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The B-52s (styled as The B-52's prior to 2008) are an American New Wave band, formed in Athens, Georgia in 1976. The original line-up consisted of Fred Schneider (vocals, percussion, keyboards), Kate Pierson (organ, bass, vocals), Cindy Wilson (vocals, bongos, tambourine, guitar), Ricky Wilson (guitars), and Keith Strickland (drums, guitars, synthesizers, various instruments). Following Ricky Wilson's death in 1985 Strickland switched full-time to guitar. The band subsequently added various musicians for their live shows. This included Sara Lee or Tracy Wormworth on (bass), Zachary Alford or Sterling Campbell on (drums, percussion) and Pat Irwin or Paul Gordon (keyboards & guitars).
Rooted in new wave and 1960s rock and roll, the group later covered many genres ranging from post-punk to pop rock. The "guy vs. gals" vocals of Schneider, Pierson, and Wilson, sometimes used in call and response style ("Strobe Light," "Private Idaho", and "Good Stuff"), are a trademark. Presenting themselves as a positive, fun, enthusiastic, slightly oddball and goofy party band, the B-52's tell tall tales, glorify wild youth and celebrate sexy romance.
Formation and early years
The B-52's were formed in 1976 when vocalist Cindy Wilson, her older brother and guitarist Ricky, organist and vocalist Kate Pierson, original drummer and percussionist Keith Strickland and cowbell player, poet and vocalist Fred Schneider played an impromptu musical jam session after sharing a tropical Flaming Volcano drink at a local Chinese restaurant. Other ideas they had to name their band were the "Tina-Trons" and "Felini's Children". When they first jammed, Strickland played guitar and Wilson played congas. They later played their first concert (with Wilson playing guitar) in 1977 at a Valentine's Day party for their friends.
The band's name comes from a particular beehive hairdo resembling the nose cone of the aircraft of the same name. Keith Strickland suggested the name after a dream he'd had one night, of a band performing in a hotel lounge. In the dream he heard someone whisper in his ear that the name of the band was "the B-52's." The band's quirky take on the new wave sound of their era was a combination of dance and surf music set apart from their contemporaries by the unusual guitar tunings used by Ricky Wilson and thrift-store chic.
Their first single, "Rock Lobster", recorded for DB Records in 1978, was an underground success, selling over 2,000 copies in total that led to the B-52's performing at CBGB and Max's Kansas City in New York City. Both this version of "Rock Lobster" and its B Side "52 Girls" are different recordings from those on their first album, and the early version of 52 Girls is in a different key.
The rerecorded version of Rock Lobster was released as a single. In the UK and Germany it was backed with Running Around (Instrumental), a non-album track, of which a vocal rerecording would appear on their second album Wild Planet. The buzz created by the record in the UK meant their first show in London at the Electric Ballroom, London, was packed in anticipation, with many UK pop stars such as Sandie Shaw, Green Gartside from Scritti Politti, Joe Jackson, and others in attendance. In Canada, released on the Warner Bros. label, the single went from cult hit to bona fide smash, eventually going on to reach the No. 1 position in the RPM-compiled national chart on May 24, 1980.
In 1979 The B-52's signed contracts with Warner Bros. Records for North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand; and with Island Records for the UK, Europe, and Asia. Chris Blackwell, founder of Island, produced their debut studio album. Recorded at Blackwell's Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas, and released on July 6, 1979, The B-52's contained re-recorded versions of "Rock Lobster" and "52 Girls", six originals recorded solely for the album, and a remake of the Petula Clark single "Downtown". It was a major success for the band, especially in Australia where it reached number three on the charts alongside its three singles "Planet Claire", "Rock Lobster", and "Dance This Mess Around". In the United States, the single "Rock Lobster" reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while the album itself was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
The follow-up, Wild Planet, reached number eighteen on the Billboard 200 chart in 1980 and was certified gold. "Private Idaho" became their second Hot 100 entry. On January 26, 1980, The B-52's performed on Saturday Night Live. They also performed at the Heatwave festival (billed as the "New Wave Woodstock") in Toronto, Canada in August 1980; and appeared in the Paul Simon film One Trick Pony. Their third album Party Mix! was released next, a remix album that took tracks from the first two LPs and presented them in extended forms. John Lennon cited "Rock Lobster" as an inspiration for his comeback.
Later years and death of Ricky Wilson
In 1981 the band collaborated with musician David Byrne to produce a fourth studio album. Due to alleged conflicts with Byrne over the album's musical direction recording sessions for the album were aborted, prompting the band to release the album Mesopotamia (1982) as an extended play (EP); in 1991, Party Mix! and Mesopotamia, the latter of which had been remixed, were combined and released together on a single compact disc.
