It was January 26, 1980, and I give my girlfriend at the time an excuse that I had to be home before 11:30. This time of the year was basketball season, and, believe it or not, the coaches enforced a curfew of midnight. The coaches would call around midnight to see if you were home. I am NOT kidding! Anyway, I used that as an excuse to get home early on Saturday nights so I could get home to watch Saturday Night Live. The great and beautiful Terri Garr was hosting, but I was more concerned with the musical guests, The B-52’s.
Of course, I had read about them in Creem and Rolling Stone magazines. But, no words could ready me for the aural and visual experience that I would have when the band performed their now-classic song “Rock Lobster”. The band, 3 men and 2 women, played their song at a break-neck speed and bounced all over the stage. The lead singer, Fred Schneider, would sing/talk these lyrics about various animals found in the ocean, or some that we all wish were used in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zisou. One of the women, who stood to Schneider’s right, Cindy Wilson, would “sing” background and aquatic animal sounds. Further to the right stood Cindy’s brother, Ricky, playing a unique style of guitar that sounded as if he were only listening to the songs “Peter Gunn” and “Secret Agent Man”. The other crazy sounds came from the left side of Schneider, where the very energetic Kate Pierson played organ and keyboard bass while adding “background vocals” and more aquatic animal noises. The only “normal” part of the band was the steady rock/dance beat put down by drummer Keith Strickland. With the girls bouncing all over the stage, Schneider doing his incomparable vocals while playing the occasional cowbell (sorry, Will Ferrell, Schneider did the cowbell routine on SNL first!).
By the end of The B-52’s first performance, I was so hyped up by the energy of the song and performance, I had to get up and play some NERF Hoops basketball at midnight, which unfortunately for my mom and brother was common for me. I was a fairly hyperactive kid back in the day. Eventually, I settled back down to watch Weekend Update and a couple of sketches before The B-52’s came back. I could not wait to experience them again, but I was certain they would not be as transcendent as they were while playing “Rock Lobster”.
To my delight, I was wrong. The B-52’s played another great song, “Dance This Mess Around”, and much like “Rock Lobster”, The B-52’s left it all on the stage. The came out and took the stage with energy and quirkiness to blow me away for a second time. Now, all I could think about was buying their eponymous titled debut album, The B-52’s.
The next day, I took Mom’s car, a green 1972 Buick Skylark, known as The Green Ghost, to Sun Records in Anderson to find the album. When I walked in, the proprietor asked me. “Did you see The B-52’s last night?”
I told that I did.
He immediately, “Then, you are looking for this aren’t you?” He was holding up the album above his head. I told me that he knew me, as we laughed. He knew I was one of his few customers that was surfing the New Wave of music and would make sure he ordered some of the better artists of the day for me. I have always felt it was very important to have these kind of trust-worthy people in your life: clergy, mechanic, plumber, electrician, general handyman, an IT person and a local music store owner. They always pay off!
So, I get home and show Mom the cover. Mom used to be an art teacher so she always loved to see the album artwork. If the cover wasn’t too lewd, then she was always fine with the music I was listening to. As a matter of fact, one day I was blasting the Sex Pistols, when I went out to the kitchen to get some water, and I stopped to watch my my mother dancing to the Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” Now, that was a moment to remember!
Finally, I get into my room, clean the album and blast Side One. And it was magical! Almost like a Lewis Carroll adventure without any mind-altering medication needed for this trip. It was simply the music. The B-52’s musical sound and their appearance are all based in late-Fifties/early-Sixties kitsch. I think we could even make a case for them being one of the first post-modern artists out there. Wait a second! Didn’t Bowie get there first? I don’t know! Moving on…
The whole debut album of The B-52’s is a joyous experience. Written all over it is a punk attitude that the band is going to play whatever it wants, but they are going to have fun doing it, taking their audience with them. The whole album is a classic. There is not a clunker on the whole thing. Throughout the album, all the listener hears is a joyful noise that is totally based on fun and energy. I just wish I could have seen them live and in the person. But, no, that is the perils of growing up near Naptown…er…Indianapolis. The music scene is better now, but that doesn’t help the adolescent version of me.
Besides the aforementioned songs, other highlights include “Planet Claire”, the lead-off song, and “Lava”, whose lyrics are so full of double entendres that it’s nearly impossible to catch all of them without the lyrics sheet. The album appropriately ends with the band taking a kitschy song from the Sixties and making it their own, the cheesy “Downtown”, originally recorded by Petula Clark. The song makes a more poignant statement that simply being a cover song, No, their are using the song to give us a message that all things old can be new again. The song was deconstructed and remade in the image of the The B-52’s.
Unfortunately, most people looked at the band as a novelty act, and I get that. But, if you are in on the joke, then the whole thing becomes less pretentious, and that allows you see the beauty in their art. The B-52’s deserve a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were the originals.