A growing live reputation, cemented by their dancefloor appeal, secured a signing to a major label – led by Miles Copeland – and 1981 saw the group finally hit the US Top 20 with ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’, later to be covered by Terry Hall’s Fun Boy Three. The band’s LP debut, Beauty And The Beat, subsequently topped the US charts for six weeks, bolstered by a re-recording of their ‘We Got The Beat’ breakthrough, which hit the US No.2 spot.
A second set, Vacation, again went gold, but the hits were starting to slow, with only the LP’s title track this time making the US Top 10. Human League hit producer Martin Rushent was drafted in for 1984’s third LP, Talk Show, but this release only made US No.18. Belinda’s fellow Go-Go’s-founder, guitarist Jane Wiedlin, quit at the end of the year; despite playing a further few live dates, the band announced their formal split in May 1985, after a couple of nights performing at a Rio music festival.
Following a brief cameo in the 1984 film Swing Shift, Belinda’s self-titled solo debut hit the shops in late 1986 and secured her a US No.3 in ‘Mad About You’. She toured across the States and launched two smaller single releases with ‘I Feel The Magic’ and a surprise cover of Freda Payne’s ‘Band Of Gold’. The record also benefited from contributions from Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor and The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs on backing vocals. It secured strong reviews and was produced by Michael Lloyd.
Belinda contributed music to a handful of movie soundtracks before a real international breakthrough came with Heaven Is A Place On Earth, a spectacular set of melodic, commercial songs arranged and produced by legendary hit-maker Rik Nowels. Oscar-winner Diane Keaton created a memorable video for the set’s title track, helping the single top the US charts in late 1987 and enter the UK Top 40 early the following year. Further smashes came with ‘I Get Weak’ and ‘World Without You’, both written by Diane Warren, and ‘Circle In The Sand’, a Top 10 hit again on both sides of the Atlantic.
The follow-up, 1989’s Runaway Horses, benefited from contributions from former Beatle George Harrison, who played guitar on the set’s lead release, ‘Leave A Light On’, which peaked at UK No.4 and US No.11. Rik Nowels again produced the set, which Belinda performed extensively on a series of international tours. While ‘Leave A Light On’ and ‘(We Want) The Same Thing’ were big hits, particularly in the UK, there was a gentle cooling of her chart career, despite the release of dozens of ingenious dance remixes and striking promo videos to support no less than six singles.
After a brief reunion tour to support a greatest-hits compilation with her former Go-Go’s bandmates, Belinda tweaked the formula slightly for her 1991 follow-up, Live Your Life Be Free. Again assisted by Rik Nowels, but employing a wider set of collaborators than before, the album did solid business in the UK, but fared less well internationally. Nonetheless, it yielded two UK hit singles in a musical climate that was changing fast, and Belinda continued to be an impressive live draw. The release of her first solo greatest-hits set then returned Belinda to the top of the British charts.
By 1994, Belinda had relocated with her family to Europe; Real, her fifth solo album, was her first since her debut without Rik Nowels and offered a stripped-down, more acoustic vibe that rewarded her with two further UK hits in late 1993. The biggest, ‘Big Scary Animal’, was hailed as her most innovative to date and preceded another spell touring with her former band to support another greatest-hits set, including some new material.
A reunion with Rik Nowels in a writing capacity, in 1996, led to the release of A Woman And A Man. It heralded a return to the richer, more melodic material Carlisle was revered for and reaped her biggest hits in years. ‘In Too Deep’ peaked at UK No.6 and its follow-up, ‘Always Breaking My Heart’, written by Roxette’s Per Gessle, followed it into the Top 10. Further singles ‘Love In The Key Of C’ and ‘California’, with a contribution from Beach Boy Brian Wilson, were minor hits.
The decade closed with another solo greatest-hits set, which returned Belinda to the album charts and featured a new song, ‘All God’s Children’, which was also given a single release and has proved to be her last UK chart entry to date. In what was to become a familiar career path, Belinda’s next move was to reform with The Go-Go’s once more. This time it was for an album of new material and the band were rewarded with a return to the US charts for the first time in 17 years with God Bless.
In 2001, Carlise caused quite a stir when she appeared as God created her in the pages of Playboy magazine. It was a clear reminder that Belinda was truly a free spirit, determined to live her life in as colourful a manner as she could. Always a keen animal-rights activist, Belinda took some time out in the early part of the new millennium and moved with her family to France, continuing to tour but also taking some time out for herself.
It wasn’t until 2007 that Belinda released a new studio set. Voila was an 11-track collection of classic French pop songs, which included a number that won the 1966 Eurovision Song Contest alongside compositions by Serge Gainsbourg. Solo tours and live commitments with The Go-Go’s were balanced during this time by a spell with the West End theatre production of Hairspray and a short stint on the reality TV series Dancing With The Stars.
In 2010, Belinda published her autobiography, Lips Unsealed, and it scaled the best-seller lists. The following year, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame with her Go-Go’s bandmates. Three years later, she released her first new single in years. ‘Sun’ was an uptempo return to form and preceded a bonanza of reissues that comprehensively represented Carlisle’s recorded solo output to date. She continues to make music and has promised that a new album of fresh material is not far away.
