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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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