[Review] The B-52’s (1979)

Gang of Four meets Gilligan’s Island on this punkitsch classic.

Kronomyth 1.0: Your number’s been disconnected.

The first time I heard Rock Lobster, it was like a radio broadcast from the not-too-distant future. It was punk and kitsch (punkitsch). It was Gang of Four colliding with Plan 9 from Outer Space. It was Peter Gunn vs. Godzilla. It was, in a word, wonderful.

The music of The B-52’s depends, not upon a red wheelbarrow, but upon a blue Mosrite guitar with the two middle strings missing. Ricky Wilson’s brutally minimalist guitar-playing is the soul of the band. In fact, the five-piece band only had two proper musicians, Ricky Wilson and drummer Keith Strickland. Kate Pierson’s organ playing made Linda McCartney look like Nicky Hopkins. Cindy Wilson and Fred Schneider equaled about half a Mickey Finn between them. The trio’s vocals, however, were another story entirely; they were the glue that kept the whole crazy thing from falling apart.

Their first album remains their best. In fact, The B-52’s would make my shortlist for the best albums of 1979. So much of what’s here is simply classic, including the entire first side. Planet Claire is sci-fi surf punk played to perfection. 52 Girls turns the girl-group format on its head. Dance This Mess Around digs out old dances from the pop culture closet and wraps them up with a safety pin. “Rock Lobster” is both absurd and absurdly catchy.

The second side is less shocking, which is perhaps inevitable. Highlights include the molten-hot Lava, There’s a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon), reminiscent of Talking Heads, and the good time 6060-842. Although there were other bands who intersected with The B-52’s both musically (Gang of Four, Talking Heads) and visually (The Cramps, The Revillos), none of them combined the audio and visual halves so well as them. Calling them the clown princes (and princesses) of punk rock might be a stretch, but they did bring a sense of humor to a musical genre in sore need of it.

Original elpee version

A1. Planet Claire (Fred Schneider/Keith Strickland) (4:35)
A2. 52 Girls (Jeremy Ayers/Ricky Wilson) (3:34)
A3. Dance This Mess Around (The B-52’s) (4:36)
A4. Rock Lobster (Fred Schneider/Ricky Wilson) (6:49)
B1. Lava (The B-52’s) (4:54)
B2. There’s a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon) (The B-52’s) (4:54)
B3. Hero Worship (Robert Waldrop/Ricky Wilson) (4:07)
B4. 6060-842 (Fred Schneider/Ricky Wilson/Keith Strickland/Kate Pierson) (2:48)
B5. Downtown (Tony Hatch) (2:57)

The Players

Kate Pierson (vocals, organ, keyboard bass, 2’nd guitar), Fred Schneider (vocals, walkie talkie, toy piano, keyboard bass), Keith Strickland (drums, percussion, Claire sounds), Cindy Wilson (vocals, bongoes, 2’nd guitar, tambourine), Ricky Wilson (guitar, smoke alarm). Produced by Chris Blackwell, associate produced and engineered by Robert Ash.

The Pictures

Art direction by Sue Ab Surd. Photography by George DuBose. Hairdos by La Verne.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in July 1979 in the US (Warner Bros., BSK 3355), the US (Island, ILPS 9580/ICM 9480), Canada (Warner Bros., QBS 3355), France (Island, 9123 048) and Germany, the Netherlands and Spain (Island, 200.776) with lyrics innersleeve. Reached #59 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record) and #22 on the UK charts.

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