Archive | March, 2021

The B-52’s – Whammy! (1983)

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The B-52’s – Whammy! (1983)

Posted on 29 March 2021 by Joe

Drum machines and a greater use of synthesizers should make Whammy! a very different sounding The B-52’s album from their Duane Eddy riffed opening two albums and the largely dour David Byrne mis-step with Mesopotamia.

But even with smart 80s tech deployed, it actually marks a comforting return to their fun, live roots, which propelled them to acclaim back in 1978.

The songs are fun and the drum machines and synths work well with Cindy, Kate and Fred’s vocals.

The album also features three songs that were originally planned for Mesopotamia, Butterbean, Big Bird and one of my highlights Queen of Las Vegas, a crime thriller  script of a track from Cindy.

The highlight of the album for me and arguably across all their albums is Song for a Future Generation, featuring all five band members in a wonderful 80s version of the likes of Tinder and other dating apps. Who doesn’t warm to drummer Keith wanting to find the “essence from within”?

There’s more here. Another crime focused track in Legal Tender and in Whammy Kiss the band developed a staple live classic.

There’s another of my favourites by the band in Trism. It’s a great pop track but also shows how inventive and eclectic Ricky Wilson’s guitar work was becoming. The 50s twang was being expanded into FM friendly riffs and licks. What a talent he was.

There is a difference from the original release, which featured a cover of Yoko Ono’s Don’t Worry, Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow).

Legal issues, however, saw this removed on later  pressings and replaced by Moon 83, a synthed up 80s version of There’s a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon). A filler track, but one with merit.

The Tracks

 

 

The departure in sound here could have gone array. But thanks to production from Steven Stanley it sounds fresh and fun and I challenge anyone not to at least smile during Song for a Future Generation. Stanley’s other credits include Tom Tom Club, Black Uhuru and Grace Jones.

Keith takes additional guitar and keyboard credits on this album. Remember that guitar credit for a couple of albums down the line. Also note Ricky’s expanded guitar work here.

By Joe Lepper

 

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The B-52’s – Mesopotamia (1982)

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The B-52’s – Mesopotamia (1982)

Posted on 22 March 2021 by Joe

Half-finished album? EP? Mini-album? Call it what you will it, but Mesopotamia deserves its own place in the history of The B-52’s album releases.

It was planned as the band’s third full album with David Byrne at the helm no less. He seemed the right fit for a band that was regularly on the same touring circuit and bill as Talking Heads. They knew and respected Byrne and vice-versa.

But it didn’t quite go to plan. Byrne was also recording The Catherine Wheel, which he worked on by day, while recording with the B-52’s at night.

This schedule can’t have been good for anyone involved.

Whether lack of sleep or not quite understanding The B-52’s, Byrne’s mix of the album was not what the band were after. Too flat, too sad in places. Perhaps he was half asleep?

As a result, it was cut short and released as a six track collection, with three of four abandoned songs later to resurface in the far more commercially savvy next album Whammy, but more of that tomorrow.

Island didn’t help either, shunning the band’s choices of more upbeat tracks and instead going for filler songs.

The tracks

Across the six tracks here, half are good and half are a misstep. Loveland, with Cindy Wilson on vocals, followed by Deep Sleep, with Kate Pierson taking turns behind the mic, are as lacklustre an opening two tracks as you can get.

It picks up significantly with the title track, with Fred Schneider’s much needed enthusiasm making it a real highlight. Cake is a track I’ve warmed to, but the mix feels too flat for me. It ends on a high though with Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can and this mini-album’s best track Nip It in the Bud. Cindy is on fine form here.

The tracks that later emerge on Whammy are all perfect for that release.  More on that tomorrow. I’m glad they were left off Mesopotamia and away from Byrne’s tired controls.

You may love some of the tracks I haven’t warmed to and hate the ones I like, but time and again it is Mesopotamia and Nip it in the Bud that I come back to from this.

Next week, a drum machine and an album with one of, if not our favourite tracks by the band. It’ll help you find the essence from within!

By Joe Lepper

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The B-52’s -Wild Planet (1980)

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The B-52’s -Wild Planet (1980)

Posted on 15 March 2021 by Joe

Following the favourable global response to their debut album, The B-52’s were fast becoming one of Island’s biggest acts. For their second album slicker production was needed and Rhett Davies was brought in, with label boss Chris Blackwell moving to ‘executive producer’ duties.

Davies’ credits include albums by Genesis, Roxy Music, Robert Palmer, Brian Eno, Dire Straits and Talking Heads excellent More Songs About Buildings and Food. He was a big deal for The B-52’s.

The production may have been new and slicker, but a number of the tracks had been staples of their live act for a number of years. It has been reported that the Bs had some commercial acumen at the time, wanting to hold back some of the best live songs for their second album. With top 20 album positions in the UK and US in 1980, the combination of Davies and these five camp New Wavers from Athens clearly worked.

My take on the production? I actually prefer the original’s energy and agree with Rolling Stone’s review of the time saying that it sounded ‘flatter and duller’ than its predecessor.

The Tracks

Nevertheless, there are some great tracks here and the production is only flatter in comparison to their fantastic debut. It’s still a great sound.

