Posts Tagged ‘Kate Pierson’

The B-52’s were ’70s punks molded not from the syringes and leather of New York City, but from the campy detritus you might have found in the thrift stores and garage sales of their home of Athens, Ga.: bright clothes, toy pianos, old issues of Vogue, tall wigs and discarded vinyl. They channeled spy soundtracks, exotica, surf music, long-abandoned dance crazes and garage rock — music that was gathering dust by their 1979 self-titled debut LP. Much of it (alongside their obsessions with Yoko Ono and the Velvet Underground) would reveal itself as bedrock of alternative culture years later.

The B-52’s were a clash of sounds that help bring punk to the suburban kids more likely to watch “Saturday Night Live” than visit CBGB: Fred Schneider’s sing-shout poetry, Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson’s alien girl-group harmonies, Ricky Wilson’s tricky guitar riffs and Keith Strickland’s art-funky drums. Even demographically they were nothing like the new world of new wave being built by Talking Heads and Devo: 40 percent female, 60 percent Southern, and 100 percent fun.

“We didn’t have a goal of what we wanted to sound like when we started out,” says Keith Strickland, the multi-instrumentalist behind some of the B-52’s’ biggest hits. “We just knew we wanted it to be fun.”

Since springing out of Athens, Georgia, in the mid-Seventies, the group has always been the quintessential party band. Songs like “Rock Lobster,” “Dance This Mess Around” and “Love Shack” are indeed fun, thanks to singer Fred Schneider’s hilarious recitatives, fellow vocalists Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s heaven-reaching harmonies, and the fusion of beach rock, Motown, girl groups, and ebulliently experimental jamming that Strickland and founding guitarist Ricky Wilson whipped up. They were improbable hit-makers, scoring Top Five singles and gold and platinum plaques while waving a flag for gay pride and singing the silliest lyrics possible. “Why don’t you dance with me? I’m not no limburger,” goes “Dance This Mess Around,” while “Rock Lobster” finds Pierson and Cindy going full Yoko Ono while making up sounds for jellyfish, narwhal, sea robins and bikini whales.

This summer, the B-52’s have been celebrating their history on tour, both solo and as part of a package with Culture Club and the Thompson Twins. Although the lineup has changed over the years – Ricky Wilson died of AIDS in 1985, shaking the band to its core, and Strickland retired from the road in 2012 – they’ve never lost the party spirit that defined the group when it was straddling punk and New Wave in the early Eighties. They haven’t put out an album since 2008’s Funplex(and likely won’t do another) but they know what their fans want from a B-52’s concert.

“We just have to play ‘Rock Lobster’ and ‘Love Shack,’ ‘Planet Claire’ and ‘Roam,’” the perennially redheaded Pierson says. “For our own benefit, we’ve added [Bouncing Off the Satellites] ‘Wig’ to the lineup, and we’ve never had so much fun playing that. Sometimes that’s a song people don’t know as well, but people seem to really enjoy it.”

The four surviving B-52’s took some time to reflect on the wild times that fueled their early success. Here’s an oral history of how the band, which formed after a night of drinking “flaming volcanos” at an Athens Chinese joint in 1976, took off.

Keith Strickland: Ricky and I had known each other since high school. When I met him, he had a 4-track tape recorder and had already recorded some songs just on guitar. They were amazing. He’d learned folk guitar. Then he and I started playing together. When we got more serious, I moved to drums.

Kate Pierson: Fred and Keith used to get stoned and do poetry and play. And I had been in a band in high school, and Cindy was singing with Ricky. So we all had sort of played with each other. One night we just started jamming after going out and drinking these flaming-volcano drinks, and that became the template of the band. Most of our songs came from jamming together.

Fred Schneider: We liked all music: James Brown, Motown, the Velvet Underground, Yoko Ono, the Beatles, Perez Prado mambo – we played everything, especially anything to dance to. Our goal, I guess, was to be a dance band, so we didn’t really have ballads in the beginning.

