviews from critics. Peter Fawthrop of AllMusic wrote "Every bit as Go-Go's, that is, as their non-hits and less remarkable material. While The Go-Go's sound is intact, there is not a "We Got the Beat" or a "Head Over Heels" to be found. It is feasible that in this age of pop rebirth, The Go-Go's decided it was now or never ... The album doesn't attempt to update the band's sound with hip-hop moves or electronic frippery, for which God should bless 'em, indeed. The girls' hold on the current pop world remains so strong that Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong co-writes a song ("Unforgiven") in impeccable Go-Go's drag".
In spite of the mixed reviews, the album charted in the US Billboard 200, peaking at number No. 57. Around the time of The Go-Go's definitive reunion tour, Carlisle appeared nude for the cover feature and a full pictorial of the August 2001 edition of Playboy.
In 2007, Carlisle released her seventh album, Voila, which was her first full-length solo studio album in more than ten years. The album was produced by John Reynolds and included Brian Eno on keyboards. Consisting of a mix of French pop tunes and chanson standards, including covers of Françoise Hardy and Édith Piaf classics, Voila was released via Rykodisc in the UK on February 5 and in the United States the following day, February 6, 2007.
In early 2009, Carlisle was on the eighth season of Dancing with the Stars, paired with Jonathan Roberts. She was the first star to be eliminated from the competition, on March 17. In October 2009, Carlisle took over the role of Velma Von Tussle in London's West End production of Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre. She remained with the show till late January 2010 and was replaced by Siobhán McCarthy.
Between 2011 and 2012, Carlisle embarked on a United States tour with The Go-Go's, which included concerts at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in August 2011 and the Hollywood Bowl in September 2012. In March 2013, Carlisle released her first U.S. single in 17 years titled "Sun", an up-tempo pop song, which was included on "ICON", a new greatest hits compilation album. The single was also released in the United Kingdom. The song was written by Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go's and singer-songwriter Gabe Lopez. Lopez also produced the song. While the track did not chart, it received positive reviews. In August 2013, Edsel Records released remastered, three-disc versions of Heaven on Earth, Runaway Horses, Live Your Life Be Free and Real. Each album comprised a remastered version of the original LP followed by the 7-inch or radio edits of each single from that album, a second disc of remixes and 12-inch versions of all the singles, and a DVD comprising the promotional videos for the singles. Some of singles and remixes had never previously been released on CD. In March 2014, a new Greatest Hits titled The Collection was released containing 18 hits and one new song, "Goodbye Just Go", along with a DVD of 18 videos. The album reached number 24 in the UK albums chart.
Also in March 2014, another digitally remastered, five-disc retrospective collection titled Anthology was released. The anthology included "Dancing in the City", which had previously only been available on the Japanese LP/CD for the soundtrack to the 1987 movie Burglar, and "I Won't Say I'm in Love" which had previously only been released in 1997 as a CD single in France. It also included all three singles from her first album and all four singles from A Woman and a Man. Later in 2014, Carlisle's three other studio albums, Belinda, A Woman and a Man and Voila were re-issued by Edsel on CD, although there were a number of issues with their production.
Carlisle confirmed in a radio interview in August 2015 that she has completed work on a new album, tentatively earmarked for release in January 2016. She commented that the music on the album will be partly inspired by Kundalini yoga, which she had taken up while pregnant in 1991/1992 and of which she had qualified as a teacher since becoming sober in 2005. Also in August 2015, Edsel released a box set of all the commercially released singles from Carlisle's studio albums, plus a bonus disc featuring a previously-unreleased recording of "In My Wildest Dreams", which had featured in the 1987 film Mannequin. In late 2016, the Go-Go's completed an international tour with Best Coast as a supporting act, which Carlisle stated would likely be their last tour together.
Carlisle's eighth studio album, a selection of Gurmukhi chants titled Wilder Shores, was released in September 2017.
Musical style and influences
Carlisle has been noted by critics for her dynamic soprano vocal range. While Carlisle's discography both with the Go-Go's and in her solo work have been predominately characterized as pop music, some music scholars such as Greil Marcus have noted a confluence of subtle punk influences as well as pop rock, specifically in the Go-Go's early releases (Marcus suggests that any traces of punk influence were carried over from Carlisle's brief tenure in the Germs).
Carlisle has been alternately described by critics as a "punk diva" and "pop princess." As a singer in the Go-Go's, Carlisle was associated with the new wave genre, and the band was remarked by critics for their style that "inject[ed] punk with the sound of California surf music." Her subsequent solo releases, beginning with her self-titled solo debut, Belinda (1986), were remarked by critics as more polished contemporary pop music.
