“Roam If You Want To” . . . : The B-52’s

I recently read the the B-52’s were making their farewell tour. I first encountered the B-52’s when my brother came home from Baltimore and brought some of his records with him, including the first B-52 album. I was still in college and I was in peak Deadhead mode but I immediately liked it. The B-52’s stood out from their contemporaries in sound and style but I believe that the media’s emphasis on their thrift store chic visual style obscured what a great band they were.

Formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1976. The band consisted of Fred Schneider (vocals, percussion), Kate Pierson (vocals, keyboards, synth bass), Cindy Wilson (vocals, percussion), Ricky Wilson (guitar), and Keith Strickland (drums, guitar, keyboards). Ricky Wilson died of AIDS-related illness in 1985, and Strickland switched from drums to lead guitar.

The B-52’s didn’t sound like anyone else at that time. There was the juxtaposing of surf guitar and cheesy Farfisa organ with the angular vocal melodies of Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson and the talk/sing of Fred Schneider. As I said earlier, too many people assigned a “novelty band” sticker to the band due to their quirky style and that’s too bad. The rhythm section of guitarist Ricky Wilson and drummer Keith Strickland were tight and made the music so.damm.danceable.

The B-52’s – 52 Girls

And among the frolic and fun there were moments that unexpectedly hit you like during the song Dance This Mess Around when Cindy Wilson sings “why won’t you dance with me/I ain’t no Limburger”.

The B-52’s – Dance This Mess Around

In the summer of 1980 I saw the B-52’s at the old Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park as part of the summer concert series held there at the time. They were just about to release their second album, “Wild Planet”, and were playing the new songs. Private Idaho was an immediate crowd favorite but the moment that I will always remember was when they played Give Me Back My Man which I consider to be one of their best songs. The instrumental outro is still one of my favorite pieces of music and you can feel the pain in Cindy Wilson’s vocals.

The B-52’s Give Me Back My Man

The B-52’s – Private Idaho

In 1981, the band started what was to be their third album with Talking Heads’ David Byrne producing. The recording sessions for the album were aborted, reportedly due to differences with Byrne over the album’s musical direction. The record company however demanded product which prompted the band to release what they salvaged from the sessions and put out the EP Mesopotamia in 1982. The vocal melodies were more angular and the instrumental tracks were more that a little reminiscent of those found on Talking Head’s Speaking In Tongues.

The B-52’s – Mesopotamia

The band “came back” in 1989 with the album Cosmic Thing which had the hit singles of Love Shack, Roam and Deadbeat Club, great songs all.

The B-52’s – Love Shack

The B-52’s – Roam

The B-52’s – Deadbeat Club

Great band. Well done.

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Posted in Classic Rock, Uncategorized

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