Strickland: We were listening to really campy sci-fi soundtracks. Fred is a vinyl collector. He’d find these great, old records. Ricky and I were really into Captain Beefheart. We also loved Joni Mitchell. You wouldn’t hear it, but she was a big influence on us, at least in terms of open tunings and the harmonies and chords she’d use. Our feeling was if it sounds good, it is good. So we put that freedom into writing. We felt like we could do anything.

Pierson: The inspiration for our vocal harmonies was sort of Appalachian. It’s sort of at weird intervals and it almost has an Appalachian kind of feel to it. The harmonies were really spontaneous. And the way we jammed, we would just get into a trance. Almost like automatic writing, this collective unconscious would take over and sometimes we’d be singing all at once. We’d listen back to the tape and seek out the best parts and patch them together in a collage. I might be doing the high part and Cindy does the low part, but then we would switch. On “Roam,” we crossed over in the highs and lows

Cindy Wilson: Ricky and I were living together at one point after he came back from hitchhiking all around Europe. We were working at a luncheonette counter [laughs]. I came to work one day, and Ricky was playing music on his guitar, just snickering. He played me the riff that turned out to be “Rock Lobster,” and it was hilarious. He was just trying to be funny. His guitar style made it moodier and it really is a driving song, but it does have that funny humor to it.

Schneider: I went to this disco in Atlanta called the 2001 Disco. Instead of a light show, they had pictures of puppies, babies, hamburgers and lobsters on a grill. And I thought, “Rock Lobster,” that’s a good idea for a song and probably no one else would.” I told everyone I had the idea, and we started jamming on it. The lyrics got weirder and weirder. I used to live on the Jersey shore, because I’m from New Jersey, so you would constantly hear “Pass the butter, please” on the radio, which was tanning butter [laughs]. I would do that and the gals came up with those wild fish noises. Cindy let loose with her tribute to Yoko.

The B-52’s’ debut single would remain their biggest hit until they invited everyone to the “Love Shack” a decade later. The ’79 smash is an unlikely blend of twangy Mosrite guitar, blooping Farfisa, beach-party-on-acid lyrics and an aquarium’s worth of creature noises. Cindy Wilson  said that she remembered her brother snickering and saying, “I just wrote the stupidest riff.”

Wilson: We tried to have these song paintings. It took a lot of work and a lot of rehearsal, because we weren’t reading music. It was very intricate. There were a lot of stops and starts and changes and weird harmonies that we came up with. When we do the shows, it sounds like we’re just having fun, but it really is labor intensive.

Strickland: We’d listen back and pick out different vocal parts for Kate and Cindy, and the lyrics they were singing. Ricky and I would write the music, and then Fred, Kate and Cindy would jam on top if it and we would record it. Then we’d piece it together.

Schneider: We would jam for hours. It would sometimes take a month or two to come up with a song. We’d record everything on reel, and Kate and Ricky would take them home and go through it and pick out parts. That’s why “Rock Lobster” was originally six minutes and 47 seconds long.

Pierson: I remember being in the house me and Cindy had rented in Athens and working on that song and “Planet Claire” and just jamming on fish sounds. Little did we know that the song would have the life and spark it had. That’s one of my favorite songs to perform, because we can still experiment. We can still jam on it live. It’s very spontaneous.

Strickland: Fred told his friend, Julia, that we had a band – and we didn’t really have a band yet – but she was having a Valentine’s Day party, and she said we could play at her party.

Pierson: There weren’t really places to play in Athens, so we had to play a party. There was a folk club, and it was kind of hippie music. The clubs were just emerging. We were just sort of an aloof group of artistically oriented friends, and we would crash parties together and drink beer and dance really crazy. We’d usually drive people off the dance floor .

Strickland: When we played the Valentine’s party, we were doing a different kind of music from the stuff everyone listened to – R&B like James Brown; Junior Walker and the All Stars; Earth, Wind & Fire – but it still had a backbeat. So we played this party and our friends loved it. We had so few songs that when we were done, they said, “Well, play them again.” We just repeated it all the way through and everybody kept dancing. We thought it’s pretty good if our friends liked it, because they’d be the first to say, “You suck.”