Her early inspirations during her childhood were The Beach Boys, Cat Stevens, The Stylistics, and The Animals. As a teenager, she saw Iggy Pop on the cover of The Stooges' Raw Power in a record store, an album which she credited as a gateway exposing her to punk and art rock acts such as The Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, Roxy Music, and The Sex Pistols. In a 2013 interview, Carlisle stated that despite having recorded an abundance of it throughout her career, she "didn't really listen to pop music," and had recently been inspired by jazz artists such as Miles Davis.
In 1986, Carlisle married political operative and film producer Morgan Mason, son of actor James Mason. He made appearances in Carlisle's music videos "Mad About You" and "Heaven Is a Place on Earth". They have one son, James, who was born in 1992. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Carlisle and her family moved to Europe, settling in the south of France. Carlisle and her husband live between Fréjus, a commune in Southern France, India, and the United States.
During the initial stages of her tenure with the Go-Go's, Carlisle developed a serious addiction to cocaine and alcohol that would span thirty years. Simultaneously, she had also developed an eating disorder, which she said stemmed from media comments regarding her appearance; Carlisle's excessive cocaine use helped keep her weight down. Additionally, Carlisle admitted to using LSD, quaaludes, and MDA regularly as both a teenager and adult. In a 2017 interview, she told The Guardian that she "couldn't believe she wasn't dead."
After a three-day-long cocaine binge in 2005, Carlisle says she looked at herself in the mirror and "didn't see a light or a soul" in her eyes: "I just thought, ‘I know I don’t look like myself anymore.'" The same morning, she had an auditory hallucination telling her she would be found dead in a hotel room if she did not stop using drugs. The incident jarred Carlisle into seeking sobriety, and she has been sober since 2005.
She told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2014: "I don't smoke anymore, I don't drink any more and I don't do drugs any more. I am very much into my Buddhism. I found turning 40 a real passage in time for me." Carlisle states in her autobiography Lips Unsealed: A Memoir that she has practiced Nichiren Buddhism as a member of the Soka Gakkai International since 2002, and she often mentions in press interviews that she chants Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō daily. She has also credited the practice with helping her maintain sobriety.
In a 1990 interview with Spin, Carlisle stated that she was not close with her siblings or parents, saying: "I'm not really close with my brothers or sisters. I don't know why. Part of it is because I choose... no, I don't choose not to be. I want to be close to them. I kind of feel uncomfortable. I think I feel guilty sometimes about my success in some ways."
Carlisle is a supporter of several causes. She has been an ardent supporter of LGBT rights, which she made public after her son, James, came out to her at age fourteen. Carlisle is also a vegetarian and a supporter of animal rights. She and her bandmates were the first stars to pose for PETA's "Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign in 1990. In a 2013 interview, she talked about going back to vegetarianism after a long break, stating that
"I fell off the vegetarian wagon and never felt good about it. I wouldn't let myself think of my plate of meat as an animal, but I knew deep inside it was, and actually it was gross, especially chicken. I was full of shame. Then I started practicing yoga, which is all about nonviolence, and realized eating meat isn't compatible with that. Now I teach yoga, and I'm so full of pride not to support factory farms and to be socially responsible."
She contributed her song "Bless the Beasts and the Children" to the album Tame Yourself to benefit PETA.
In 2014, Carlisle co-founded Animal People Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in Calcutta, India, that raises funds and trains and employs impoverished women to care for street animals. "We are teaching people that animals have feelings," says Carlisle. "How to recognize a street animal in distress. There is a middle class developing and they still don't have proper vet care, so a lot of what we do will be educational. We're partnering with a hospital in Calcutta to teach about adoption and to get access to emergency rooms."
In popular culture
In 1999, Carlisle was ranked #76 with the Go-Go's in VH1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll. She is referred to multiple times in Chuck Palahniuk's short story "Phoenix", published in Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread (2016).
- Studio albums
- Belinda (1986)
- Heaven on Earth (1987)
- Runaway Horses (1989)
- Live Your Life Be Free (1991)
- Real (1993)
- A Woman and a Man (1996)
- Voila (2007)
- Wilder Shores (2017)
- List of artists who reached number one in the United States
- List of artists who reached number one on the UK Singles Chart
- List of artists who reached number one in Ireland
- List of number-one singles of 1986 (Canada)
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- 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll. VH1. July 26, 1999.
- Palahniuk, Chuck (2016). Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread. Knopf Doubleday. pp. 102–21. ISBN 978-0-385-53806-0.
- Carlisle, Belinda (2011). Lips Unsealed: A Memoir. Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-307-46350-0.
- Marcus, Greil (1999). In the Fascist Bathroom: Punk in Pop Music, 1977-1992. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-44577-2.
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