"We were at the beach Everybody had matching towels Somebody went under a dock And there they saw a rock
It wasn't a rock It was a rock lobster"
—The B-52's, "Rock Lobster"
Left to right: Cindy, Fred, Kate and Keith.
The B-52s are a New Wave Band out of Athens, Georgia, the same birthplace of REM They're most well-known for their quirky Sci-Fi themed songs and beehive hairdos worn by the female members (hence the name). The members are:
Fred Schneider - vocals, cowbell, toy piano, glockenspiel
Kate Pierson - vocals, keyboards, maracas
Keith Strickland - guitar, drums, keyboards, programming, backing vocals
Nude on the Moon (2002)—A 2-disc anthology of previously recorded songs from between 1979-1998
With the Wild Crowd (2012)—Live album
"Dance These Tropes Around":
Album Filler: The band have admitted that "Don't Worry" was this.
As were "Housework" and "Juicy Jungle".
In an example of this working in reverse, the only new tracks the band wrote for Wild Planet were Party Out Of Bounds, Dirty Back Road and 53 Miles West Of Venus. The rest had been written and performed live before the first album. These three tracks turned out to hold the album together rather well.
Art Shift: Due to Bouncing Off The Satellites' Troubled Production, the parts of songs that Ricky Wilson was unable to play on were filled out by Keith Strickland, who uses more guitar effects and is less rhythmic. To make matters more confusing a guitarist named Tom Beckerman plays on some tracks but it's not mentioned which ones. Also the album was filled out with two solo songs, on which neither of them play. "Juicy Jungle" was a Fred Schneider solo song and features John Cote and Mark Mazur on guitar. "Housework" was a Kate Pierson solo song and features Tim Rollins and Adey Wilson on guitar. The Fairlight CMI heavy production masks the considerably different production in songs, but it is jarring to know that the album has 7 different guitarists on it.
Artifact Title: Time Capsule (Songs For A Future Generation) retains its subtitle in Europe where it doesn't include "Song For A Future Generation" due to a reworked tracklisting.
Artistic License - History: Invoked and Played for Laughs in "Mesopotamia". In a 2012 interview Kate Pierson even said that the group actually consulted an encyclopedia during the writing of the song, to ensure that they got everything about Mesopotamia wrong.
The same for "There's A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon)" and "Lava", both of which show a skewed interpretation of outer space and volcanoes, though they took their inspiration from B-Movies and Exotica.
"Debbie" is about Debbie Harry despite mentioning her "all girl rock band". Whilst Debbie Harry did have an all girl rock band in the pre-Blondie days, Blondie themselves were predominantly male with her as the only female.
Author Existence Failure: Ricky Wilson - the band's original guitarist - died of AIDS in 1985. He was quite integral to the songwriting and used a unique rhythmic style, with strange tunings he came up with himself. Keith Strickland, who always worked on the basic song sketches with Ricky before the rest of the band improvised the vocals, became the band's guitarist and main songwriter afterwards, and had serious writer's block for a period in the 90s because of the lack of Ricky's input.
Which meant that Bouncing was padded out with Keith Strickland on guitar on some tracks, keyboards, session musicians, solo tracks from Fred and Kate.
Beehive Hairdo: Was one of the band's calling cards in the 70s and 80s via Cindy and Kate.
Breakup Song: "Ain't It A Shame" (the female perspective) and "Dancing Now" (the [gay] male perspective).
"Quiche Lorraine" is a skewed version of this - he's breaking up with his dog.
Call-and-Response Song: Pretty much most of their entire discography is this, with Kate and Cindy doing the response parts.
Call Back: The line "Dirty and dusty trails" in Roam is one to Dirty Back Road.
Cool Car: Fred describes one in "Love Shack": "I got me a car, it's as big as a whale..."/"I got me a Chrysler, it sits about 20..."
Also in "Planet Claire": "She drove a Plymouth Satellite/faster than the speed of light!"
Creator Breakdown: Though you really can't tell due to the generally happy feel of the album, "Cosmic Thing" features several songs that came out of their depression after losing Ricky, these being "Dry County", "Deadbeat Club", "Roam", "Topaz" and "Follow Your Bliss" just to name a few.
Cut Song: The first pressing of Whammy included a song called "Don't Worry". The band credited the song to Yoko Ono out of tribute to her song "Don't Worry Kyoko", though it was not a cover. The band did not realise however, that doing this they would have to pay royalties to Yoko. When Yoko's lawyers found out, they demanded so much money in songwriting royalties that the band nearly went broke. They agreed to replace the track with "Moon '83" on later pressings. "Moon '83" is a remix of "There's A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon)" which had previously been released as the B-Side of "Legal Tender".
Yoko was already a fan of the band and remains good friends with them. It has been noted that the real trouble came from not asking her lawyers first, had they done so, it would have been easier to keep it in print.
Also available on the original vinyl (or cassette) if you can find it second-hand.
Interestingly enough it stayed in print in Sweden, and there was never a later pressing - possibly because the band credited the song to themselves the whole time on this pressing.
