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Belinda Carlisle Ranks Her Top Hits (Exclusive Q&A)

The lead singer of the Go-Go's is back with her first solo single since 1997. She discusses the difference between her group and solo music, previews the future of the band and, in a Chart Beat…

Belinda’s back.

With “Sun,” Belinda Carlisle has released her first solo single in the U.S. since 1997. The song, which she co-wrote with fellow Go-Go Jane Wiedlin, appears on her new Icon hits collection.

“Sun” bursts with the same tempo and hooky chorus that’s infused her solo catalog, which includes the 1987 Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” and the top 10s “Mad About You” (No. 3, 1986), “I Get Weak” (No. 2, 1988) and “Circle in the Sand” (No. 7, 1988). She added the No. 11 hit “Leave a Light On” in 1989 and “Summer Rain” (No. 30) in 1990.

Since her last American release, 1997’s A Woman and a Man, which generated the single “In Too Deep,” the Go-Go’s reunited for 2001’s God Bless the Go-Go’s, their first studio album since 1984. The set yielded the top 25 Adult Pop Airplay hit “Unforgiven,” which Wiedlin and the band’s Charlotte Caffey co-wrote with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.


Until Icon, Carlisle had last issued new music in the U.S. in 2007 with Voila, a set of covers of French and American pop standards. The album was informed by her discovery of French pop after she’d moved to France.

Ahead of the Go-Go’s’ summer tour (without Kathy Valentine, who departed the band in March due to “irreconcilable differences”), which kicks off on June 13, Chart Beat checked in with Carlisle to find out more about her new single; get caught up on the future of the Go-Go’s; and – since we’re Billboard – find out her favorite hits from throughout her career, exclusively ranked from No. 10 to No. 1.

Can you please tell us what led to your recording “Sun”?

I’m at a point in my career where I don’t have to record something unless I really love it. And for the last 15 years or so, truly great songs haven’t been easy to find. So when I heard “Sun,” I loved it, and I decided to record it. It’s age-appropriate, while still being modern and youthful in its spirit, and I particularly appreciated that part of it.

Gabe Lopez actually gave me the song initially; it was called “Run,” and while Gabe’s lyrics were good, I wanted something a little different that was more specific to me and my style. Jane is an amazing lyricist so I approached her, and she came up with concept of “Sun,” which was great.

You’ve recorded so many great pure pop songs. How do you know when you’ve written a song, or heard a song written by someone else, that it’s one you want to record?

I just know it instinctively. Most of the stuff that’s released these days is unoriginal and bland, so when you hear something that’s unique, it really stands out.

Does “Sun” make you want to record an album of all-new material?

(P.S.: … Um, can you please record an album of all-new material?)

I’m recording new music now actually; I’m not sure yet when it’ll all be released, but I’ve got a great selection of songs from a cool array of songwriters, some of whom I’ve worked with before. I’m really excited to see where it goes!

Very sweet of you. Thank you for the support!

What current artists do you like?

Not many. Music has just become way too commercial these days and record companies simply don’t develop artistic talent anymore. There are a few that are good, like Lady Gaga, but most of them don’t have any originality to them.

You said recently that while you and Madonna are a day apart in age, you can’t imagine keeping up the touring and publicity schedule that she does. It seems that you’re impressed with her – but you’d rather not go through such a grind at this point?

No, I couldn’t do it the way she does. Life is too short. I respect her, but I can’t imagine living the kind of life that she has. I’m very happy with where I am in my journey, and I’m very proud of the career that I’ve had over the last 35 years.

Never mind the music industry, the world itself is very different now from when you last released new music. You’re pretty active on Twitter and Facebook. You’re a fan of social media?

There are good and bad things about it, to be honest. Social media is a necessary evil these days. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I hate it! But it’s true that it gives me a better ability to connect with my fans out there, which is great.

You’ve enjoyed success with the Go-Go’s and on your own. When you look at your group and solo catalogs, what are the main differences, in both the music and simply the overall experience? Is one more rewarding, or more fun?

No, both are equally as great in their own different ways. The musical differences are obvious, The Go-Go’s are more punk, while my solo work is more soft pop. But they’re equally as fun and enjoyable for me. I couldn’t possibly put one over the other.

After breakups and reunions over the years, what’s the future of the Go-Go’s?

I think we’ll probably stay together for at least another few years. You never know what the future holds, and certainly we’ve been wrong in the past about what we expected for the band.

A few years ago we were planning on saying farewell, but our feelings changed and we decided to keep on going, so who knows how long we’ll last?

You’ve been very forthcoming about your troubles with substance abuse. If I may ask, are you in a good place now?

I’m honestly happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve got a great family, great career, great friends and a lot of passions which make my life interesting and fulfilling every day. Although I’ve definitely had some tough times in my life, it’s all led up to where I am at this moment, and I’m very satisfied.

You and Jane have also been very open in your support of marriage equality. What is your overall take such an important issue?

For me, it’s simple: everybody deserves the same rights. My son is gay, and I want the best for him. I can’t believe that it’s 2013 and we’re still debating equality in this country.

Since I was a young girl in the punk scene, almost all of my friends have been gay or lesbian, so for me it’s an obvious answer when it comes to whether or not gay people should be recognized as equal.

As we’re Billboard, let’s close with three chart-related questions. The Go-Go’s made major chart history in the ’80s by becoming the first all-girl group to top the Billboard 200 album chart (with 1981’s Beauty and the Beat). How do you look back on the legacy of the band?

There’s no question we were pioneers of women in music, and it definitely means a lot. Getting our star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was a huge honor and we were all so grateful to receive it, so it feels great to know that our work has been acknowledged and that it means something to a lot of people. That’s the greatest thing a musician could ask for.

How aware were you over the years of your Billboard chart success? What has it meant to you to see your name at No. 1?

I’m very proud of the success I’ve had, both with the band and as a solo artist. It’s pretty surreal for a Valley Girl to go from working as a secretary to hitting the top of the Billboard charts within a three-year period, so it definitely meant a lot to me at the time.

It still makes me smile to think about it now.

As a member of the Billboard charts department, I get to make charts all the time. Now I’m offering you the chance! If you think about your entire career, from Go-Go’s to solo, please, if you’d like, rank your 10 favorite songs that you’ve recorded, from No. 10 to No. 1. It’s your chance to be Casey Kasem, with all the songs by you!

I would say …

10, “Avec Le Temps”
9, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth”
8, “Vacation” (Go-Go’s; a No. 8 Hot 100 hit in 1982)
7, “Head Over Heels” (Go-Go’s; No. 11, 1984)
6, “Our Lips Are Sealed” (Go-Go’s; No. 20, 1981)
5, “Mercenary” (Go-Go’s)
4, “Circle in the Sand”
3, “Too Much Water”
2, “Mad About You”
1, “Summer Rain”