In response to the over-bloated rock of the late-‘70s, The B-52’s introduced a lighter, party-rock vibe to American New Wave. In the same way Missy Elliott channels ‘80s hip-hop today, the Athens, Georgia-based quintet were pop-culture vultures, appropriating the surf rock, dance crazes and beehive hairdos of the ‘50s and ‘60s. (Their kitschy stage performances included toy instruments and vintage getups with mini-skirts and go-go boots.) Their first hit, the quirky “Rock Lobster,” was an epic masterpiece complete with sticatto organ chords, a robust guitar riff courtesy of the late Ricky Wilson, and Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s analogous vocal harmonies and screams (the blood-curdling shriek that follows Fred Schneider’s declaration, “Here comes a bikini whale!” is my personal favorite). Schneider’s beach-party lyrics are at once silly and utterly creepy, and the band’s eponymous full-length debut was just as campy. The album begins with “Planet Claire,” its lengthy sci-fi-inspired intro giving way to Wilson’s wicked guitar riff and Schneider’s flamboyant delivery: “Some say she’s from Mars/Or one of the seven stars…Well, she isn’t!” Post-modern dance ditties like “52 Girls,” an ode to famous women of the past (shouldn’t it be called “23 Girls”?), and “Dance This Mess Around,” which nods its head to vintage dance crazes like the Shy Tuna and the Dirty Dog, are the album’s other key stand-outs. Like any over-the-top act, The B-52’s wears thin, but the band successfully positioned themselves as pop-culture icons—not unlike the musical antiquities they emulated.
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