The B-52s are an American rock band, formed in Athens, Georgia in 1976. The original line-up consisted of Fred Schneider (vocals, cowbell), Kate Pierson (vocals, keyboards), Cindy Wilson (vocals, tambourine, bongos), Ricky Wilson (guitar), and Keith Strickland (drums). Following Ricky Wilson's death in 1985 Strickland switched to guitar. Then they added Tracy Wormworth (bass), Sterling Campbell (drums) and Paul Gordon (keyboards).
Rooted in New Wave and 1960s rock and roll, the group later covered many genres ranging from post-punk to pop rock. The "guy vs. gals" vocals of Schneider, Pierson, and Wilson, sometimes used in call and response style ("Strobe Light," "Private Idaho", and "Good Stuff"), are a trademark. Presenting themselves as a positive, enthusiastic, slightly oddball party band, the B-52s tell tall tales, glorify wild youth, and celebrate wild romance. The band name had long been "The B-52's", until 2008 when they dropped the apostrophe and are now "The B-52s".
The B-52s were formed when vocalist Cindy Wilson, her older brother and guitarist Ricky, organist and vocalist Kate Pierson, original drummer and percussionist Keith Strickland and cowbell player and vocalist Fred Schneider played an impromptu musical jam session after sharing a tropical Flaming Volcano drink at a local Chinese restaurant. They later played their first concert in 1977 at a Valentine's Day party for their friends.
The band's name comes from a particular beehive hairdo resembling the nose cone of the aircraft of the same name. Keith Strickland suggested the name after a dream he had one night, of a band performing in a hotel lounge. In the dream he heard someone whisper in his ear that the name of the band was "The B-52s." The band's quirky take on the New Wave sound of their era was a combination of dance and surf music set apart from their contemporaries by the unusual guitar tunings used by Ricky Wilson and thrift-store chic.
Their first single, "Rock Lobster", recorded for DB Records in 1978, was an underground success, selling over 2,000 copies in total that led to The B-52s performing at CBGB and Max's Kansas City in New York City. Two versions of the single were released in the United Kingdom; one featured the single in its original form, and the other featured the B-side "Running Around" in place of "52 Girls". The buzz created by the record in the UK meant their first show in London at the Electric Ballroom, London, was packed in anticipation, with many UK pop stars such as Green Gartside from Scritti Politti, Joe Jackson, and others in attendance. In Canada, released on the Warner Bros. label, the single went from cult hit to bonafide smash, eventually going on to reach the No. 1 position in the RPM-compiled national chart on May 24, 1980.
In 1979 The B-52s signed contracts with Warner Bros. Records for North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand; and with Island Records for the UK, Europe, and Asia. Chris Blackwell, founder of Island, produced their debut studio album. Recorded at Blackwell's Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas, and released on July 6, 1979, The B-52's contained re-recorded versions of "Rock Lobster" and "52 Girls", six originals recorded solely for the album, and a remake of the Petula Clark single "Downtown". It was a major success for the band, especially in Australia where it reached number three on the charts alongside its three singles "Planet Claire", "Rock Lobster", and "Dance This Mess Around". In the United States, the single "Rock Lobster" reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while the album itself was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
The follow-up, Wild Planet, reached number eighteen on the Billboard 200 chart in 1980 and was certified gold. "Private Idaho" became their second Hot 100 entry. On January 26, 1980, The B-52s performed on Saturday Night Live. They also performed at the Heatwave festival (billed as the "New Wave Woodstock") in Toronto, Canada in August 1980; and appeared in the Paul Simon film One Trick Pony. Their third album Party Mix! was released next, a remix album that took tracks from the first two LPs and presented them in extended forms. John Lennon cited "Rock Lobster" as an inspiration for his comeback.
In 1981 the band collaborated with musician David Byrne to produce a fourth studio album. Due to alleged conflicts with Byrne over the album's musical direction recording sessions for the album were aborted, prompting the band to release the album, Mesopotamia (1982), as an extended play (EP); in 1991, Party Mix! and Mesopotamia, the latter of which had been remixed, were combined and released together on a single compact disc.
In 1983 the band released Whammy!; this album brought the band into synthesizer and drum machine experimentation. The album entered the Billboard 200 chart in 1983, reaching number twenty-nine during the year. "Legal Tender" reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Singles chart alongside "Whammy Kiss" and "Song for a Future Generation". After initial pressings of Whammy! were released, copyright issues with Yoko Ono led to the song "Don't Worry" being removed and replaced on future pressings by "Moon 83", a remixed version of the track "There's a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)" from their debut album.
After taking a one year absence from their musical careers in 1984 The B-52's regrouped in 1985 to record Bouncing off the Satellites, their fifth studio record, and in January of that year they performed in Brazil, at Rock in Rio; their largest crowd ever. During the recording, guitarist Wilson had been suffering from AIDS/HIV-related health complications. None of the other band members were aware of his illness. In an interview, fellow band member Kate Pierson stated that Wilson had kept his illness secret from his fellow band members because he "did not want anyone to worry about him or fuss about him." On October 12, 1985 Wilson died from the illness, at the age of 32. The band went into seclusion and did not tour to promote the album, prompting a hiatus from their musical careers. In 1987 they released a public service announcement in the style of The Geatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover on behalf of AMFAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research).
During the hiatus following Wilson's death Strickland switched from drums to guitar and began writing music. After Strickland played some of his new music for the other band members, they all agreed to try writing together again, with Pierson, Wilson and Schneider contributing the lyrics and melodies. In 1989 the band released Cosmic Thing, their mainstream breakthrough, released on Reprise Records worldwide. The single "Channel Z", a single from the new album, became an alternative and college radio hit, hitting number one on the U.S. Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart, receiving significant airplay on MTV's modern rock show 120 Minutes.
