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The B-52's
Warner Bros. 3355
Released: July 1979
Chart Peak: #59
Weeks Charted: 55
Certified Platinum: 5/13/86

Ricky WilsonKieth StricklandCindy WilsonKate PiersonFred SchneiderThe B-52's are pretty shrewd. Not only are they the first truly fey punk band in history (which shows that they have noted the public's heretofore unsuspected craving for a New Wave version of a hippie minstrel such as Donovan), they have also absorbed the only valuable lesson provided by Brian Eno's work with Roxy Music. To wit: all avant-garde rock, of any period and of any school, from ELP to Pere Ubu, is really surf music in disguise. That's right, folks, the Ventures (famous for their rendition of the theme song from Hawaii Five-O) have to be recognized as the most radical rock band of all time, and if you think the B-52's don't know this, then just check out the guitar reproduced on their album's inner sleeve.

They are also, like most other punk bands with intellectual pretensions, a one-joke act (the Village Voice has already, with a straight face, compared them to Flannery O'Connor, no less). But they are pretty cute, and I must admit that their "Rock Lobster," which makes about as much sense as "Mellow Yellow" and will be similarly dated in five years, is an inspired bit of silliness. Further, their remake of "Downtown" may, with luck, force Petula Clark to abandon the music business entirely. The rest of it? I think I prefer my "Ride the Wild Surf" straight.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 10/79.

Bonus Reviews!

Fond as I am of the pop junk they recycle -- with love and panache, like the closet ecologists they are -- there's something parochially suburban about turning it into the language of a world view. So I'm more delighted with their rhythms, which show off their Georgia roots by adapting the innovations of early funk (a decade late, just like the Stones and Chicago blues) to an endlessly danceable forcebeat format. Also delightful is their commitment to sexual integration -- Cindy Wilson is singing more and more, although her voice occasionally gives out before her ambitions do. Major worry: only one of the copyright 1979 songs -- my favorite track, "Dance This Mess Around" -- is as amazing as the 1978 stuff. A

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

The B-52's were front-runners of American new wave, best known for the track "Rock Lobster." Zany is not sufficient a word for them. You will either be swept away by the sound and style or wonder why all the fuss about the B-52's manically repeated rhythms, their dated "beach party" instrumentation and utterly banal lyrics.

The recording of this, the original, B-52's album has turned up better than hoped-for on CD, improving on every chug-a-boom of the album. The sound has a focused energy and vitality with a pounding bass both cleanly reproduced and closely recorded. This disc has real impact but should only be taken under strict medical supervision.

Subsequent albums were not a patch on this release and are not eagerly awaited on CD.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

It's all here on the debut album: the "Secret Agent Man" drum/guitar tracks that compel the feet to dance, topped by shrill female vocals and the brash speak-singing of Fred Schneider giving forth with some of the strangest non sequiturs as though he were an overexcited carnival barker. Includes "Planet Claire" and the hit "Rock Lobster." * * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

The B-52's is the indispensable New Wave party record. Its stripped-down, surf-twang retro makes it sound ever-modern, and its party chants still rule the floor. * * * *

- Roger Catlin, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

With a four-string guitar, two chicks in beehives and a spooky keyboard, this little dance band from Athens, GA, celebrates low-tech fun that speaks to the camp in all of us. A happiness bomb made for aliens hosting a party, it bang, bang, banged on the door, baby! With Fred Schneider's nasal vocals balanced by the birdcall harmony of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, it gave us an excuse to wiggle on the floor to such kitschfest anthems as "Rock Lobster" and "Planet Claire." * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

The essence of New Wave, the B-52's combined playful silliness with outright kitsch in a musical mix that was both propulsive and infectious. To many, this made them seem like a gimmick, but if critics had looked below the surface they would've discovered that the group had been part of Athens, Georgia's avante-garde long before that city became one of the first indie-rock capitals. Early versions of "52 Girls" and the classic "Rock Lobster," recorded for their own label, proved that the group was capable of straightforward punk aggression. The versions on The B-52's, while no less frenetic, were given considerably more depth by the titanic production style of Chris Blackwell, so much so that "Rock Lobster" actually became one of the first significant New Wave hits.