Pierson: We had to borrow the sound system. We placed it on a bookshelf. It was in this little house, and it shook. We wore these fake fur wigs that I found; it was this crazy pocket book made of fake fur and we turned them upside down. They were white, and made white Afros. Cindy and I wore those and we wore black and had some Barbie dolls on the ceiling. Keith wore this little red wig he dyed. We had five or six songs. I know we did “Planet Claire, “Devil in My Car,” “52 Girls,” “Rock Lobster,” “Lava” and maybe “Strobe Light.” Our friends loved it so much. They just danced so hard. The speakers were just rocking.

Strickland: So the tape had some conga, maybe some bass tones from the Farfisa organ and some second guitar; that we could play guitar with it and I played the congas. I wasn’t even playing drums.

Schneider: We all had jobs we didn’t like in the beginning. At the time, I was the mail delivery coordinator. Ricky worked at the bus station. Cindy worked at the Whirly-Q luncheonette. Kate worked at a local rag [the Athens Banner Herald]. So it was a hobby. We had to save up money to play anywhere.

Strickland: We started the band just to entertain ourselves.

Strickland: We had some friends in Atlanta who played in a band. They started playing New York at CBGBs and said, “You guys should play New York.”

Pierson: We sent a tape up there and CBGBs said no, but Max’s Kansas City said sure. So we drove up from Georgia, and it was like a 20-hour drive. We had this car we called Croydon, Cindy and Ricky’s parents’ station wagon. We’d stopped playing along with the tape by then.

Schneider: We were paralyzed with fear, because we had never played before anybody except our friends. I think only 17 people showed up. It was a Monday night in December, and I think two of the Cramps were there, Lux and Ivy. The curtain didn’t open, so I had to throw it open and all the other bands were dressed in black and we were like a rainbow congregation. We forgot to even ask if they wanted us back.

The B-52’s and the New York psychobilly brooders the Cramps both self-released their debut 7-inches in 1978 — the original recording of this beach blanket boogie served as the B-side to “Rock Lobster.” Together, the two bands were among the first to mix surf into the world of punk rock.

Pierson: On the first night, we didn’t have many songs. We didn’t realize it was kind of an audition night, and there were a lot of other bands on the bill. They asked us to cut the set short. We drove all the way from Georgia, and they said, “Can you play a couple of songs?” We played like 20 minutes or something and immediately left the stage. We put our stuff in the station wagon and drove straight back. But they called us and said they wanted us back.

Strickland: We were listening to the Talking Heads, Patti Smith, the Ramones and, of course, the Sex Pistols at the time. We didn’t really consider ourselves punk, but we knew that we were going to be a part of that. We didn’t really call ourselves “New Wave.” I remember we got called that when we started playing the clubs in New York for bands like us and the Cramps, because people were moving a little bit away from the punk thing and were just making songs [laughs].

Pierson: We blazed the path between Athens and New York for months. Each time we’d come back, we’d write more songs, rehearse like crazy and go back up. At one point, CBGBs said, “You can’t play both here and Max’s.” Then we started playing the Mudd Club and the Loft. I remember at the Loft, there was a huge line outside and Ricky looked out the window and said, “What’s that line out there?” We didn’t have any idea that the line around the block was for us. The place was so jammed and crowded. Ricky drank a lot because he was very nervous and shy. He was not gonna be able to play but [after he drank] he was on fire. He played great.

Strickland: So this thing was happening in New York and we were in the right place at the right time. A friend of ours, Danny Beard, created a label called DB Recs and we recorded our first single for him – “Rock Lobster” and the B side was “52 Girls” – and that sold really well, like 20,000 copies. So the labels got interested in us.

Pierson: We’d had a friend, who was our first manager, and she started getting offers from Red Star Records, and Virgin and Warner Bros. were interested. And she said, “Y’all, I don’t know what to do.” So we met our manager, Gary Kurfirst, through Tina [Weymouth] and Chris [Frantz] from the Talking Heads. He brokered the deal for us with Warner Bros. and Island Records.

Strickland: Our manager used to play that we were shy and he would do all the talking. We were rather quiet then. We’re all introverts except for Kate; Fred sometimes can be very shy. But when we get up onstage, we just go for it.

