The B-52's

The B-52's are a rock band from Athens, Georgia, the first of many from the college town that has become one of the most important centers in alternative rock. The name comes from the bouffant wigs that are a part of the band's distinctive look, worn by singers Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson. Along with Wilson and Pierson, Keith Strickland, Ricky Wilson (Cindy's older brother) and Fred Schneider formed the band after a drunken night at a Chinese restaurant. Their sound is particularly marked by the vocals of Wilson and Pierson, with Kate singing in a slightly deeper voice, along with the generally monotone or spoken-word vocals of Schneider. Aside from their vocals, the band also had a unique new-wave sound that was a combination of dance and surf music and the unusual guitar-string tunings utilized by Ricky Wilson. Although part of the new wave movement, their music was more experimental than most new wave, indulging in all manner of odd vocal and synth effects. It created a quirky dance sound that became very popular.

Their first single, "Rock Lobster" in 1978 (see 1978 in music), was an underground success that led to the B-52's performing at CBGB's and Max's Kansas City in New York City. Their debut album, The B-52's, contained a rerecorded version of Rock Lobster along with eight more originals and a remake of Petula Clark's classic "Downtown." The album was eventually certified platinum and "Rock Lobster" gave the band its first entry on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.

The follow-up, Wild Planet, reached the Top 20 on the Billboard 200 in 1980 and was certified gold. "Private Idaho" bacame their second Hot 100 entry and around this time the B-52's performed a breakout set on Saturday Night Live. Party Mix! was released next, a remix album that took tracks from the first two LPs and presented them in extended forms.

Although recording sessions with David Byrne (of Talking Heads) failed, the recordings were released as the Mesopotamia EP in 1982 (Party Mix! and Mesopotamia would later be combined and released together on a single CD).

The Whammy! album in 1983 (see 1983 in music) brought the band into electronic and drum machine experimentation, much to the chagrin of some of their early fans. "Legal Tender" became their third chart single. After the initial pressings of Whammy! were released, copyright issues with Yoko Ono led to the song "Don't Worry" being pulled and replaced on future copies of the album with a new track called "Moon 83."

1984 brought about a self-titled solo album from Schneider (Fred Schneider and the Shake Society) and the band reformed shortly after to record Bouncing Off the Satellites. On October 12, 1985 Ricky Wilson died at age 32 of what was originally thought to be natural causes but was later revealed to be AIDS-related. Devastated, the band went into immediate seclusion and the album sunk without any tour or promotion behind it.

After spending three years recovering, the B-52's resurfaced in 1989 with an album that would become their long-awaited mainstream breakthrough. "Channel Z," released as a teaser-single to the new album Cosmic Thing in 1989 became a major alternative and college radio hit, receiving significant airplay on MTV's modern rock show 120 Minutes. "Love Shack" came next. With its party vibe and colorful music video (featuring a cameo by a then-unknown RuPaul) "Love Shack" not only became their first song to hit the U.S. Top 40, but it went on to peak at #3. That peak was matched in early 1990 when "Roam" also hit #3. A third single, "Deadbeat Club," became a Top 30 hit. The Cosmic Thing album climbed into the Top 5 and earned multi-platinum certification. The group also had a hugely successful tour to support the record.

1990 continued to be busy, as Pierson lent her vocals to Iggy Pop's song "Candy," which gave him his first (and only) Hot 100 and Top 40 hit. 1991 saw the repackaging and rerelease of Schneider's solo record and gave him his first Hot 100 entry when "Monster" climbed to #85, and Pierson again guest-starred on a popular track, this time it being R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People," which hit the Top 10.

In 1990 Cindy Wilson retired from the band. As a trio, The B-52's released Good Stuff in 1992, which gave them another top 40 hit. Subsequent singles were not as successful and the album sold nowhere near as much as Cosmic Thing. The band had its most recent chart entry in 1994 when, as "The BC-52's" they appeared in The Flintstones live-action movie and sang the title song.

A career retrospective, Time Capsule: Songs For a Future Generation, appeared in 1998 and Cindy Wilson rejoined the group on tour to promote the collection. A more extensive anthology, Nude on the Moon appeared in 2002. The B-52's, as a foursome, continue to successfully tour - headlining their own shows and also as part of 80's music revival package tours.


Singles and US/UK Chart Placings

  • 1979 Rock Lobster (US #56, UK #37)
  • 1980 Private Idaho (US #74)
  • 1983 Legal Tender (US #81)
  • 1986 Rock Lobster / Planet Claire (reissue) (UK #12)
  • 1989 Love Shack (US #3, UK #2)
  • 1990 Roam (US #3, UK #17)
  • 1990 Deadbeat Club (US #30)
  • 1992 Good Stuff (US #28, UK #21)
  • 1994 (Meet) The Flintstones (as "The BC-52's") (US #33, UK #3)

Billboard Dance/Club Play Chart History

  • 1979 Planet Claire / Rock Lobster / Dance This Mess Around (#24)+
  • 1980 Private Idaho / Give Me Back My Man / Party Out Of Bounds (#5)+
  • 1981 Party Mix! (all cuts) (#55)+
  • 1982 Mesopotamia / Deep Sleep / Cake (#13)+
  • 1983 Whammy Kiss / Legal Tender / Song For a Future Generation (#9)+
  • 1984 Monster / Boonga (The New Jersey Caveman) (as "Fred Schneider and the Shake Society") (#25)+
  • 1986 Summer Of Love (#3)
  • 1986 Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland (#10)
  • 1989 Love Shack (#7)
  • 1990 Roam (#10)
  • 1994 (Meet) The Flintstones (as "The BC-52's") (#3)
  • 1998 Debbie (#32)

+ in the seventies and eighties, Billboard's Dance Chart policy allowed multiple songs (or in some cases all songs) from an album or an EP to occupy the same position if more than one track was receiving significant play in dance clubs.

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