The great thing about alcohol is briefly, very briefly in fact, all things seem possible. With a buzz on, drinking away the evening in a Chinese restaurant in Athens, GA, future members of the B-52s, who had little or no prior musical experience, decided to form a group.
The name came not from the lethal bomber, but from Southern slang for the high stacked bouffant hair styles worn by singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. Armed with guitarist Ricky Wilson (Cindy's bro), drummer Keith Strickland and Fred Schneider's "wacky" vocals, the B-52s landed in New York playing Max's Kansas City and CBGBs.
Scoring with the oddball "Rock Lobster," one of the most catchy/kitchy songs ever recorded, the B-52s released their self-titled debut in '79. "Wild Planet" cracked the Album Chart's Top 20 the following year.
Their next album, "Mesopotamia," was produced by Talking Heads' frontman David Byrne. One paper, it might have looked like a good match but in reality it wasn't. Byrne was an inventive artist while the B-52s were quirky fun. Byrne drained the humor, and without it, the B-52s were seriously lacking. The situation was remedied with the "Whammy" and "Bouncing Off Satellites" albums.
In '85 Ricky Wilson succumbed to AIDS and the group, not feeling up to promoting "Bouncing Off Satellites," went on hiatus.
When the B-52s resumed activity, Strickland had moved to guitar and they enlisted the talents of ace producers Don Was and Nile Rodgers for "Cosmic Thing." If the B-52s had previously worked pop's peripheral edge "Cosmic Thing" propelled them to dead center with two major hits; the infectious "Love Shack" and the straight ahead pop/Rocker "Roam." "Deadbeat Club" also charted.
Though Cindy Wilson bailed in '90, the B-52s continued as a trio. "Good Stuff" tried to emulate "Cosmic Thing" but came up short. The last gasp was renaming themselves the BC-52s to sing the theme to the live action "Flintstones" movie. Not a good move.
Either a group runs out of steam or the audience moves on. At the time, it can look grim. But it's never really over. Fans return, especially those who associate the band with more fun (younger) days. That's where the B-52s found themselves as their touring schedule picked up in '00. The thought occurred to record new material. However, everyone in the intervening years had established lives of their own, in separate parts of the country. So getting together in a studio was a bit difficult. Still, the B-52s managed to get it done. Their first album of original music in sixteen years, "Funplex," landed in '08. "It's loud, sexy Rock & Roll with the beat pumped up to hot pink," gushed Strickland. Yikes! The title track was the lead single for the Steve Osborne (New Order) produced set.
1979 The B-52's
1980 Wild Planet
1986 Bouncing off the Satellites
1989 Cosmic Thing
1992 Good Stuff
What made the B-52s work was the juxtaposition of 80's Wave, '60s girl-group gloss and Schneider's salacious vocals. Those key elements are still intact on "Funplex" (even after all these years). The B-52s are as hedonistic as ever singing ever so blissfully "I'm a pleasure seeker" on the title track. And just to drive the point home, the final track is titled "Keep This Party Going." Can do.
Aside from the pop hits, "Cosmic Thing" features the political "Channel Z" and the sarcastic "Deadbeat Club." But it rates as the B-52s' second best album. The top honor goes to their self-titled debut with the epic "Rock Lobster" and the delightful "Planet Claire." Sounding like Yoko Ono with pop sensibilities this is their defining moment.
With the exception of "Mesopotamia," the B-52s manage to be fairly entertaining, if inconsistent. Opt for "Time Capsule - Songs For A Future Gen." which documents the B-52s' comic book existence.