Wilson: I was shy, but Ricky was even shyer, until he got to know you. I think the music helps you get out of yourself.

Schneider: In the beginning Ricky would turn around onstage a lot. The band sort of looked at me to be the frontman, so I would tell bad jokes or I started a thing where I would get the audience to do a call-and-response thing. We became more outgoing over time. Plus, we smoked pot . That might have made us a little paranoid.

Pierson: We probably kept our mouths shut because we didn’t really know the music business. We thought, “It’s better to just not say much.” I don’t think we were shy so much as we were terrified. Especially when we did Saturday Night Live on live TV. We looked really animatronic because we were scared, but it came off as being this alien sort of attitude, which served us well, because people were like, “Whoa, this is so weird.” But we were just shy and terrified.

Schneider: Saturday Night Livewas nerve-racking. I was so sick to my stomach, but it went really well, and it put our record back on the charts. Eventually, it went platinum. Finding the Love Shack – “When You Opened the Door, It Was a Wild Band Playing”

Wilson: When Ricky passed [in 1985], it was just a horrible time. It was like an atom bomb going off. I think Keith dealt with the shock by doing music every day.

Strickland: After about two years, I told Cindy and Kate I had some music I had been working on and played it for them and then we started discussing the potential of working together again. And then we called Fred and said, “Do you want to do it?” He said, “Sure.”

Wilson: We got a rehearsal space in Manhattan in the Wall Street area. We were very serious about it. We would work for four days a week, and it came together pretty quickly. It was all about nostalgia. It was looking back at the good times we used to have in Athens, so it was a wonderful, healing record.

Schneider: The music became a little more funk, I guess. We wrote much faster.

Pierson: Keith would write the instrumentation and we would jam on that. We’d all get together and pick out parts and paste them together, then we would learn the parts. Sometimes we’d just play acoustic guitar and try out the parts and make a library. We’d use a double cassette player and make little edits.

Strickland: It took about a year to write Cosmic Thing. We spent a lot of time just talking, and we needed that. We were our own support group after Ricky’s passing, which was a very traumatic thing for all of us and, in particular, for Cindy.

Schneider: I had the idea for “Love Shack.” There was a place outside of Athens called the Hawaiian Ha-Le. It was an African-American club that had a lot of good shows. It looked like a shack, you wouldn’t expect it to be what it was, and when you opened the door, it was a wild band playing.

Wilson: It used to be this funky building with a tin roof that was old and rusty. They would have Soul Train lines. They just put a condemned sign on it, so it’s closed down.

Strickland: The funny thing about “Love Shack” is that we had decided what songs we wanted to do when we were meeting producers. We had already decided we were going to work with Nile Rodgers and Don Was. We played Don Was our demos, and he said, “Do you have anything else?” I said, “Well, we have this one other song, but it’s not finished.”

Pierson: We actually had a whole different version of it, and I remember Keith saying, “It’s not ready to put on the record.” Fred and I were like, “No, it’s gonna be a hit. We love it.”

Strickland: We almost didn’t play it for him, but we did and it was still rambling. Don said, “This is great. Just repeat this one part.” The part was, “The love shack is a little old place where we can get together … love shack, baby.” That had occurred only once in the original structure. So as soon as he picked that out, we thought, “That’s the chorus.” It’s like, “Voila.” It almost didn’t happen.

Pierson: That Motown feel really made it a party anthem, a regular hit at all your weddings and bar mitzvahs. It’s just got his infectious beat and you can’t help but dance to it.

Strickland: Another funny thing is we were recording the song at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, and there was a big electrical storm outside, and all the electricity went out. We were like, “No, no, no.” When we listened back, we had an awesome take, but it was only halfway done but it got cut off in the breakdown, kind of over a dropout. So we just picked it up right there and took the rest from a second tape. That song is all live except for one splice. We didn’t know if it was a hit when we finished it, but we felt there was something special about it.

Pierson: The radio [programmers] weren’t really enthusiastic about the song. Fred worked a lot of the indie stations promoting it, Loretta Lynn–style, like “My record is in the garbage can.” Then college radio really embraced it. Thank God for college radio.

