The B-52’s

B-52s

“The Love Shack is a little old place where we can get together,
Love Shack, baby! Love Shack, that’s where it’s at!”

There are plenty of party bands, but no other band can party quite like the B-52’s. These leaders of the new wave movement took joy in being different, blazing their own trail with a unique combination of kitsch-culture and old-fashioned party music. In the process, they notched up a series of hit albums and influenced countless alternative-rock acts of the future.

The B-52’s played their first gig in their hometown of Athens, Georgia on Valentine’s Day 1977. Taking their name from a southern expression for beehive hairdos, they performed songs that mixed retro-rock sounds with a post-punk attitude. They became a hit with critics after playing in New York and recorded a self-titled debut album in 1979. Songs like “Rock Lobster” and “Dance This Mess Around” combined an invigorating garage-rock style with funny lyrics about the band’s pop-culture obsessions. The album became a favorite with new-wavers, and its danceable nature also made it an underground hit in discos.

By the time the group released a second album, Wild Planet, The B-52’s already stood alongside The Talking Heads and Blondie as important figures in the new wave scene. Fittingly, the album became another hit for the group. “Private Idaho” mixed campy sci-fi sounds with a driving rock beat and became a hit on the alternative-radio stations. It also provided inspiration for the Gus Van Sant film My Own Private Idaho. “Give Me Back My Man” also became a Top-5 hit on the disco charts.

As The B-52’s became successful, they moved from playing clubs to touring concert halls. The group never failed to impress concertgoers with their strong stage show, which mixed a thrift-store-derived visual style with delightfully over-the-top theatrics. This unique look, which featured female members Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson in beehive hairdos and male lead Fred Schneider in all his campy glory, made their early videos hits on MTV. Meanwhile, the group continued to sell well with records like Mesopotamia, which was produced by Talking Heads leader David Byrne, and 1983’s Whammy, which experimented with synth-pop and scored a college-radio hit with “Legal Tender.”

In 1985, The B-52’s suffered a serious loss when guitarist Ricky Wilson died of AIDS. The group took a break to recover while they reassessed their music. They made a triumphant return in 1989 with the release of their most successful album, Cosmic Thing. On this LP, the group looked back to their roots and came up with a sparkling set of party-songs that soon became major pop-chart hits. “Love Shack,” an old-fashioned dance song with a party-hearty attitude, hit #3 on the charts and became the group’s biggest hit single. “Roam,” a tribute to the joys of traveling, also became a #3 hit.

Cindy Wilson left the B-52’s to pursue other interests shortly after their massive tour for Cosmic Thing. Meanwhile, Kate Pierson came into demand as a guest vocalist, appearing on R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People” and Iggy Pop’s “Candy”. As a group, The B-52’s pressed on with Good Stuff, an album that saw them exploring their social consciousness on songs like “Breezin'” and “Tell It Like It T-I-is.” Just the same, they had not forgotten how to party, and they proved it on the album’s Top-30 title song.

The B-52’s did their first film theme when they recorded their version of The Flintstones theme song for the 1994 blockbuster of the same name. Appropriately, they called themselves the BC-52’s for this performance. Cindy Wilson returned to the group in 1998, and the reunited unit recorded two new songs for their best-of album, Time Capsule. They also toured with their old colleagues, The Pretenders, that year. The B-52’s continue to stay active today, bringing their delightfully-different sense of party music to fans everywhere.

If you grew up listening to this band that dared to be different, we hope you’ll take a moment to share your favorite B-52’s memories with us in our comments section below.

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