When I think back to the early days of new wave, I remember new artists springing up in seemingly rapid-fire succession, such as Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Clash, etc. All of it started with the release of Patti Smith’s debut album in 1975, Horses. And, then, it seemed like the bands were off and running. And, it was awesome. Except for the fact that these bands could not garner any radio airplay in Central Indiana.
Yet, there was a small core of us who had weekend shifts on our high school’s radio station. Two guys, Brad and Russ, held down the 8 PM to midnight shift on Friday nights in the spring of 1980. Then, on Saturday nights during the same time period, a couple of guys had a show called The Doctor Tarr and Professor Feather Show. The guys were Tony and yours truly. During those two shows, we played music from our own collections. Needless to say, new wave ruled those two nights on our little high school station.
During the last season of the original cast of Saturday Night Live, the show was booking many new wave artists. The four of us budding broadcasters would go out to find the albums and/or singles of those artists who played SNL the previous week. One band that seemed to blow up after playing SNL was The B-52’s. The song that stuck with high schoolers was what would become the band’s calling card “Rock Lobster”. Now, I had purchased that single back in December of 1979 and had played it every weekend since. But after the band’s performance on the iconic show on January 26, 1980, well, my classmates were hooked. And, the requests began “pouring in”, which means we got maybe four or five requests. But, we kept playing them. And, surprisingly, The B-52’s joined Devo as the new wave bands of choice within my high school.
Then, like all good things, the radio shifts ended when we graduated. But, The B-52’s continued to be the party band in college. Then, in 1986, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the band’s guitarist Ricky Wilson passed away, and, not surprisingly, the wind collectively got knocked out of the band. But, something magical happened. Keith Strickland, the band’s drummer, took it upon himself to learn Wilson’s unique guitar style (something between surf and TV show theme sound) and tuning so the band could maintain its sound. And, in 1989, The B-52’s made a comeback that was every bit as great as Tina Turner’s comeback five years earlier. Their album, Cosmic Thing, received their best reviews since the debut album. And, the band released two classic singles with “Love Shack” and “Roam”. And, then, as if to say we did it, the band took off three years before releasing a lackluster follow-up called Good Stuff. Afterwards, the band went on hiatus until 2008 when they released their last album called Funplex.
Who knows what this great band will do next? My hope is that they will create one more classic album, get elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of fame, tour and retire as one of the greatest party bands of all-time. That is my dream for these true survivors.
So, in honor of one of the most iconic bands of the whole new wave moment, may I present My 20 Favorite Songs by The B-52’s.
20. “Debbie” (Time Capsule, 1998). Written for Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry.
19. “Good Stuff” (Good Stuff, 1992)
18. “Wig” (Bouncing Off the Satellites, 1986).
17. “Loveland” (Mesopotamia, 1982).
16. “52 Girls” (The B-52’s, 1979).
15. “Deadbeat Club” (Cosmic Thing, 1989).
14. “The Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland” (Bouncing Off the Satellites, 1986).
13. “Legal Tender” (Whammy!, 1983).
12. “Mesopotamia” (Mesopotamia, 1982).
11. “Funplex” (Funplex, 2008).
10. “Summer of Love” (Bouncing Off the Satellites, 1986).
9. “Song for a Future Generation” (Whammy!, 1983).
8. “Planet Claire” (The B-52’s, 1979).
7. “Private Idaho” (Wild Planet, 1980).
6. “Party Out of Bounds” (Wild Planet, 1980).
5. “Downtown” (The B-52’s, 1979).
4. “Give Me Back My Man” (Wild Planet, 1980).
3. “Roam” (Cosmic Thing, 1989).
2. “Love Shack” (Cosmic Thing, 1989).
1. “Rock Lobster” (The B-52’s, 1979).
I get it! That list was fairly straight forward. Oh well! They can’t all be full of surprises. See you tomorrow!