How The Go-Go’s’ “Head over Heels” Was a Reflection of the Band’s Chaos at the Time

The expression “head over heels” conjures up an image of someone who is out of control. In the case of Tears for Fears’ 1985 hit that bears that name, the song was about someone who was overtaken by feelings of love for another. ABBA had their own “Head over Heels, “ a song from their 1981 album The Visitors, which was about an adventurous woman with boundless energy. The Go-Go’s‘ “Head over Heels” shares the theme of lost control, but bears none of the positivity that imbues the Tears for Fears and ABBA songs.

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The Go-Go’s were in turmoil when making Talk Show, the album from which “Head over Heels” was taken as the lead single. They would break up in May 1985, just over a year after Talk Show was released. While Go-Go’s guitarist/keyboardist Charlotte Caffey and bassist Kathy Valentine didn’t write “Head over Heels” explicitly about the chaos that was enveloping the band, the themes worked their way into the lyrics.

Struggling to Hang On

Caffey began writing “Head over Heels” without a lyrical theme in mind. The first part she wrote was the piano melody that begins in the introduction and runs throughout the song. In an interview for Songfacts, Caffey said she had “maybe three-fourths of the song written” when she invited Valentine to help her complete it. Valentine also didn’t have a coherent theme in mind, but one emerged from the lyrics she contributed.

In an interview with Songfacts, Valentine said, “I had a lot of phrases I’d written down, and they started connecting.” The common thread, not surprisingly given the state of The Go-Go’s then, was “a dawning awareness that the band and certain areas of life were getting kind of out of control.” The band’s members squabbled over the split of royalties, and work on Talk Show was hampered by Belinda Carlisle’s and Caffey’s drug addictions. In this context, it’s completely understandable that, among the phrases that came to mind for Valentine was One hand’s just reaching out / And one’s just hangin’ on.

The rest of the lyrics for “Head over Heels” followed in a similar vein. If one focuses on Caffey’s buoyant piano melody, it would be easy to mistake “Head over Heels” for being a love song, like the Tears for Fears track. Once one pays attention to the lyrics, though, it’s clear that it’s a different message altogether.

Been running so long
I’ve nearly lost all track of time
In every direction
I couldn’t see the warning signs
I must be losin’ it
‘Cause my mind plays tricks on me
It looked so easy
But you know, looks sometimes deceive

Just from the first part of the first verse, the lyrics make it clear “Head over Heels” is about getting in over your head. That message is reinforced in the chorus.

Head over heels, where should I go?
Can’t stop myself, out of control
Head over heels, no time to think
Looks like the whole world’s out of sync

The words are general enough that it could apply to anyone who feels overwhelmed by their circumstances. Carlisle told The New York Times in a 2018 interview the meaning is more specific and personal, saying the song “captures the darker side of fame and fortune.” One can hear the connection to The Go-Go’s’ specific situation in the second verse, when Carlisle sings I’ve waited so long / So long to play this part / And just remembered / That I’d forgotten about my heart.

The Impact of “Head over Heels”

“Head over Heels” peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, just missing out on the Top 10 status achieved by “We Got the Beat” (No. 2) and “Vacation” (No. 8). Of The Go-Go’s’ official song videos, only “Our Lips Are Sealed” has received more plays on YouTube than the over 12 million views gained by “Head over Heels.” On Spotify, “Head over Heels” has been streamed more than 26 million times, making it The Go-Go’s’ fourth most-popular song on the platform.

Despite the success of its lead single, Talk Show was the first Go-Go’s album to miss the Top 10 of the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 18. It was also their first album to not receive Gold or Platinum certification.

“Head over Heels” also lent its name to a jukebox musical created and written by Jeff Whitty. The musical mashed up a plot based on The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney and the music of The Go-Go’s. The show enjoyed a five-month run at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015. A new production of Head over Heels made its way to Broadway, where it ran at the Hudson Theatre from July 2018 to January 2019. Valentine directed and played bass in the band for a 2023 run of the show at the ZACH Theatre in Austin, Texas.

Just on the basis of its catchy melody and ingenious arrangement, “Head over Heels” is a highlight of The Go-Go’s’ catalog. Guitarist Jane Wiedlin has cited it as one of her favorite songs by the band, saying it’s “like a little pop truffle of chocolate that’s just completely delicious.” The lyrics may have been born of some serious angst, but even they can’t leave a bitter aftertaste from this piece of pop perfection.

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Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images

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