Strickland: There was something magical about that album, how it all came together. We sequenced it in a way that we felt told a story. I don’t know if anybody’s ever noticed it, but one song leads into the other in a nice way. It tells a story from beginning to end.

The B-52s - The B-52's

The B-52’s Released Their Eponymous Amazeballs Debut LP 40 Years Ago, on 6th July 1979 a totally weird looking combo out of Athens, Georgia called THE B-52’s released their amazing self-titled debut long player. A wacky mix of retro dance-pop and surfy funk twisted upside down and wrapped up brilliantly as the new chic back then and still sounding damn hip today! A solid gold masterpiece, a bona fide classic.

Rolling Stone wrote: “The debut by the B-52’s sounds like a bunch of high school friends cramming all their running jokes, goofy sounds and private nicknames into a New Wave record. It turned out nobody could resist the band’s campy, arty funk, or the eccentric squeals and bouffant hairdos of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson

Even in the weird, quirky world of new wave and post-punk in the late ’70s, the B-52’s’ eponymous debut stood out as an original. Unabashed kitsch mavens at a time when their peers were either vulgar or stylish, the Athens quintet celebrated all the silliest aspects of pre-Beatles pop culture — bad hairdos, sci-fi nightmares, dance crazes, pastels, and anything else that sprung into their minds — to a skewed fusion of pop, surf, avant-garde, amateurish punk, and white funk. On paper, it sounds like a cerebral exercise, but it played like a party.

The jerky, angular funk was irresistibly danceable, winning over listeners dubious of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s high-pitched, shrill close harmonies and Fred Schneider’s campy, flamboyant vocalizing, pitched halfway between singing and speaking. It’s all great fun, but it wouldn’t have resonated throughout the years if the group hadn’t written such incredibly infectious, memorable tunes as “Planet Claire,” “Dance This Mess Around,” and, of course, their signature tune, “Rock Lobster.” These songs illustrated that the B-52’s’ adoration of camp culture wasn’t simply affectation — it was a world view capable of turning out brilliant pop singles and, in turn, influencing mainstream pop culture. It’s difficult to imagine the endless kitschy retro fads of the ’80s and ’90s without the B-52’s pointing the way, but The B-52’s isn’t simply an historic artifact — it’s a hell of a good time.

The B52's / Cosmic Thing 2CD deluxe

By the release of Cosmic Thing (1989), The B-52s were already four albums deep into the time frame (five if you count the excellent David-Byrne produced EP, Mesopotamia). But Cosmic Thing added a booster rocket to the band’s music delivering four hit singles, two of them highly recognizable classics (“Roam”, “Love Shack”). This gave the band a raucous and memorable “tin roof…rusted” quadruple platinum selling album. Six of the album’s songs were produced by Nile Rodgers in New York City, and the remaining four by Don Was in upstate New York. The band embarked on the Cosmic Tour to promote the album.

Many observers were prepared to write off the B-52’s after the release of Bouncing Off the Satellites. Granted, the album was completed in the wake of Ricky Wilson’s death, but the group appeared bereft of new musical ideas and were sounding rather stale. In other words, the last thing anyone expected was a first-class return to form, which is what they got with “Cosmic Thing”. Working with producers Don Was and Nile Rodgersthe B-52’s updated their sound with shiny new surfaces and deep, funky grooves — it was the same basic pattern as before, only refurbished and contemporized. Just as importantly, they had their best set of songs since at least Wild Planet, possibly since their debut. “Cosmic Thing” and “Channel Z” were great up-tempo rockers; “Roam” had a groovy beat blessed with a great Cindy Wilson vocal; and “Deadbeat Club” was one of their rare successful reflective numbers. Then there was “Love Shack,” an irresistible dance number with delightfully silly lyrics and hooks as big as a whale that unbelievably gave the group a long-awaited Top Ten hit. The thing is, Cosmic Thing would already have been considered a triumphant return without its commercial success. The big sales were just the icing on the cake.

