Yet another self-title debut album today, we feature “The B-52’s” today, homegrown in Athens, Georgia. In my (and their) early days, I always just thought they were a bit bizarre both in appearance and sound, and while I got a good smile from tunes like “Rock Lobster”, I never took them too seriously. Obviously, they had a big renaissance in the late 1980s after some tragedy and are hanging strong to this day, but it is only recently I have really come to appreciate how good their early music was, and how different it was from most acts of the time (or any time). “The B52’s” is the 198th rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The original lineup featured the twin female vocals of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, complete with their beehive hairstyles, along with the remarkably unique Fred Schneider and his spoken-word vocals. Cindy’s brother Ricky was on lead guitar, and Keith Strickland was on drums. Sadly, in 1985, Ricky died from complications from AIDS, and Keith moved over to lead guitar in his place.
On this journey, I love the time-phased elapse which allows to hear so many influences. That said, I didn’t expect to hear the sounds of Henry Mancini on the first track, but I did, as “Planet Claire” is built around the “Peter Gunn” theme. Mancini even gets a songwriting credit. This song is awesome, as is the next one, “52 Girls”, which really begins to showcase the rhythm-based driving guitar of Wilson. Of course, the band also does a great job of blending in Pierson’s keyboards to the mix. If it is blended, it is just there, right in your face, along with some of the most unique vocal passages you will ever hear. I love it, as I do on most of the album.
Side one ends with the iconic “Rock Lobster”, and like a lot of their music, it is only recently that I have come to appreciate what an absolute rocker this song, even if it is embedded with Cindy and Kate imitating various fish calls. The last 90 seconds of this song is a rhythm explosion and it is a guaranteed volume max for me every time I hear it. Quirky? Unusual? Of course… but it is pure rock and roll, with just a different approach.
Side two starts with “Lava”, another simple rock tune, followed by one of my favorite song titles of all time. “There’s a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)”… what more really needs to be said? As I have spent the last several nights admiring the full or nearly full moon rising over the ocean, I have to agree, there most certainly is a moon in the sky, and yes… it is called the Moon.
The fun continues with “6060-842”, which is one of the best combined vocals from all three, along with a very unusual interaction with a frustrated operator. The album ends with “Downtown”. I will fully confess it took me almost two minutes to realize this was in fact a cover of the infamous Petula Clark classic. This turned it from like to love quickly. Of course, I then had to listen to the original, which I also love, and then I had to watch George Costanza and Jerry dissect the song in search of clues. As if I didn’t have the complete “Downtown” experience, my day was made complete when I learned that none other than Jimmy Page played guitar on the Petula Clark original.
You have to love the carefree and unique approach of the B-52s, as one of the leading influences in the new-wave extension that branched more melodically out of the roots of punk rock. They also brought some much-needed female influence to a genre that was overweighted to males, and to this day both Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson stand tall as major influences in modern music.
“And there they saw a rock… it wasn’t a rock… It was a rock lobster”.