In 1983 the band released Whammy!; this album brought the band into synthesizer and drum machine experimentation. The album entered the Billboard 200 chart in 1983, reaching number twenty-nine during the year. "Legal Tender" reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Singles chart alongside "Whammy Kiss" and "Song for a Future Generation". After initial pressings of Whammy! were released, copyright issues with Yoko Ono led to the song "Don't Worry" being removed and replaced on future pressings by "Moon 83", a remixed version of the track "There's a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)" from their debut album.
After taking a one year absence from their musical careers in 1984 The B-52's regrouped in 1985 to record Bouncing off the Satellites, their fifth studio record, and in January of that year they performed in Brazil, at Rock in Rio; their largest crowd ever. During the recording, guitarist Wilson had been suffering from AIDS/HIV-related health complications. None of the other band members were aware of his illness. In an interview, fellow band member Kate Pierson stated that Wilson had kept his illness secret from his fellow band members because he "did not want anyone to worry about him or fuss about him." On October 12, 1985 Wilson died from the illness, at the age of 32. The band went into seclusion and did not tour to promote the album, prompting a hiatus from their musical careers. In 1987 they released a public service announcement in the style of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover on behalf of AMFAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research).
Reformation and mainstream success
Originally the band's drummer, Keith Strickland had begun playing more instruments for the band during the Mesopotamia EP era in 1982, including guitar, bass, piano, marimba and various percussion and synthesizers. With Strickland no longer wishing to play the drums (according to Pierson in an interview), the band switched to drum machines for their 1983 album Whammy!, with Strickland and Ricky Wilson playing all the music on that album, and the rest of the band providing vocals only. Having originally played guitars, organ, bass guitar and synthesizers, Pierson switched to a mainly vocal role in the studio, but remained behind the keyboards on tour. For the Whammy tour, some tracks featured Strickland on the drums while others used a backing track so that Strickland could come forward and play other parts. This also freed up the vocalists (now sometimes not playing instruments) to perform some simple choreography. After more or less taking the year 1984 off, the band struggled to write new material after Whammy! (partly because the band all lived together in one house since 1981). They decided to try to write songs separately, and begun recording in 1985, again using drum machines and extensive synthesizers. Ricky Wilson was suffering from AIDS at this time and succumbed to his illness before the album was finished. The results were released as Bouncing Off The Satellites, a mixture of solo efforts and group efforts. Because of Wilson's death, the band did not tour to promote the album. A music video was made for Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland and the band appeared on some UK television programs but then took a 1-2 year hiatus. The band was devastated over the death of Ricky Wilson, and there was doubt over the band's future.
Strickland had been composing in 1988 and after he played some of his new music for the other band members, they all agreed to try writing together again, with Pierson, Wilson and Schneider contributing the lyrics and melodies. In 1989 the band released Cosmic Thing, their mainstream breakthrough, released on Reprise Records worldwide. The single "Channel Z", a single from the new album, became an alternative and college radio hit, hitting number one on the U.S. Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart, receiving significant airplay on MTV's modern rock show 120 Minutes.
The next single, "Love Shack", with its party vibe and colorful music video, became their first top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, ultimately reaching No. 3 in November 1989. That peak was matched in March 1990 when their follow-up single, "Roam", also reached No. 3. In Australia, the country that had most embraced the band a decade earlier, "Love Shack" stayed at number one for eight weeks.
A fourth single, "Deadbeat Club", which reminisced about the band's early days in Athens and whose video was shot on location and featured a cameo by fellow Athens artist R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, reached No. 30. The Cosmic Thing album climbed into the U.S. top five and earned multi-platinum certification. it also had huge international success reaching No. 1 in both Australia and New Zealand and No. 8 in the UK. The group had a hugely successful world tour to support the record, and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in March, 1990. In 1990 the B-52's were nominated for 4 MTV Video Music Awards including Video of the Year. They won two awards, Best Group Video and Best Art Direction.
Pierson sang on Iggy Pop's song "Candy", which gave him a top 40 hit. In 1991 Schneider's solo record was repackaged and re-released, resulting in his first Hot 100 single when "Monster" climbed to No. 85, and Pierson again guest-starred on a popular track, fellow Athens, GA band R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People", which reached No. 10 in September 1991. Pierson also appeared on two other songs from R.E.M.'s chart-topping album Out of Time, "Near Wild Heaven", and "Me in Honey", as well as the outtake "Fretless".
In late 1990 Cindy Wilson took time off from the band, with Julee Cruise filling in for her parts on the eventual tour. As a trio, the B-52's released Good Stuff in 1992, and the title track reached No. 28 in August of that year. The album made it to No. 18 in the U.S. It is also the group's most overtly political album, though they had been activists and fund-raisers for environmental, AIDS and animal rights causes for many years.
