B-52’s: B-52’s – US – CD – 
- Planet Claire
- 52 Girls
- Dance This Mess Around
- Rock Lobster
- There’s A Moon In The Sky [Called The Moon]
- Hero Worship
For months it stared at me. Daring me to buy it, but I was more yellow than the sleeve was. It remained until I saw the band play on Saturday Night Live on January 26th, 1980 that I finally got to hear this band that was so obviously unafraid of garish “bad taste.” Once I actually heard their sound I was right on this. In retrospect, I wish I had been brave enough to have bought the LP as soon as it hit my local K-Mart®. It’s not like that Screaming Yellow Zonker® of a cover didn’t immediately catch my attention.
Because albums this bracing and paradigm-shaking don’t come around on a regular basis! It began with Morse Code over an ominous organ drone. Then a hypnotic, slinking Spy-Fi surf riff of impeccable pedigree [stolen from “Peter Gunn Theme”] shot through with bongos, and the piercing beep of a …walkie talkie code key! Then the eerie, insinuating minor key organ riffs grabbed me by the lapels and made sure I was paying strict attention. Then, after what was 2:30 of a gripping instrumental track, Fred Schneider began delivering the lyric in his deadpan sprechgesang style. Except for the line “well she isn’t!” where Mr. Schneider went deep into the red to make his point.
Had I ever heard music this angular before? I daresay not! And did I say that it make you want to dance? Oh yeah. In fact, it made dancing to it seem like the coolest thing that you could ever be doing right now! The minimal, deliberately eccentric music was short on overkill but long on groove and coolly ironic attitude. And in hearing it, you were more than halfway to a party. Here’s proof!
The next song was perhaps the most conventional “rock” music to be found on the first side. “52 Girls” played like the mutant cousin to “My Generation” with its two chord, two vamp at the heart of the song. But The Who would never have allowed Kate Pierson’s cheesy organ riff to ride their song like the B-52’s did here. Philistines.
I’d seen the band perform “Dance This Mess Around” on Saturday Night Live and it’s still my favorite B-52’s song to this day. It all came down to Cindy Wilson’s commanding performance. The naked beat with the pulsating organ riff on the beat was illuminated with her heartfelt delivery. I love how she stared the song out in rapturous love and gradually became unhinged as her paramour would not dance with her. Moving from lovestruck ingenue to a woman screaming ferociously that she’s “not no limburger!”
And then at that peak of impact, the song abruptly sidestepped into a call-and response “new dance” song with complex harmonies and interactions by all three singers. Schneider being his usual deadpan self, and Kate Pierson’s strident vocals functioning like horns in the music. But it’s the sassy vocals of Cindy Wilson that cut through the busy arrangement with her pushing the southern drawl she has ready access to into the red, and that wins me over every time.
The first side closed with a perennial New Wave dance floor filler par excellence. “Rock Lobster” was played at every party you probably attended from 1979 to 1983 at least. Though it was a heck of a calling card for the album and band, I see that it reached only as high as #56 in the Billboard Hot 100®, which was higher than I would have guessed. But in Canada, the tune topped the charts! The Duane Eddy guitar twang over the relentless beat didn’t waste any time in making a big first impression. Kate and Cindy contributed an abstract vibrato vocal hook that came out of left field as the electric organ added that mid 60s trash aesthetic in spades.
Like many of the songs here, the band preferred minor keys to stake their claim in. Even the middle eight stayed in a minor key where others might have given in and switched to a major key. I love how the band used a smoke alarm buzzer for rhythmic sounds there and the disturbing ululating vocal interjections by the ladies were ripped screaming from the Yoko Ono playbook in a way that had never happened before.
The nearly seven minute track had plenty of structure to keep dancers grooving that long. The call and response section where Fred counted through various real and imaginary sea creatures was where Kate and Cindy made grotesque animal noises; allowing the song to build in frenzy. Finally, Kate let out a blood curdling scream as the track peaked after Fred shouted “here comes a bikini whale!” Does Rock & Roll get and more exciting than that?
Next: …Lava Love