On June 28th, Rhino Records will help The B-52s celebrate the album’s 30th Anniversary with a 2CD set 30th Anniversary Edition of Cosmic Thing.

Even in the melting pot of the American new wave scene, The B-52s’ debut single stood out. Equal parts funny, weird and artfully avant-garde, “Rock Lobster” is still the greatest nonsensical six-and-a-half-minute psychedelic surf-rock song about marine life. “Well, there’s not any songs like it,” laughs vocalist Fred Schneider. The quintet bonded over a flaming volcano cocktail in a Chinese restaurant in Athens, Georgia, in late 1976, and quickly pieced together the song that helped secure them an audience on New York’s alternative scene.

“Nothing with the band was ever thought out or calculated,” says drummer Keith Strickland . “Even the way we dressed was just how we dressed when we went to parties before the band started. I think that’s what made it work, ’cos it was just who we were.”

Formed from an open-tuned riff written by the group’s late guitarist Ricky Wilson and wry sprechgesang poetry from Schneider, all topped off with raucous fish impressions from Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, “Rock Lobster” even has the honour of having sparked John Lennon’s return to the studio in the late ’70s. Recognising Yoko Ono’s influence on Cindy’s wild screams, Lennon became convinced the music world was now ready for him and his wife, and swiftly began work on Double Fantasy. “We started out as a party band,” says Schneider, “and we all had a good sense of humour. But we don’t do our songs in a funny way, we want to kick ass. We want to rock.”

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KEITH STRICKLAND (drums): I’d been friends with Ricky since we were 16 in high school. I would play his guitar sometimes, but I would often break a string, and instead of replacing it I’d just retune the guitar to some open tuning. This was much to Ricky’s annoyance… I said, “Try playing it like this.” And he finally tried it. The next day I walked in, and he’s playing the guitar and laughing. I go, “What’s so funny?” and he says, “I’ve just written the most stupid guitar riff ever.” And he plays the “Rock Lobster” riff. He knew it was good, but he also thought it was funny – that was Ricky’s sense of humour.

FRED SCHNEIDER (vocals, songwriting): I first heard the riff when we started jamming. I’d had the idea for the title – I was at this disco in Atlanta, called 2001 Disco, and instead of a light show they had a really cheap, cheesy slideshow. They’d show slides of puppies, lobsters on the grill, hamburgers, children… I mean, it wasn’t a pervy place [laughs], but it definitely wasn’t an expensive, deluxe place. And I just thought “rock this, rock that… rock lobster”. So we went into our studio, which was an unheated bloodletting room in the African-American part of town, in a funeral parlour.

STRICKLAND: I would just jam along with Ricky. Kate wasn’t playing bass on the keyboard yet, so it was just drums and guitar; very White Stripes!

SCHNEIDER: The way we worked was to jam for a long time. If we thought we had something, Ricky and Keith would take it back on their tape recorder, and then they’d come back and play it for us, and show us parts and we’d see if it worked for us. I just thought, “Okay, so this is the title, imagine something and then just start singing about it…” Sometimes pot would help, too [laughs]. It just gradually grew and then it wound up at six and a half minutes long…

STRICKLAND: When Cindy goes into the scream, that was sort of a tip of the hat to Yoko Ono. We were all big fans of her music. I think the fish sounds and Fred going “there goes a narwhal” and “here comes a bikini whale” and all that stuff, that was just from the jams, and piecing it all together.

SCHNEIDER: “Pass the tanning butter…” That was probably a ’60s reference, ’cos I lived near the shore, and there were constant ads for suntan lotion and all that stuff – I just threw everything into the mix.

STRICKLAND: The humour came out very naturally for us. That is Fred’s genius in a way. He would just yell the stuff out… very sort of punk, you know? It was how he delivered it that made it work.

KEVIN DUNN (production): I first heard about the Bs when they were playing around at parties and they were the talk of the town, basically. I saw them when my band The Fans played with them in Atlanta – it was something to see. It was a singular sound, nothing like it, Ricky especially. He was one of a kind, a perfect, naïve genius. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that in my life.
It was like mass kinesis in the audience.