The band had their next chart entry in 1994 when, as The BC-52's, they appeared in The Flintstones live-action movie and sang the title song. When released as a single, it reached No. 33 in the U.S. and No. 3 in the UK. In 1994, Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider also sang on the theme song for the Nickelodeon series Rocko's Modern Life from the second season on. In the 1990s, former Duran Duran drummer Sterling Campbell joined the band, but left in 2000 to tour with David Bowie and was replaced that year by Zachary Alford, who had recorded and toured with the band during the Cosmic Thing era. Band members Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson recorded the song "Ain't no Stopping us Now" for the 1996 film The Associate starring Whoopi Goldberg.
A career retrospective, Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation, appeared in 1998 along with two remixed maxi-singles "Summer of Love '98" and "Hallucinating Pluto". Cindy Wilson rejoined the group on two of the new songs and a major tour (with co-headliners the Pretenders) to promote the collection. "Debbie", another single from the album (a tribute to Blondie's Debbie Harry), placed 35 on Billboard's Hot Modern Rock Tracks. In 1999 they recorded a parody of "Love Shack" called "Glove Slap" for an episode of The Simpsons. They co-headlined another major tour in 2000 with the Go-Go's. In 2000, the band recorded the song "The Chosen One" for the movie Pokemon: The Movie 2000.
A more extensive anthology, Nude on the Moon: The B-52's Anthology, appeared in 2002. The B-52's recorded the song "Orange You Glad It's Summer" for a Target commercial that aired in spring/summer 2002. Target also used the song "Junebug" in a TV spot in 2007.
In late 2004 the band opened for Cher on a few dates of her Farewell Tour. In March 2006 they opened for The Rolling Stones at a benefit for the Robin Hood Foundation. They had three remix EPs released by Planet Clique: Whammy! in 2005, Mesopotamia in 2006 and Wild Planet in 2007. During this time span, they appeared on many television shows including The L Word, V.I.P., The Rosie O'Donnell Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Late Show with David Letterman, The Arsenio Hall Show, Saturday Night Live, Live with Regis and Kelly, The Today Show, Good Morning America and numerous times on VH1.
Funplex and continued touring
In 2008 the band dropped the apostrophe from their name to become "The B-52s". Funplex, the band's first original album in sixteen years (since 1992's Good Stuff), was released on March 25, 2008 by Astralwerks. Talking about the record's sound, Keith Strickland noted, "It's loud, sexy rock & roll with the beat turned up to hot pink." The album is produced by Steve Osborne, who was asked to work on the album based on his work with New Order on the album Get Ready.
The album debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard charts in the U.S., immediately making it the second-highest charting B-52s album ever. The band toured in support of the album as well as making television appearances on talk shows, including The Tonight Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and performing on The Today Show on Memorial Day 2008. They also participated in the True Colors Tour 2008 with Cyndi Lauper and embarked on a European tour in July.
The first single from the album was "Funplex", which was released digitally on January 29 to the iTunes Store in the U.S. The second single lifted from the album was "Juliet of the Spirits". Fred Schneider said in an interview that the album just broke even and could be the B-52s' last new studio album, though he later retracted that statement. The B-52s performed their hit track "Love Shack" with Sugarland at the 2009 CMT Music Awards.
On February 18, 2011 the B-52s played a special 34th anniversary show at the Classic Center in their hometown of Athens, Georgia. The performance took place four days after the 34th anniversary date of their first-ever show, February 14, 1977. The concert was filmed and recorded for With the Wild Crowd! Live in Athens, GA, released in October 2011. The DVD and Blu-ray was released in 2012.
The B-52s still steadily play 50–60 live shows a year, including the closing show for the 2011 edition of the Montreal Jazz Festival, the setlist ranging from tracks on Funplex to their greatest hits and songs never played live before (such as Bouncing off the Satellites ' "Wig"). The touring band includes musicians Sterling Campbell (drums), Paul Gordon (keyboards, guitar) and Tracy Wormworth (bass).
On April 29, 2012 the group performed as the house band during the 2012 TV Land Awards, playing "Love Shack", "Roam" and "Rock Lobster" along with many of their other hits.
On December 13, 2012, Keith Strickland announced he would no longer tour with the B-52s, though he would continue as a member of the band. "...It is the path I know in my heart I must follow. I will continue to be in the B-52s... I will just not tour. My barnstorming days have come to an end, but I wholeheartedly support Cindy, Fred and Kate's decision to continue."
In March 2013 the band announced it would be co-headlining a summer tour with The Go-Go's. They also have a European tour to start in August. Kate Pierson began recording her first solo album in 2013.