Classics and some curiosities in the history of music.
70s, DANCE ROCK, NEW WAVE, POST PUNK, USA.The B-52's is the debut album by the Athens, Georgia-based new wave band The B-52's. The kitschy lyrics and mood, and the hook-laden harmonies helped establish a fanbase for the band, who went on to release several chart-topping singles. The album cover was designed by Tony Wright (credited as Sue Ab Surd).The B-52's peaked at number 59 on the Billboard 200, and "Rock Lobster" reached number 56 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2003, the television network VH1 named The B-52's the 99th greatest album of all time. Shortly before his death, John Lennon said he enjoyed the album. In his 1995 book, The Alternative Music Almanac, Alan Cross placed the album ninth on the list of 10 Classic Alternative Albums. In 2003, the album was ranked number 152 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.The B-52s (styled as The B-52's prior to 2008) are an American new wave band, formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1976. Their best selling songs have been "Love Shack" and "Roam" while "Rock Lobster" remains a well-known hit. The original line-up consisted of Fred Schneider (vocals), Kate Pierson (vocals, keyboards), Cindy Wilson (vocals, percussion), Ricky Wilson (lead guitar), and Keith Strickland (drums, rhythm guitar, keyboards). After Ricky Wilson's death from AIDS in 1985, Strickland switched from drums to lead guitar. The band also added touring members for albums and live performances.Rooted in new wave and 1960s rock and roll, the group later straddled many genres, ranging from post-punk to pop rock. The "guy vs. gals" vocals of Schneider, Pierson, and Wilson, sometimes used in call and response style, and their unique guitar and keyboard driven instrumentation, are their trademark sound.
Critical receptionCritical reception for The B-52's was generally favorable; critics praised the album's kitschy lyrics and party atmosphere. Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine retrospectively awarded the album a perfect 5 out of 5 stars, stating that "Unabashed kitsch mavens at a time when their peers were either vulgar or stylish, the Athens quintet celebrated all the silliest aspects of pre-Beatles pop culture -- bad hairdos, sci-fi nightmares, dance crazes, pastels, and anything else that sprung into their minds -- to a skewed fusion of pop, surf, avant-garde, amateurish punk, and white funk." Rolling Stone also gave the album 5 out of 5 stars, concluding that "On The B-52's, the best little dance band from Athens proved that rock & roll still matters if it's about sex and hair and moving your body. Even if you have to shake-bake shake-bake it like a Shy Tuna." Music critic Robert Christgau initially awarded the album with an "A-", though he later upgraded the album's rating to an "A," commenting that he is "more delighted with their rhythms, which show off their Georgia roots by adapting the innovations of early funk (a decade late, just like the Stones and Chicago blues) to an endlessly danceable forcebeat format." Slant gave the album 4 out of 5 stars, stating that "(l)ike any over-the-top act, The B-52's wears thin, but the band successfully positioned themselves as pop-culture icons—not unlike the musical antiquities they emulated."The album was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
History1976–1979: Formation and early yearsThe B-52's were formed in 1976 when vocalist Cindy Wilson, her older brother and guitarist Ricky, keyboardist and vocalist Kate Pierson, original drummer and percussionist Keith Strickland and cowbell player, poet and lead vocalist Fred Schneider held an impromptu jam session after sharing a tropical Flaming volcano drink at a Chinese restaurant in Athens, Georgia. Other ideas they had to name their band were the "Tina-Trons" and "Fellini's Children." When they first jammed, Strickland played guitar and Ricky Wilson played congas. They later played their first concert (with Wilson playing guitar) in 1977 at a Valentine's Day party for their friends.The band's name comes from a particular beehive hairdo resembling the nose cone of the aircraft of the same name. Strickland suggested the name after a dream he had had one night, of a band performing in a hotel lounge. In the dream he heard someone whisper in his ear that the name of the band was "the B-52s." The band's quirky take on the new wave sound of their era was a combination of dance and surf music set apart from their contemporaries by the unusual guitar tunings used by Ricky Wilson and thrift-store chic.Their first single, "Rock Lobster," recorded for DB Records in 1978, was an underground success, selling over 2,000 copies in total, that led to the B-52's performing at CBGB and Max's Kansas City in New York City. Both this version of "Rock Lobster" and its B-side "52 Girls" are different recordings from those on their first album, and the early version of "52 Girls" is in a different key.The re-recorded version of "Rock Lobster" was released as a single. In the UK and Germany it was backed with an instrumental version of "Running Around," a non-album track. (A vocal re-recording of this would appear on their second album, Wild Planet.) The buzz created by the record in the UK meant their first show in London at the Electric Ballroom, London, was packed in anticipation, with many UK pop stars such as Sandie Shaw, Green Gartside from Scritti Politti, Joe Jackson, and others in attendance. In Canada, released on the Warner Bros. label, the single went from cult hit to bona fide smash, eventually going on to reach the No. 1 position in the RPM-compiled national chart on May 24, 1980.
1979–1982: The B-52's, Wild Planet, and MesopotamiaIn 1979 the B-52's signed contracts as they flew over to Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas to record their debut studio album, with Island founder Chris Blackwell producing. The band was surprised by Blackwell's recording methods; he wanted to keep the sound as close as possible to their actual live sound so used almost no overdubs or additional effects.Released on July 6, 1979, The B-52's contained re-recorded versions of "Rock Lobster" and "52 Girls", six originals recorded solely for the album, and a cover of the Petula Clark single "Downtown". The album was a major success, especially in Australia where it reached number three on the charts alongside its three singles "Planet Claire," "Rock Lobster," and "Dance This Mess Around." In the United States, the single "Rock Lobster" reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while the album itself was certified platinum by the RIAA. In 1980, John Lennon cited "Rock Lobster" as an inspiration for his comeback with Double Fantasy.In April 1980, as with their first album, The B-52's traveled to Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas to record the follow-up. Several of the songs from the album had been concert staples since 1978; the band consciously did not record them for their first album because they had too many tracks and wanted a strong second album, knowing that performing the tracks live would make fans look forward to it. Rhett Davies co-produced the album, with more emphasis put on slick production; the album has a slightly more psychedelic and even paranoid sound than that of their debut.Released on August 27, 1980, Wild Planet was well received by critics, most of whom regarded it as a strong second album following the success of their first; many fans consider it their best album. The album reached number eighteen on the Billboard 200 chart in 1980 and was certified gold; "Private Idaho" became their second Hot 100 entry. On January 26, 1980, The B-52's performed on Saturday Night Live; they also performed at the Heatwave festival (billed as the "New Wave Woodstock") in Toronto, Canada in August 1980, and appeared in the Paul Simon film One Trick Pony. In July 1981, Party Mix! was released, a six-song collection containing songs from their first two albums remixed and sequenced to form two long tracks, one on each side.In 1981, the band collaborated with Talking Heads' David Byrne to produce a third full-length studio album. Due to alleged conflicts with Byrne over the album's musical direction, recording sessions for the album were aborted, prompting the band to release Mesopotamia in 1982 as an EP. In 1991, Party Mix! and Mesopotamia, the latter of which had been remixed, were combined and released together on a single compact disc.