Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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B-52's

US electro-pop dance band formed in Athens GA '76 by brother/sister Cindy (b 28 Feb. '57) and Ricky (b '53; d 12 Oct. '85) Wilson, vocals, guitar respectively. Recruited drummer Keith Strickland (b 26 Oct. '53), vocalist Fred Schneider (b '54, Newark GA), Kate Pierson (b '48, Weehawken NJ) on vocals and keyboards for jam session at friend's house that turned into full-time hobby. Named after girls' favourite beehive-style hairdos; played first gigs with taped accompaniment, learned fast when someone pulled the plug. Sound relied on heavy drums, synthesized keyboard bass and scratchy guitar over which girls and gangly Schneider wailed and warbled gems like 'Rock Lobster', a meaningless rhyme issued on own Boofant label which together with appearance at NYC club CBGB's saw them signed by WB (USA) and Island (elsewhere). Island boss Chris Blackwell prod. eponymous debut LP '79. Horror movies, fast food and other important subjects informed the album and B-52's fun music attracted a sizeable audience. Wild Planet '80 made USA top 20 but disappointed; only 'Quiche Lorraine' approached the danceability of such first-album gems as '606 0842' and 'Dance This Mess Around'; novelty alone was not enough. Party Mix '81 attempted to rehash early songs for the disco market but only served to emphasize lack of fresh ideas, as did EP Mesapotamia '82, prod. by David Byrne, whose sense of humour rivalled their own. Whammy '83 was followed by Ricky's death from cancer; Schneider recorded eponymous '84 LP with breakaway Shake Society (four girls/two guys, B-52's lookalikes); it seemed they would never bop again, but they re-formed, made Bouncing Off The Satellites '86, Cosmic Thing '89 (prod. by Nile Rogers/Don Was: USA no. 4 album said to be a balance between fun and tired licks). Cindy left '91, replaced by Julee Cruise; Good Stuff '92 was USA top 20. UK counterparts were Human League (boy/girl synth group) and Rezillos (revival chic).