Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The B-52's

Named after the beehive hairdo, the B-52's were kitsch long before it was hip to be kitsch.Coming out of the punk rock movement, but based in Athens, Georgia, this set of misfits obviously scoured thrift stores for their outfits and their vintage instruments, as well as the records that they based their sound on. Highly 60's influenced, Kate (keys/vocals) and Cindy (vocals/percussion/2nd guitar) could easily have come from a girl group or a girl gang while the gentlemen (Fred - vocals, Keith - drums, Ricky - 4 string Mosrite guitar - no middle strings) danced (Fred) and held the music together (Keith and Ricky). While their earlier singles built their fan base, this Warner Brothers album began their ascent to stardom - immediately after this was released they would sell out clubs as far away as LA.

Just about everyone knows just about every song on this record by now - the opening "Planet Claire" has their quirky keyboards, a steady rhythm and Fred's uniquely bizarre vocals and lyrics, "52 Girls" (I believe there are closer to 30 girls listed in the song) has an insistent dance beat, a drivin' guitar and cool harmonies from the ladies, while Cindy gives an impassioned vocals reading in the sparse "Dance This Mess Around", with it's classic lyric "why don't you dance with me, I ain't no limburger!". Fred comes in to answer her vocals and brings it to yet another dimension. Speaking of other dimensions, the now-classic "Rock Lobster" is about as outlandish in its lyrical content and vocal delivery as any popular tune could be, but that's probably one of its selling points! Of course, being supremely catchy and danceable certainly helped it along.

Side two's "Lava" seems almost serious in comparison, with Fred and the ladies alternating lines as well as singing harmonies. There are some incredible vocal acrobatics in the cleverly titled "There's a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)", Cindy gives a terrific performance in the darkly boppin' "Hero Worship", there's a top-tappin' ode to bathroom graffiti in "6060-842" where everyone give outstanding vocals again, and for the big finish, they actually go back to the 60's for Petula Clark's "Downtown".

The co-ed combo, for better or worse, pretty much invented and defined "new wave" - at least the fun'n'catchy version of new wave! As usual, I think this is their best work, but I always appreciated their songs'n'style and when I finally did see them in the late 80's/early 90's, they put on a phenomenal show. Fun stuff!