SCHNEIDER: We played New York before we ever played Athens. We’d done parties in Athens but there was no place for us to play, ’cos we were the only punk band in town. Somebody said, “You sound as good as a lot of the bands at Max’s”, so we got a gig there on December 12th, 1977.

DUNN: The Fans were playing CBGB’s a lot in ’77 and we basically introduced the band to Hilly Kristal: “Here’s a cute little band from Athens, perhaps you might like to book them sometime.”

SCHNEIDER: And eventually we were one of the only bands they would allow to play both Max’s and CBGB’s, because we said, “Look, we can’t be driving 800 miles on alternate weekends.” We started just totally selling out, and record labels came to see us, we were thrilled. We met Blondie, the Talking Heads

STRICKLAND: I remember playing Max’s the second time and The Cramps were there, and I was talking to Lux and Ivy after our set. In those days, everybody was putting out an independent single and we hadn’t recorded ours yet. I remember Lux and Ivy asking, “What’s your single gonna be?” And we were like, “Well, we haven’t decided yet.” They said, “It’s gotta be ‘Rock Lobster’!” I wasn’t really sure, but it was always the last song at closing time.

SCHNEIDER: I guess it was the strongest, and got the most response. By that time, we had “Killer Bees”, “Planet Claire”, “52 Girls”, maybe “Dance This Mess Around”.

STRICKLAND: We went to Stone Mountain Studios, and basically set up live. Maybe we all played it live, so Kate played keyboards and keyboard bass at the same time.

DUNN: I came to produce the first version of “Rock Lobster” through Danny Beard [of DB Records]. He was sort of dating Kate, and was into the band a lot, and he decided that I knew something about recording. In a lot of ways I would always say I was the production chauffeur. I didn’t add very much to the operation, which was pretty bare-boned. It was just like, here’s the sound recorded. The engineer, Bruce Baxter, was a genius in that way, so uh… I directed traffic. That was basically it. I think it took the better part of two days.

SCHNEIDER: I don’t think we added any reverb to the whole recording at all – we didn’t think about it!

DUNN: The aesthetic back then was for dry drums. It was like, do as little to the core of the rhythm section as possible.

STRICKLAND: There wasn’t a lot of production. There were no overdubs. Um, I think we may have overdubbed the gong, though, and kind of pitched it down.

DUNN: I tried, in the “down, down” section, to get a ring modulator effect to be introduced to sound like bubbles. And they were
like, “No.” That notion was not accepted!

SCHNEIDER: We released it in the summer of ’78, and it made its way to Australia and all these different places, and eventually it was one of the best-selling independent singles of that time.

STRICKLAND: A lot of people were very interested in producing us, including Frank Zappa. I love him but I just felt, it’s going to go in that territory, you know – that sort of obvious, very sarcastic humour.

SCHNEIDER: I like British humour, you just come up with something that’s intelligent and ridiculous, and keep a straight face. People were saying, ‘They’re camp’ and shit like that. It’s like, hello, camp means you don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re funny ’cos you’re ridiculous. All our stuff, we knew what we were doing. We were a band with a sense of humour, and a lot of uptight, probably straight, white guys didn’t get it.

STRICKLAND: We liked that our music was more ambiguous, it wasn’t tongue in cheek, because we performed as passionately as someone doing a very heartfelt, gut-wrenching song. It wasn’t like, ‘Here comes the punch line…’

SCHNEIDER: We signed with Warners in 1978. All these different labels kept courting us, ’cos we all figured like, hey, free meals! ’Cos we all had jobs that didn’t pay well – 25 cent tips… Imagine, I’m washing pots and pans one week and flying down to the Bahamas to record our debut album the next. Keith and Ricky were working at the bus station. So it  was exciting.

STRICKLAND: We didn’t spend too long recording the first album at Compass Point, maybe a couple of weeks. We recorded pretty quickly once we found a deal ’cos we just wanted to get the album out that summer. So I think we were down there for maybe two weeks. Things went pretty quickly, most of it was recorded live as well.

SCHNEIDER: Chris Blackwell wasn’t really hands-on at all. Robert Ash basically produced the record and I think Chris just listened to it, and made some suggestions.

