The B-52’s

  • New wave band from Athens Georgia, formed in 1976. The original members were Fred Schneider (vocals), Kate Pierson (vocals, keyboards), Cindy Wilson (vocals), Keith Strickland (drums, guitars) and Ricky Wilson (lead guitar). All of the members contributed to songwriting.
  • Ricky Wilson and Strickland were long time friends in Athens Georgia. Athens is a college town, and as such it has a creative community different than much of the south. They became friends with Schneider and Pierson (both originally from New Jersey), as well as Ricky’s sister Cindy. They had an eclectic interest in music genres like surf music, 60’s pop, sci-fi soundtracks and vintage soul music. One night, after drinking flaming volcanoes at a Chinese restaurant, they took the stage to jam. Their first real performance was on Valentine’s Day in 1977. Ricky and Strickland were the only ones who knew how to play instruments, so they pre-recorded rhythm and keyboards, and the others handled the vocals. They called themselves The B-52’s, local slang for high-rise beehive hairdos, which the women wore while performing. Their sound was a combination of dance and surf music, with a new wave sound, particularly the vocals – and they quickly became a local favorite.
  • In 1978, an independent record label owner offered to help them with a debut single. Rock Lobster was released in February that year, and they sold 20,000 copies without any major distribution channel. They took their sound to New York, where punk and new wave were becoming popular, and the band played the clubs. Their unique sound was different than other new wave bands of the time, and major record labels became interested. They signed a recording contract in 1979.
  • Their debut album, the self-titled The B-52’s, was released that year. It contained a re-recorded version of Rock Lobster that reached #56 in the U.S., though it was a much bigger success in Canada and Australia. It gained some credibility when John Lennon said in an interview that The B-52’s was his favorite band, and that Rock Lobster was his inspiration for his comeback album Double Fantasy.
  • Their second album, Wild Planet, was released in 1980. It reached #18 on the Billboard 200 album chart, though the only single to chart was Private Idaho, which reached #74. Their next album turned into only an EP, due to musical differences between the band and their producer, so only 6 songs were completed for Mesopotamia. It was a major change in style, with horns and other new instruments, more synthesizers, and complex percussion.
  • 1983’s Whammy! returned them to their signature sound, though with drum machines and synthesizers – Strickland no longer wanted to play the drums, so they reverted to the drum machine. Strickland and Ricky Wilson handled all of the instrumentation, with the other members only contributing the vocals. The songs were popular at dance clubs, though they did not chart highly on the Billboard Hot 100 – Legal Tender and Whammy Kiss both were top 10 singles on the Dance Club chart.
  • As they were working on their next album, Ricky Wilson’s health began to fail, and he died of AIDS-related illnesses in October 1985, at the age of 32. The band finished their album, Bouncing Off the Satellites, which was released in 1986. They then went into seclusion for 2 years.
  • By 1988, they were writing music again, and a comeback was planned. The next year, now a 4 piece band, they released Cosmic Thing. It became their mainstream breakthrough, with 2 singles peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 – their signature song Love Shack, as well as Roam. The album sold over 4 million copies in the U.S.
  • Cindy Wilson took time off in 1990 to focus on family, and the remaining trio released Good Stuff in 1992. The single of the same name was moderately successful, reaching #28 on the Hot 100. Over the next 15 years, they performed shows and made television appearances, but they stayed out of the recording studio.
  • Their final studio album, Funplex, was released in 2008, with Cindy back in the band. They continue to tour today as a trio (Strickland stopped touring in 2013) – including wrapping up the Minnesota State Fair on Labor Day this year.
  • The B-52’s brought new wave music to a fun place – silly lyrics, dancing, with “guys vs gals” vocals, and the unique “speak singing” of Schneider. Who doesn’t know Love Shack? “You’re what? Tin roof…rusted!” Here’s the video.

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