The next single, "Love Shack", with its party vibe and colorful music video, became their first top-40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, ultimately reaching No. 3 in November 1989. That peak was matched in March 1990 when their follow-up single, "Roam", also reached No. 3. In Australia, the country that had most embraced the band a decade earlier, "Love Shack" stayed at number one for eight weeks.
A fourth single, "Deadbeat Club", which reminisced about the band's early days in Athens and whose video was shot on location and featured a cameo by fellow Athens artist R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, reached No. 30. The Cosmic Thing album climbed into the U.S. top five and earned multi-platinum certification. it also had huge international success reaching No. 1 in both Australia and New Zealand and No. 8 in the UK. The group had a hugely successful world tour to support the record, and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in March, 1990. In 1990 the B-52's were nominated for 4 MTV Video Music Awards including Video of the Year. They won two awards, Best Group Video and Best Art Direction.
Pierson sang on Iggy Pop's song "Candy", which gave him a top-40 hit. In 1991 Schneider's solo record was repackaged and re-released, resulting in his first Hot 100 single when "Monster" climbed to No. 85, and Pierson again guest-starred on a popular track, fellow Athens, GA band R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People", which reached No. 10 in September 1991. Pierson also appeared on two other songs from R.E.M.'s chart-topping album Out of Time, "Near Wild Heaven", and "Me in Honey".
In late 1990 Cindy Wilson took time off from the band, with Julee Cruise filling in for her parts on the eventual tour. As a trio, the B-52's released Good Stuff in 1992, and the title track reached No. 28 in August of that year. The album made it to No. 18 in the U.S. It is also the group's most overtly political album, though they had been activists and fund-raisers for environmental, AIDS and animal rights causes for many years.
The band had their next chart entry in 1994 when, as The BC-52's, they appeared in The Flintstones live-action movie and sang the title song. When released as a single, it reached No. 33 in the U.S. and No. 3 in the UK. In 1994, Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider also sang on the theme song for the Nickelodeon series Rocko's Modern Life from the second season on. In the 1990s, former Duran Duran drummer Sterling Campbell joined the band, but left in 2000 to tour with David Bowie and was replaced that year by Zachary Alford, who had recorded and toured with the band during the Cosmic Thing era. Band members Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson recorded the song "Ain't no Stopping us Now" for the 1996 film The Associate starring Whoopi Goldberg.
A career retrospective, Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation, appeared in 1998 along with two remixed maxi-singles "Summer of Love '98" and "Hallucinating Pluto". Cindy Wilson rejoined the group on two of the new songs and a major tour (with co-headliners the Pretenders) to promote the collection. "Debbie", another single from the album (a tribute to Blondie's Debbie Harry), placed 35 on Billboard's Hot Modern Rock Tracks. In 1999 they recorded a parody of "Love Shack" called "Glove Slap" for an episode of The Simpsons. They co-headlined another major tour in 2000 with the Go-Go's. In 2000, the band recorded the song "The Chosen One" for the movie Pokemon: The Movie 2000.
A more extensive anthology, Nude on the Moon: The B-52's Anthology, appeared in 2002. The B-52's recorded the song "Orange You Glad It's Summer" for a
commercial that aired in spring/summer 2002. Target also used the song "Junebug" in a TV spot in 2007.
In late 2004 the band opened for Cher on a few dates of her Farewell Tour. In March 2006 they opened for The Rolling Stones at a benefit for the Robin Hood Foundation. They had three remix EPs released by Planet Clique: Whammy! in 2005, Mesopotamia in 2006 and Wild Planet in 2007. During this time span, they appeared on many television shows including The L Word, V.I.P., The Rosie O'Donnell Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Late Show with David Letterman, The Arsenio Hall Show, Saturday Night Live, Live with Regis and Kelly, The Today Show, Good Morning America and numerous times on VH1.
Funplex, the band's first original album in sixteen years (since 1992's Good Stuff), was released on March 25, 2008 by Astralwerks. Talking about the record's sound, Keith Strickland noted, "It’s loud, sexy rock & roll with the beat turned up to hot pink." The album is produced by Steve Osborne, who was asked to work on the album based on his work with New Order on the album Get Ready. With this album, the band dropped the apostrophe from their name and became The B-52s.
The album debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard charts in the U.S., immediately making it the second-highest charting B-52s album ever. The band toured in support of the album as well as making television appearances on talk shows, including The Tonight Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and performing on The Today Show on Memorial Day 2008. They also participated in the True Colors Tour 2008 with Cyndi Lauper and embarked on a European tour in July.
The first single from the album was "Funplex", which was released digitally on January 29 to the iTunes Store in the U.S. The second single lifted from the album was "Juliet of the Spirits". Fred Schneider said in an interview that the album just broke even and could be The B-52s' last new studio album, though he later retracted that statement. The B-52s performed their hit track "Love Shack" with Sugarland at the 2009 Country Music Awards.
On February 18, 2011 the B-52s played a special 34th anniversary show at the Classic Center in their hometown of Athens, Georgia. The performance took place four days after the 34th anniversary date of their first-ever show, February 14, 1977. The concert was filmed and recorded for With the Wild Crowd! Live in Athens, GA, released in October 2011. The DVD and Blu-ray will be released in 2012.
The B-52s still steadily play 50–60 live shows a year, including the closing show for the 2011 edition of the Montreal Jazz Festival, the setlist ranging from tracks on Funplex to their greatest hits and songs never played live before (such as Bouncing off the Satellites ' "Wig"). The touring band includes musicians Sterling Campbell (drums), Paul Gordon (keyboards, guitar) and Tracy Wormworth (bass).
On April 29, 2012 the group performed as the house band during the 2012 TV Land Awards, playing "Love Shack", "Roam" and "Rock Lobster" along with many of their other hits.