In many ways, the group was a perfect contradiction: With their beehive haircuts and covers of Petula Clark's "Downtown," they were hearkening back to a day and age when dancing was still the currency of rock 'n' roll, and this made them able to cash in on the danceable potential of New Wave before just about anyone else. At the same time, with Fred Schneider's mechanical-sounding voice and material like "Planet Claire" as well as the mutants on-the-loose barrage of "Rock Lobster," they were nudging into a futuristic void that made them psychic allies with androids like Devo and Gary Numan. The B-52's was one of the first American New Wave albums to crack the Top 50, and it was on the strength of songs like "52 Girls," "Dance This Mess Around," "Lava," and "6060-842," which combined crazy rhythms with absurd lyrics and the constant intertwining of complex male-female vocal harmonies. The fact that the two women in the group apparently existed on equal footing with their male counterparts helped set the stage for the whole inter-gender exhange of alternative rock, along with the group's ironic, campy sensibilities.

What few people realized at the time was that there was even a gay subtext -- having been part of the whole post-Warhol scene, or what that amounted to in Georgia in the mid-seventies anyway, the group had adopted many of their camp aspects from the art underground. Which means along with Beach Blanket Bingo and other retro kitsch, there was also a little Robert Mapplethorpe thrown in. When Fred Schneider screams "here comes the bikini wail" in "Rock Lobster" in a voice that's only slighlty to the right of Liberace it becomes evident that, far from a seventies version of the Archies, the B-52's were actually among the vanguard of the real velvet underground.

The B-52's was voted the 99th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review: Cosmic Thing

B-52's Lyrics

B-52's Videos

- Joe S. Harrington, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.

The B-52's debut sounds like a bunch of high-school friends cramming all their running jokes, goofy sounds and private nicknames into a New Wave record. "We never thought it would get past our circle of friends in Athens [Georgia]," vocalist Fred Schneider told Rolling Stone. It turned out that nobody could resist the band's campy, arty funk, or the eccentric squeals and bouffant hairdos of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. (Playing organ, Pierson also defined the band's sound.) They played toy instruments, and their thrift-store image was as inventive and colorful as their music -- which, with "Rock Lobster," was pretty inventive and colorful.

The B-52's was chosen as the 152nd greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

There is a scene in Paul Simon's underrated 1980 film One Trick Pony in which Simon's character -- a former protest singer called Jonah Levy -- plays on a bill with The B-52's, whom we see doing "Rock Lobster." The message of this early part of the film is clear: like it or not, The B-52's are the music of the future. And so it came to be.

The Athens, Georgia group's debut album still holds up by dint of the great singles ("Planet Claire" and "Rock Lobster," which is almost musical theater); two marvelously punk pop songs written by guitarist Ricky Wilson with outside help -- "52 Girls" and "Hero Worship"; and some general, rave-up fun: "Dance This Mess Around," the cheap eroticism of "Lava," and the ludicrous "There's A Moon In The Sky." By the end of the album, "6060-842" is a strange joke which wears a little thin and a live rendition of Tony Hatch's "Downtown" is almost certainly there because the group ran out of songs and the record company would not accept eight tracks as an album. Perhaps they should have recorded the full "52 Girls" (this version only names 25!).

Fred Scheider, a kind of Groucho Marx meets John Waters, was a bizarre but attractive feature. Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson looked great without pandering to conventional glamour, played guitars and other instruments, and sang as raucously as they wanted to. The group's retro style and new wave dance sound had an extraordinary influence in the 1980s and continues to be irresistible today.

- David Nichols, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

The debut by the B-52's sounds like a bunch of college buddies cramming all their running jokes and goofy sounds into a New Wave record. They didn't think it would get heard by anyone outside of their scene. But nobody could resist the band's campy, arty funk.

The B-52's was chosen as the 198th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

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