Hard To Believe That There’s A Universe Where The First B-52’s Album Hadn’t Always Existed! [part 2]

B-52's in a club somewhere; early on
B-52’s in a club somewhere; early on

[…continued from last post]

“Lava” was a fantastic deep cut with all three vocalists trading lines off of each other, while the only organ line in the song was the monophonic rhythmic pulse at various points in the song. I loved hearing Keith Strickland’s drum fills inserted sparingly at just the right moments to advance the song. And this little exchange was priceless.

“I’m gonna jump in a crater”

Fred Schneider

“See you later” [deadpan, in unison]

Kate Pierson + Cindy Wilson

The neat trick of Kate Pierson harmonizing along with her organ line that added oomph to “Planet Claire” was used again for the intro to “There’s A Moon in The Sky [Called The Moon.” The spartan, southern funk of the jaunty track made for some angular bop with a great return of Kate singing with her organ in the coda. Again, the band’s penchant for off-kilter minor key tension made for some refreshing dance music.

“Hero Worship” was an odd one out here with just Cindy Wilson singing and as much as I enjoy the whole band, at the end of the day Cindy’s vocals just speak to me strongest. Her delivery of the song was replete with squeals in the middle eight instead of singing and throughout the song, her range of expression was as wide as I’m used to ever hearing in a song. She covers so much ground embodying the various states of excitation and devotion held in the lyrics that it manages to make even as idiosyncratic a vocalist as Fred Schneider seem staid by comparison.

b-52's - 6060842UK7AWhile many B-52’s songs were more than a little abstract, “6060-842” was a rare attempt at constructing a narrative, with the tale of Tina who saw a number written on a bathroom wall and tried to ring it up. Here, you could made out the keyboard bass [there were no bass guitars on this album] more easily in the spartan mix of the music. The unresolved jangling guitar licks and bongos subverted expectations yet again as this band loved to mine awkward, minor key arrangements and make of them their own. The exchange between Fred asking “hello?” while the operator replied “sorry!” was a funny bit of anxiety for the song to fade out on.

The album ended with a cover that wasn’t. There was party ambiance on the fade up and while it was nominally Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” the actual lyrics delivered had more than a little “I Know A Place” mashed up into the results. Cindy took lead vocals with a wild fake British accent in homage to Pet Clark imposed over her Southern drawl for maximum mutant appeal. There was no guitar here until the climax as the organ wove a loopy two-chord path through the drums. Then the song and album ended with the party ambience continuing for a few seconds. An inversion of the first moments of the debut Roxy Music album and “Re-Make/Re-Model.”


Like all of the best debut albums, this one really built a new world for the listener to explore. There was such a minimal sound at work here; multi-part vocals, with drums, a little percussion and bongos, with minimal organ lines vamping through it all. The twangy guitar as pictured on the famous inner sleeve only had four of its six strings, but reveled in retro twang/surf kicks from a generation earlier. The resulting album was a seminal influence on party records henceforth.

Generations of musicians learned that having fun and bringing humor to the work didn’t mean that they were a joke. Their kitsch aesthetics were so necessary and subsequently became widespread, that it seems hard to believe that there was ever a time when the blend of Post-Modern attitude that the album represented was not thick on the ground. The band were clearly sending up the girl group and party rock tropes present in these songs, yet in their poses which were clearly over the top, there was also a passionate sincerity if one scratched beneath the surface appearance. In particular, Cindy Wilson was pouring her heart and essence into her performances here.

It’s amazing to think that this album was recorded in Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell producing! Island had signed the band for territories outside the US so that sort of made sense, but in terms of production, The B-52’s were a far cry from the Classic Rick and Reggae that Blackwell was known for, but if we dig further back, there were some commonalities to the Jamaican Ska that Blackwell cut his teeth on as well as a Dub influence in the abundant space in the arrangements and mix of the album.

For me, it’s the classic B-52’s album and listening 42 years later, I can cherish the total lack of quantization as there was no programming back then or a way to make the timing uniform, and the repetitive musical structures were played by hand [and sounded it]. And sounded wonderful for it as the tyranny of machine-like music has long since worn out its welcome with me. I breathe sighs of relief when the attack of each note played varies by a millisecond here and there and wish we could let that genie back into the bottle. The B-52’s lost a lot for me when they began to take on synthesizers and drum machines and became a precision unit. Then when Ricky died, Keith switching to guitar was a different ball game.

Gone were the days of playing rough and loose and doing things for the fun of it. It became a job for the band and records past the first two have a lot less of the playfulness and joy that erupts from these grooves. Their next album got a lot more polish but one could still recognize the party band from Athens in the results.

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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7 Responses to Hard To Believe That There’s A Universe Where The First B-52’s Album Hadn’t Always Existed! [part 2]

  1. middle aged man says:

    A truly brilliant album, so unlike everything else of the era. Just seeing the album cover makes smile. Thank you for reminding me just how good it sounds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      middle aged man – That cover! I was immediately attracted to it, but in high school I had enough lunch money for an album a week. And I couldn’t buy something unheard of just on the cover art! The stakes were high in a world where I had yet to discover used record stores for another year or more. It felt like at least five to six months between the release of the album and seeing them on Saturday Night Live in January of 1980. [checks] Yeah, the Wikipedia page for the album lists the release date as July 6th, 1979. That seems exactly right. Six months of looking at that amazing cover and contemplating. How I wish I had been brave enough to have bought it on the basis of the cover alone. I would have had quite a cachet of being ahead of the curve had I done that. The irony was that the designer who made the cover [Tony Wright, creative director of Island Records at the time] thought it was so terrible that he used the pseudonym Sue Ab Surd to dodge the reputation for it! Craziness!

      Like

  2. To put this album in a little bit of further context … when one saw them live in the early days, the songs on the first album was about half their set. Most of the other half went on to become Wild Planet a year or so later. Nearly all of the songs on both albums had been in their repertoire since ’78. Can you imagine that much brilliance and energy in a single show these days?!

    Compass Point clearly had a special magic in those days … many artists (not just musical ones) went there for inspiration (etc), and there’s quite a number of great creative efforts to come out of there. I remember being SO impressed at how clean and slick the album versions of these songs I knew very well from live settings turned out, and how well the live “energy” of their more frantic stuff transferred to vinyl.

    Naturally I am in strong agreement with the Monk on Cindy and her vocals. Somewhere I think I still have a little artifact from her, but that’s another story for another day.

    Like

  3. Echorich says:

    There’s A Moon In The Sky is one of my favorite B-52’s song because as a 16/17 year old it told me it was OK to be me… Fred ending the track with “Don’t Worry, don’t worry, just don’t worry…others like you, others like you…” still resonates with me today.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. bpdp3 says:

    So right about this album cover. I NEVER tire of seeing it. God all I wanted as a teen was to be as cool as Fred. I tried to get my inflexible mother to buy me white shoes just so I could like this guy.

    I’m no dancer, but this album’s beats are so minimal and infectious… like you’ve stumbled upon a Zulu zombie tribal ritual. Resistance is futile. And it has this astonishingly sharp sense of humor…. and the kind of humor you could feel ‘in on the joke’ with immediately.

    Ricky Wilson’s guitar is one of the most wonderfully brutal things I’ve ever heard. In ‘Rock Lobster’ when Fred shouts “let’s rock” the sound of that guitar is the sound of Godzilla destroying downtown Tokyo. None of the ‘dangerous’ hair metal bands could EVER make their guitars sound that menacing.

    Liked by 2 people

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