Right, hi, hello, let's start this piece with a confession. Until about 2 weeks ago, the image I had in my mind of The B-52's was such: I thought they were a gimmicky pop group, whose canon only extends to Rock Lobster and Love Shack. You probably agree. As if they're one of those party-pop bands that have bangers you can only enjoy ironically at shit house parties as you sip at your blackcurrant squash-vodka cocktail. If you've not listened to Rock Lobster recently, (firstly, how are you happy with you life?) you might find it all too easy to forget that other than Fred Schneider's zany crows of "THERE GOES A NARWHAL!", there's sections of ridiculously technical, raw Gang of Four style post-punk guitar and a fucking brilliant sounding organ part. Fast Forward to 4.42 and be knocked for fucking six - a mish mash of Schneider's howls, motoring surf-rock guitars, and a killer bassline. Phwoar. Rock Lobster must be one of the greatest songs ever written. It's been in my head for years. Years.
I'll talk about the other pantheon of reasons why The B-52's should be talked about in the same breath as The Beatles or The Pistols soon, but let me keep talking about Rock Lobster again. It's The B-52's at their most potent, their most omnipotent, and their most catchy. Perfect pop music. Very few artists are as charismatic as this band and every single crazy refrain of "but it wasn't a rock! It was a rock- LOBSTER" is brilliant without ever feeling forced or contrived. I think that's all I have on Rock Lobster. Where to next? Ah, we'll start with the band's debut album, The B-52's.
Released in 1979, The B-52's is one of the great post-punk slash new wave albums. People don't generally put it in the same bracket as Unknown Pleasures, or Entertainment! by Gang Of Four, but that's because people are stupid. "It's better than those albums", I say, without a single degree of irony. All of this album's nine songs are unique compositions, most of them absolute bangers (undisputed bangers I might add), some of them even as good as Rock Lobster itself. (which sets nicely at the end of Side 1 as a little treat for anyone that puts this record on)
The B-52's are fronted by the vocal trident of Fred Schneider, Kate Pearson and Cindy Wilson, and on their self titled they're a three pronged attack that would rival Barcelona's front 3 in terms of ruthless, raucous power within the confines of their chosen discipline. Planet Claire ushers the album in with this claustrophobic trot-along as the sound of an extraterrestrial organ whirrs into your ears. Cinematic, but never gimmicky, a two-a-half-minute instrumental intro sets the tone for the next 37 minutes of the album, one of the boldest you'll ever hear.
Cindy Wilson has her finest moment on Dance This Mess Around, a kinda glam-stomp where her vocals sound like a particularly coarse Patti Smith, going hand in hand with the lunatic calls of Schneider. It's pop music at its very best. And the highlights aren't just the singles, don't get that impression one bit - There's A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon) has the same stomp as Dance, but is even whackier and even more out there. What goes on in the brains of the B-52's? Search me. But it sure is more cosmic than what goes on in my brain. But you should just listen to the record yourself, because it really is a grin-a-minute rollercoaster of brilliant, life-changing new wave pop, and words are yet to do it justice.
Their discography is littered with absolute treasures. Need I mention Love Shack? A track that wouldn't be outta place at your local nightclub on eighties night, but would still make the 6music A-list, it was their biggest hit, and is just a really great cheesy pop ditty. Private Idaho is as zany as they get, and gave it's name to a brilliant 90s film, whilst Party Out Of Bands sees Schneider's caterwauls reach a whole new level of deranged brilliance. Essentially, if you put on a best of, you'll be forced to spend the next hour of your life enjoying yourself but getting caught up in the dilemma of whether you should be laughing to yourself or dancing with the curtains closed.
But hey - the B-52's aren't just intergalactic, forward-thinking shamen because of their music, the band are also real icons in both the fashion world (for their boutique outfits and beehive hairdos) and the LGBT community. 4/5 of their original line-up were openly gay, and after the death of their guitarist Ricky Wilson, they became fierce anti-AIDS activists. You really should see this.
Let's get a grip here. The B-52's are one of the great bands. It's really mad that they're remembered by most people for (actually shit hot) gimmicky singles, but y'know. The B-52's are more than that. They're special. Everything about them is so them. They almost create their own world, with their almost alien appearances, their unique sound, and their batshit crazy antics, The B-52's are an anomalous prospect, whose art is as great and as important as anything by The Beatles or Dylan.
Words: Cal Cashin