With a professional career that remains enviably untarnished, Carlisle’s back catalogue of strong, melodic material regularly crops up on radio playlists around the world. Hundreds of live dates and millions of records sold both as a solo artist and as one of the world’s most successful girl groups prove that a magic really can happen more than once.
Words: Mark Elliott
Like Live Your Life Be Free, Real was a well-crafted and produced album alternating between ballads and light dance-pop. Like its predecessor, Real also suffered from a lack of memorable songs. While the record sounded good, it had nothing to support the state-of-the-art production.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
When Belinda Carlisle pursued a solo career, she took more than her share of criticism from rock critics -- who complained that slick pop/rock collections like Belinda and Heaven on Earth lacked the bite of her work with the Go-Go's. But while nothing here packs quite the punch that "How Much More," "We Got the Beat," and "Turn to You" did, such memorable songs as "Heaven Is a Place on Earth," "Should I Let You In?," and "I Get Weak" show that the Angelino still had plenty of spirit. "Circle in the Sand" is in fact a gem -- a haunting Shangri-Las-like song with an early-to-mid-'60s-ish quality that makes you wish you were back in the Summer of '64 on your way to the beach. If one were to own only one solo effort from Carlisle's MCA years, this would be the best choice.
Words: Alex Henderson
In a sense, Belinda Carlisle's A Woman & a Man is a companion record to her first solo album. It arrived in 1996, ten years after Belinda, and it also functioned as something of a break from the Go-Go's, as it was her first album after the group's mid-'90s reunion. That's not where the similarities end: the title track has some Motown propulsion, Charlotte Caffey comes in to co-write "Kneel at Your Feet," and instead of Tim, Carlisle covers Neil Finn. All these echoes are somewhat buried underneath the studio gloss created by producer David Tickle, a veneer that can get too thick on the ballads but nevertheless is often pleasingly expensive. This is a big-budget studio album from an era when they were common and, in retrospect, its overblown adult contemporary has its charms, as do the slightly uneven songs -- tunes that veer from the precision-tuned pop of Roxette's Per Gessle's "Always Breaking My Heart" and "Love Doesn't Live Here" to Finn's exquisitely sculpted "He Goes On." Perhaps the album could've used a dose of livelier material but Tickle's grand production suits the material and flatters Carlisle, two elements that turn A Woman & a Man into one of her better records.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Belinda Carlisle's career has had several twists and turns, but none has been quite as interesting as her 2007 album Voila, a collection of luxurious covers of classic French pop tunes, all sung in French. Certainly, the very concept of the former new wave queen singing French pop qualifies as one of the more intriguing projects in her solo career, but it's also interesting that she's chosen this idea for her first solo album in ten years. Given that long gap between new albums, it's clear that Voila is no stunt or novelty, it's a passion project for Carlisle and it plays that way: it has the complexity and richness of a labor of love. Which doesn't necessarily mean that this album is filled with surprises, apart from its very existence. Brian Eno may contribute keyboards, but that doesn't mean that these are radical reinterpretations, nor are the selections necessarily left-field: there are a pair of Serge Gainsbourg songs, a Jacques Brel, and a few other songs that should be familiar to rock and pop listeners with a fairly deep grasp of '60s and '70s pop. Those listeners who were raised on punk, new wave, and alt-rock, but with a deep love of the '60s, are clearly the target audience for Voila, and the best thing about the album is that it will not disappoint. This is an elegant, stylish collection of adult pop, gliding by on its sleek synth textures and cabaret atmosphere. Even when it dips into Eurodisco -- as it does on occasion, as on Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose" -- it does so gracefully, and there's an appealing sly decadence to the feel of Voila; it may be a decadence sculpted out of films, LPs, and old photos, one that's knowing but affectionate, but that doesn't mean it's not an alluring, effective mood for the album, particularly because Carlisle sustains it from beginning to end, a problem that she didn't manage to conquer on her big hits of the late '80s. That is a change for her, but the true revelation of Voila is her singing: it's relaxed, assured, and nuanced, the best vocal performance she's had on record. She delivers these songs so smoothly, it's like she's been a chanteuse her entire life, and it's that deep musicality that makes Voila not just a rewarding detour but one of her best albums -- and, with any luck, the first chapter in a new phase of her career.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Fair or unfair, Belinda Carlisle's solo recordings were destined to be compared to the Go-Go's. Carlisle resented the constant comparisons, but as great an impact as the group had, did she really expect anything different? Understandably, rock critics missed the harder-edged Carlisle, but in fact, the more polished and slicker one has had her moments. Runaway Horses, Carlisle's third solo release, isn't as strong as Heaven on Earth -- let alone her work with the Go-Go's -- but is generally likeable and appealing. Although not most critics' cup of tea, the good-spirited, romantic idealism of "Valentine," "Leave a Light On," "Whatever It Takes," and other sugary pop/rock and power pop confections is tough to resist.
Words: Alex Henderson