I’m going straight into Cindy Wilson’s finest moment first – Give Me Back My Man. Remember Dance This Mess Around on the debut? This takes that raw pain and emotion and switches it up a gear. A woman pleading with her man’s new woman to give him up. It’s basically Dolly Parton and great Dolly Parton at that. In desperation she tells her man’s new woman that she’ll do anything even ‘give her fish, give her candy’. Now that’s love.

Private Idaho is another high point on Wild Planet. Ricky’s intro packs a punch. It was later used as the title song for Gus Van Sant’s 1991 film My Own Private Idaho. It’s in my top five The B-52’s tracks with the intro never failing to excite.

Among the live staple party tunes is Strobe Light, Quiche Lorraine and Party Out of Bounds.

As with Give My Back My Man there are some deeper, rawer tracks too with Dirty Back Road, perhaps the best of these.

While as an album it was a hit, single wise though Davies failed to deliver, with Private Idaho the best performer in the US at 74 in the Billboard charts, although the Aussies loved it, helping it reach 11 in the charts down under.

While good, the album lacked a little of the spark of their debut but is a great collection and made a classic by Give Me Back My Man and Idaho alone.

It didn’t quite capture their live energy though and to this day I still prefer the tracks live. Just check out this awesome 1980 live version of Give Me Back My Man.

How does David Byrne fare producing the band? Find out next week when we travel forward to 1982 and Mesopotamia.

by Joe Lepper

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The B-52’s -The B-52’s (1979)

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The B-52’s -The B-52’s (1979)

Posted on 08 March 2021 by Joe

It was some point in the mid-1980s that I first heard The B-52’s. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Rock Lobster from their eponymous 1979 debut album had just been re-released. The teenage me promptly bought the 12” at Brighton’s Virgin Megastore. With its smattering of great tracks from their next two albums, I’d found my new favourite band.

Still not a week goes by without a track from the band in my life.

Over the next eight weeks I’ll be guiding you through the array of albums from this New Wave outfit from Athens, Georgia, the US university town that has been blessed with creating three great bands: REM, Pylon and this bunch of 50s sci-fi, bee-hive wigged obsessed party-goers.

The B-52’s formed two years prior to this release, mainly for friends at parties. The band gradually grew in popularity, performing at legendary venues in New York such as CBGBs and then signed to Island, with the label’s founder Chris Blackwell producing their debut.

Blackwell wanted the album to recreate their live act as much as possible. This was a savvy move with each members’ particular talents allowed to shine here.

Here’s some wonderful black and white footage of the B-52s live in 1978 in Atlanta.

Before I discuss the tracks let’s meet the players.

On guitar is Ricky Wilson. Armed with his trusty Mosrite he had his own way of tuning his guitar to create a wholly unique science fiction surf sound, packed full of great riffs. Why is it tuned so differently? I think it may have been to suit the voice of this sister Cindy Wilson, who he formed the band with. Ricky was blessed with unique talent on the guitar, but as we will learn later in the immersion, it was a life cruelly cut short.

Cindy is the star for me. Her Georgia drawl and powerful voice gives many of the B-52’s tracks a real edge. So emotional. So raw.

Fellow singer, and keyboardist, Kate Pierson, is another great vocalist and then there’s a third too in Fred Schneider. Most bands are blessed with one great vocalist. The B’s had three! Fred talks and shouts mostly through the tracks, but his Georgia accent and odd lyrics strangely work, especially when combined with Cindy and Kate. A perfect blend.

Then there’s drummer Keith Strickland. He’s the one at the back who later in The B-52’s story arguably becomes the most talented and pop-savvy of them all. Once again. More on that later.

The tracks

Track time. Rock Lobster weighs in at a mighty 6:49 here. Live it keeps going, so Blackwell thought that should also be the case on the album.

Dance This Mess Around is the ultimate Cindy, Fred and Kate song here, where the pain of being a wallflower at the local dance for Cindy becomes unbearably real. This is the track where I knew the B-52s had far more to them than being just a party band.

There’s more from Cindy’s incredible vocals on Hero Worship and Lava. And on 52 Girls the simple naming of Miss America contenders through Cindy and Kate’s southern tones gets under the skin of a beauty pageant, like Harry Crews reporting on proceedings, as Betty, Brenda and the other gals are lowered into a pit of snakes while a circus freakshow passes.

Fred and Kate take vocal duties on mysterious ‘50s B Movie space oddity Planet Claire, and there’s even a chance for a cover of Tony Hatch’s Downtown.

There’s a couple of filler tracks but they more than make up the numbers. There’s merit in each of 6060-842 and There’s a Moon in the Sky.

This is the first in a series of reviews looking at the career in albums of some of our favourite acts.

By Joe Lepper

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The B-52’s kick off our look back at bands’ complete discographies

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The B-52’s kick off our look back at bands’ complete discographies

Posted on 04 March 2021 by Joe

Over the next eight weeks, every Monday morning (9:00am UK time), we are going to look back on the complete back catalogue of albums by some of our favourite bands and artists.

First up we will give our take on the eight album run spanning four decades of The B-52’s. This starts next week (March 8) with their 1979 self titled debut and finishes in May with their most recent album, 2008’s Funplex.

See you next week for our look at The B-52’s complete discography!

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