STRICKLAND: I remember after we finished the album, we listened back to it and I just thought, ‘This sounds horrible.’ I just thought it was dreadful, the whole thing, the whole album… it was terrible. Because I just thought, you know, you go into a studio and you think you’ll sound bigger and better or whatever, you know? And Chris really wanted to keep it stripped down and just sound the way we did it. I mean to me, to my ears, we never sounded that way. In the club, it’s reverby, the acoustics are horrible and so there’s a lot of splashing around with sounds, it always sounded much bigger to me when we played live. And it was louder and bigger, but in the recording it doesn’t sound that way, it sounds very stripped down and very minimal.

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SCHNEIDER: I thought it sounded a little ‘rinky dink’, to be honest. I mean, I guess that’s what we sounded like live, I don’t know.

DUNN: The sound got a little sharp on the album version. I think the somewhat primitive nature of the equipment involved in the original session made it warmer, more guttural.

STRICKLAND: Now, I get it and I like it, it’s a document. John Lennon said a few times that he liked the song. Of course, this is something we didn’t know until after he had been killed; so it was quite bittersweet to hear it. It blew my mind because The Beatles were the reason why I wanted to be an artist at all. I was just blown away that he had heard it and he’d heard Yoko through Cindy, and thought, ‘Now they’re ready for us.’

SCHNEIDER: We’d always been fans of The Beatles, John, Yoko… people still don’t get Yoko, she’s brilliant. So to hear they liked it… oh God, yeah. Yoko sang on “Rock Lobster” when we did our 25th anniversary show. Unfortunately I didn’t have her in my ears, but c’est la vie [laughs].

STRICKLAND: It was just amazing. Yoko’s just going; she’s wailing, she was way into it. I remember thinking, ‘Let’s just keep it going, let’s just jam out on this.’ But I couldn’t really get everyone on board in time, and the song seemed to end so quickly. But we could’ve just gone all night doing that! She and I sat down for a moment backstage and we talked about John and Ricky, and it was just blowing my mind that she knew all about Ricky and his guitar playing and everything [Wilson passed away in 1985], so it was a really sweet moment to have that with her.

SCHNEIDER: I would always say that we were good for all theatres, ’cos if we played, they could tell if they were structurally sound. The balconies would have a bit of give… and boy, did they start giving!

STRICKLAND: Yeah, “Rock Lobster” was the dangerous one, we had to stop a show in Minnesota in 1990 because plaster was falling from the ceiling, on to the people down below. That was probably one of the only times we didn’t play “Rock Lobster”.

SCHNEIDER: For some reason, I don’t get bored with it, I don’t know why.

STRICKLAND: It sounds like a children’s record, if you think about it. It’s like those children toys where you learn, like; ‘This is the sound a pig makes…’ I mean, we were aware of that, we were like, ‘This is ridiculous’, but it just made us laugh. So we just went for it!

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Hailing from Athens, Ga., the quintet comprised of Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson, her brother Ricky Wilson and Keith Strickland first gained fame in the late ”70s as a living, breathing creature that embodied the kitsch of ’50s sci-fi, ’60’s fashion and mid-60s rock and roll, all filtered through some bizarre LSD glazed lens, via a John Waters sensibility. Their image alone, including those beehive/b-52 hair-do’s, was attention grabbing, but the sonic blast that came with it was what kept them on the charts. Equal parts garage, surf, soul and rock and roll with feet firmly planted in the current times of the day, they were able to adopt a retro-futuristic motif that was, at the time, all their own.

Songs like “Rock Lobster,” “Strobe Light,” and “Private Idaho” got the initial party headed out of bounds, but one-trick ponies they were not. After Ricky died from complications related to AIDS in 1985, they bounced back with Cosmic Thing. Hits like “Roam” and “Love Shack” proved there was more to this lot than day-glo hijinks, as well as being further proof that their sound was, a decade into their career, still fresh. They withstood the temporary departure of Cindy, and 2008’s Funplex, showed the old kids still had lava in their lamps and new kinds of kicks to be hatched. A true American original, we give you the B-52’s albums .