As of right now, we’re seven tracks in to this Between the Grooves series exploring the B-52’s lightning-in-a-bottle debut. They’ve used kitsch, grit, sex, and smarts to get our attention, taking us to alien worlds and undersea bikini parties alike, all while committing to their performances wholeheartedly while giving us hints and teases of real human emotion underneath the wackiness of it all.
With “Hero Worship”, however, the Athens quintet give us what may be their most direct, cohesive song to date.
Smack dab in the middle of the album’s b-side, “Hero Worship” starts off with a very simple ascending guitar tone courtesy of Ricky Wilson. Matched note-for-note by Keith Strickland’s cymbal taps, this song feels like an anthem in the making, working its way up to some grand statement. However, once Cindy Wilson’s voice comes in, the song takes on a surprisingly dark undercurrent, her words pulling down what would normally be a fairly-upbeat rock number:
“Heroes falling to the ground
Like Hell’s magnet
Pulling me down
On my knees
I try to please his eyes
His idol eyes
“Jerking motions can’t revive him
Mouth to mouth resuscitation
I just lay down beside him
Although the iteration before the final chorus has a more staccato guitar-playing style, there is very little to “Hero Worship” that jumps, pops, or severely diverts from the song’s main groove. In fact, “Hero Worship” is one of the most stripped-down songs that the band has ever done, Cindy being the only vocalist on the entire track, her own voice never overdubbed once, the entire song sounding as if it was done in a single raw take (her yips and yells all definitely sound like they came from the same session, as that kind of thing is hard to fake). With drums, guitar, and bass, there are no other instruments brought in to accentuate or enhance the textural depth here: instead, it’s just the band being itself, all of the layering and melodic crevasses carved by Wilson’s careful guitar, which makes sense given he wrote this song with outside collaborator Robert Waldrop.
Yet even as the song finds its nice groove, Wilson’s voice gets more and more desperate, her wails wild and sometimes just a bit off-key, all as she begins yearning for her fallen idol all the more: “A lock of hair / A belt he wore / It’s not enough / I want more!” she screams before begging God to give her back his soul (wow). Although the studio reverb and her unique vocal phrasing does cover up the words somewhat, the song’s power is still something that’s very potent. It’s rare for the band to invoke heaven & hell imagery at any point, but fortunately they don’t do it in any typical way (this is the B-52’s we’re talking about here), as they instead focus on not being able to let go of the recently departed and idolizing them all the same, a topic that is a wee bit creepy on paper, but, given the wild and careening lyrical nature of this album, it actually fits in quite perfectly, the quirkiness drowning out any sort of perversity whatsoever.
As it stands, however, “Hero Worship” doesn’t actually have that much of a legacy within the band’s history outside being a go-to fan favorite. It never got notably remixed, covered, or released as some one-off single in any way, but people still come back to it time and time again, the very nature of the performance and the lyrics being things that are still very unique within the group’s discography. For a song called “Hero Worship”, it actually has received very little of its own—but as is the case with The B-52’s, this is a gem that gets to be discovered by a whole cadre of would-be heroes every single day.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.