Early-Bird Cameo: Keith Strickland plays some of the guitar on Bouncing Off The Satellites in order to finish the songs that the late Ricky Wilson was unable to play on. Keith later became their full guitarist from Cosmic Thing onwards. This fact is barely mentioned due to the fact that the band have not said much about Satellites.
Much earlier, he played guitar on the band's first (unrecorded) jam session, "Killer Bees", whilst Ricky played bongos. Keith asked Ricky to play lead guitar for the band because he felt he was more innovative, and Keith also had learned drums.
Keith also played some guitar parts on Whammy!, notably the slide parts on Work That Skirt. His presence on that album was not as big due to the band using drum machines on the tracks.
Fan Nickname: The self-titled album is often known as 'the yellow album'.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Who knew that B-52's had stealth capabilties? Every. Single. One. of their albums have a completely raunchy subtext somewhere, but to date none of them carry a Parental Advisory label.
They are careful to never actually swear on record, though they have done so in unreleased demos (Funplex for instance, had "here's your stupid 7-UP" as "here's your fucking 7-Up" before it was changed for the final version.)
Greatest Hits Album: Time Capsule: Songs For A Future Generation, released in 1998. Also has two new songs exclusive to it: "Debbie" and "Hallucinating Pluto".
A two-disc anthology, Nude on the Moon, was released in 2002 and contains 30 tracks, including two concert recordings.
The band's first was "Dance This Mess Around", released in 1986. It was released to cash in on the death of Ricky Wilson (which the record company thought would end the band), but also to fulfil their Island contract. Though it doesn't contain any exclusive tracks, Rock Lobster was reissued as a single from it, including several collectable picture discs. The included version of Rock Lobster on the single was a new edit.
Also, the compilation Planet Claire on the Spectrum label. Released without the band's involvement, it is available with two different cover designs.
Intercourse with You: "Strobe Light", "Good Stuff", "Deviant Ingredient," "Roam," and "Love in the Year 3000."
Instrumentals: "Work That Skirt", "Follow Your Bliss", and "The World's Green Laughter" and "Return To Dreamland".
They also released instrumental versions of Running Around, Party Out Of Bounds, Give Me Back My Man and Song For A Future Generation as B Sides. The first two are different musically from the vocal versions, Running Around being a demo take from the first album sessions, and Party Out Of Bounds having some dub elements to it.
Keep Circulating the Tapes: The original single versions of "Rock Lobster" and "52 Girls" have never appeared on CD despite their historical significance. It is said that they were going to be on the box set that became Time Capsule. Also, the song "Don't Worry" which was on the first version of Whammy is a literal example of this trope, as copyright issues mean it is unlikely to ever be released on CD or digitally.
Almost every remix and B-Side they put out before the Cosmic Thing period is still vinyl exclusive. This includes the remixes of "Loveland", "Cake" and "Throw That Beat In The Garbage Can" that were on the original Island release of Mesopotamia, something which annoyed people who bought the CD to replace their LP version.
According to the band, no longer being with Warner means that Warner rarely listen to the band's requests for reissues, and can only reissue things if they see fit and don't see The B-52's as profitable enough.
It is also rumoured that the master tapes of the albums released on Island are in bad condition.
Large Ham: Fred Schneider. Give him a mic and he will ham it up, even if the song doesn't need it.
List Song: "52 Girls" is mostly a list of girl names. The song's lyricist Jeremy Ayers noted that there were never actually 52 Girls in the song, and he just named it as such to fit with the band's name.
"Song For A Future Generation" lists various things that the band members want to be, which go from the realistic "let's meet and have a baby now" to the ridiculous "wanna be the king of the universe". The band members then go into spoken word sections talking about who they are and what they like doing, in a manner reminiscent of loveseeking ads.
Long Runner: With their first live concert release in 2012, now has at least one album in five separate decades.
Not that amazing if you consider that they barely released anything during the 90s and 2000s. There was a 16 year gap between 1992's Good Stuff and 2008's Funplex (although they did do several new recordings including the new songs "Debbie" and "Hallucinating Pluto" during that time).
While they didn't release new material, they did continue to tour and never disbanded completely during that period. Their continued popularity on tour resulted in the release of Funplex (which became their second-biggest selling album).
Lyrical Dissonance: "Legal Tender" is an upbeat, bouncy song... about counterfeiting money.
"Deadbeat Club" has quite an upbeat tune but the lyrics are about nostalgia for things you can't get back. "Roam" is about wanting to travel to take your mind of depression.
No Export for You: The band's video compilation Time Capsule has only appeared on DVD in Australia, as part of a special edition of the CD of the same name. It is in Region 4, making it hard for westerners to play.
The original mix of Mesopotamia is only available on Island CDs from Europe. In countries where Warner released it, it was released in a 1990 remixed and overdubbed version as part of a compilation with Party Mix!. It's not hard to find it but would have been back in the day.
For a while the band would only tour the US, but they have since returned to touring Europe.
Non-Appearing Title: "Legal Tender", "Moon '83". And by definition, all their instrumental songs count.
Precious Puppies: "Quiche Lorraine" is actually about a poodle who runs away from Fred Schneider, dumping him for a Great Dane. Fred gets his revenge by throwing away the key to her kennel.
