Sunday, March 20, 2016

Ten Great B-52's Tunes

For anyone who lived their formative years during the 1980's, new wave music was surely a part of that experience. As I've been talking about all month long, new wave music first came about in the late seventies and melded together two dying genres of music: punk and disco. With a more rockish sound than disco music and less of a harder edge than punk, new wave music became very popular during the decade and a great many stars were borne out of the movement.

One of the most enduring bands to come out of the new wave movement was the Athens, Georgia-based B-52's. The five-member group consisting of Fred Schneider (vocals), Kate Pierson (vocals), Cindy Wilson (vocals), Keith Strickland (guitar, drums, keyboards), and Ricky Wilson (guitars) started their journey in 1976 and created an as yet unheard of type of sound that eventually skyrocketed them to garner a huge following that has spanned more than thirty years.

The band has been through a lot during that time, most notably enduring the loss of founding member Ricky Wilson to an AIDS-related illness in 1985. The death resulted in a temporary hiatus from making music for the devastated band, which wouldn't put out a new album until the hugely successful Cosmic Thing four years later. Collectively both before and after that album, The B-52s have amassed a nice collection of memorable tunes over the years, and here are my picks for their ten best:

10 - Legal Tender

The opening track to the band's third album, Whammy! is a slow, but steady moving ditty that pokes fun at the craft of counterfeiting. It's a fun tune that gets the album going in a nice way. Check it out...

#9 - Whammy Kiss

Whammy kiss me
Whammy hug
Revitalize me give me whammy love...
C'mon mammy, throw me that whammy

This song, the title track to the band's Whammy! hearkens to their first effort, with a steady, rhythmic music track coupled with lyrics that are incomprehensible, a staple of the band's sound. It's one of those things the band did so well and helped make them well, The B-52's! Check out Whammy Kiss...

#8 - Song for a Future Generation
Not a huge hit by any means in many places, but this tune from the Whammy! album is unique in that all five members of the band have a turn at taking lead vocal. The song is satirical in that it pokes fun at that part of the American dream about getting married and becoming whatever you want. Great song!

#7 - Roam
This eco-friendly, global village kind of tune was the follow-up to the immensely popular Love Shack and it's pretty good all on its own. The dual vocals here by Kate and Cindy are simply splendid in this feel-good tune...

#6 - Strobe Light
Is that you baby? Yeah!
Got something to tell ya. Oh, what?
I wanna see you tonight
I want you to walk in the door
I want you to lay on the floor
Cause tonight's the night
We make love under the strobe light...

One of this writer's personal favorites, Strobe Light is nothing but pure fun! The song is a wonderfully brilliant back and forth between Fred and Kate about getting together for some love under the light. Fabulous!

#5 - Planet Claire
This iconic tune is all about a chick from a foreign planet who drives a Plymouth Satellite and breathes pink air. With a long guitar intro and few lyrics, this opener to their debut set is classic B-52s!

#4 - Dance This Mess Around

Why don't you dance with me?
I'm not no limberger!

This song, from the B's first album, is slow and sultry at the verses (which borrow lyrics from the Supremes) and really gets going as Cindy belts out the nonsensical chorus, and the tune gets even more raucous as Fred joins in for the finale. I posted this one as Song of the Day the other day, so check it out here.

#3 - Private Idaho
This song, off of the B's sophomore record, Wild Planet in 1980, was my first ever experience with the group's sound. I remember it fondly: back when I was in my early 20's, I used to frequent a disco called Spectrum on Friday nights, and on a very regular basis, the deejay would play this quick-paced, crazy wonderful tune. I remember wanting to get a copy of it, but I had no idea who it was or even really what the heck they were singing. I finally asked the deejay and he shared it with me so I could make my purchase. And thus a B-52's fan was borne!

#2 - Love Shack

Though the B-52's had been around for more than twelve years by the time this one came out, they never really had a huge hit until this was released in 1989. The song, with such memorable lines as the famous, tin roof, rusted, helped make this one a million copy seller and catapulted the group into the pop stratosphere. Oh, and look for the supreme dragster Rupaul making her national debut in the video...

#1 - Rock Lobster
Even though Love Shack may be the B-52's most successful single ever, this is the one that put them on the map. From their debut eponymous album, Rock Lobster is the very symbol of what gave this group their own unique sound, with fast-moving guitar riffs that induce the body to move and lyrics that make absolutely no sense at all. The tune is the band's first to become a hit, hitting the #58 spot on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1978, and remains as the band's best song. Check out a classic...

So there you go, the ten best songs from that iconic new wave band, The B-52s. Of course there are some honorable mentions bubbling just below the surface of the top ten that include such classics as Summer of Love, 52 Girls, Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland, Give Me Back My Man, and more. I hope you've enjoyed this trip down memory lane and stay tuned for more on John's Music World's New Wave Month.

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