Protest Song: "Juicy Jungle" and "Channel Z". Almost all of the tracks on Good Stuff, in fact (it is their most explicitly political album).
While it's not as obvious, "Big Bird" is a protest song about the military-industrial complex.
Refrain from Assuming: Dry County, despite the title, is not about alcohol. It's actually about depression after losing Ricky, and the change in lifestyle that came from his loss. Keith in particular spent every day with him for over 15 years, well before the band formed, hence the 'nothing to do'.
Remix Album: The band have several. Their first was Party Mix!, a mixed album of 6 songs from their first two albums. During the late 80s and 90s several remix compilations came out, often for the Japanese market. These include the Is That You Mo-Dean/Good Stuff EP and Time Capsule: The Remixes. Their albums Wild Planet, Mesopotamia and Whammy! were remixed by Planet Clique in the 2000s. Their Funplex and Juliet Of The Spirits singles were also released as promo remix E Ps, the former having 10 tracks.
Repurposed Pop Song: "Junebug" was used in a Target commercial. They also used the intro to "52 Girls".
Who could forget "Glove Slap" for the Simpsons episode "E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)", a section from Love Shack which the band rerecorded for the occasion (and is included on The Simpsons' Testify compilation.
"Rock Lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-obster! Rock Lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-obster!..."
"53 Miles (West of Venus)" is a title-only song, as the only lyrics are the title repeated at various intervals.
As with Cake "Ca-ee-aake, cake"
Troubled Production: Bouncing Off The Satellites was this. Going into the sessions, Ricky Wilson (guitar) found out he had AIDS and told Keith Strickland (drums) about it. Ricky was nervous and didn't want anyone else to know, and only told Keith because he was his best friend (in particular, Ricky knew it would ruin his sister Cindy). To discuss the matter, Ricky and Keith took several trips to New York together, away from the rest of the band. It was agreed that the band should work on another album. First, they recorded Detour Thru Your Mind, Wig, Communicate and a jam called Creature In A Black Bikini. A short time later, they recorded Summer Of Love and Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland, and intended to release them as pre-album singles whilst they were getting the rest of the album ready. However, the record company wanted them to record new versions with more synthier arrangements, so they reluctantly agreed. They spent some time recording these new versions, and recorded three more songs for the album - Theme For A Nude Beach, Ain't It A Shame and She Brakes For Rainbows. These tracks have a notably downbeat sound and are more synth based although still feature guitar. The band played Rock In Rio in 1985 but otherwise did not tour. With Ricky's obviously deteriorating health, he and Keith told Fred and Kate they could contribute some solo material recorded with different bands, so they used one track apiece, Juicy Jungle and Housework respectively. Cindy found out about Ricky's condition three days before he died, when he was in hospital and a nurse called her and told her. The band were distraught, but still wanted to finish the album as it was Ricky's wish. Keith and session musicians helped add overdubs to the album in the final mixing process (Keith playing some of the guitar), but the rest of the band were not involved. This final process made the album even more synthier than planned, because they just wanted to see the album out. The band took a hiatus and nearly broke up with only minimal promotional appearances for the singles and no touring, but reformed for the album Cosmic Thing, which contained several tributes to Ricky.
Mesopotamia, Good Stuff and Funplex also had troubled production. In the case of Mesopotamia, producer David Byrne produced the tracks in a subdued fashion that the band felt was lacking life, Chris Blackwell didn't like the tracks that much, and the record company rushed the band so much that they gave up making the album and just released six tracks as as an EP, rerecording three planned tracks for Whammy and not releasing the fourth one. Good Stuff was difficult because Keith had to arrange and mix the entire album himself and their usual jamming sessions were not going as planned due to the absence of Cindy who was normally involved in the creative process. Keith mainly went ahead with the album because didn't think he would get the chance again. Funplex was troubled because the band's contract with Warner Bros was not going well and they had to wait for the contract to end before they could put out the album on another label. During this interim the band had an album planned that was never finished due to Warner refusing to think it had commercial potential.
Unusual Euphemism: "Strobe Light" has one: "Then I'm gonna kiss your tummy/Then I'm gonna kiss your pineapple!"
The band have said that "Dirty Back Road" is about doing it doggy style.
This is the premise of the song "Cake", where the whole act of baking a cake is used as a euphemism for sex "don't let it drip down the sides". It's strongly implied that it's lesbian sex as well.
"There's A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon)" is about accepting your homosexuality - 'if you're in outer space, don't feel out of place, cause there are thousands of others like you'. The genius of the lyric remaining metaphorical is that it can apply to anyone who might be different in some way.
Keith has suggested that The B-52's might have broken up.
The band's 1998 compilation album, Time Capsule, was originally planned as a box set featuring rarities from across the band's career and several new tracks, as well as remastered older tracks. The record company didn't think such a set would sell, so they had the band condense it into one set. Had it been released, it would have included the original single versions of "Rock Lobster" and "52 Girls", which have never appeared on CD, a whole host of demos and outtakes that Cindy Wilson had prepared, and a number of new songs that the band had been working on.