[18 August 2014]
PopMatters Interviews Editor
Sorry, Tommy Tutone: the B’s got ya beat.
The penultimate track to the B-52’s’ seminal debut album, the follow-up to the somewhat more dramatic lyrical leanings of “Hero Worship” proves to be something that is firmly in Fred Schneider’s carnival-barker wheelhouse, even though the whole band (save Cindy Wilson) wound up writing it. It is a goofy party-rocker that has a surprising amount of punk energy, even if the guitar distortion is kept to a minimum.
Opening with the tapped-out drum beat that corresponds with Fred, Kate, and Cindy shouting out the titular phone number digit-by-digit, and then the song breaks into its surprisingly simple structure: two strummed major chords on repeat. Ricky Wilson’s strum pattern helps give the song verve, with several well-placed down-strokes adding a bit more rhythm and personality to the proceedings, but once the chorus hits, he adds in one more note into the mix, still keeping the riffs raw and agile, the momentum never stopping.
At the one-minute mark, the guitars drop out as the “Dial the number to call” portion starts up, Ricky Wilson adding some dry and atonal notes as decoration as the rest of the song is given a nice stop-and-start lurch, bongos reintroduced to give more weight to Keith Strickland’s drums, those and the keyboard swells giving nice echoes to the start of the album, the mixture of heavy instrumentation married to a punk ethos for what ultimately proves to be a remarkably zesty little pop number.
The lyrics, of course, get close to nothing accomplished, lying closer to the realm of a Seinfeld plotline more than anything else. It tells the story of Tina, who went into the ladies’ room and saw a number to call if she wanted a “very nice time”. The rest of the song is literally a tease, the chorus featuring Kate and Cindy saying that “606 and I’m waiting for you!” in some of their sweetest coos, but Tina time and time again finds out that the number just doesn’t exist, despite dialing the “stupid number all day long”. The song ends with several attempts to have a conversation with a disconnected number (Schneider’s cries of “Hello?” getting increasingly pained), firmly planting the song, of course, in the B-52’s’ universe of the weird.
As the song reaches its final stretch, there’s a flurry of guitar strums in the chorus that could shake a room, but then they fade out into the simple stop-start three-chord chug of the latter verses, bongos and keyboards still playing around before it all stops at once. Clocking in at just under three minutes, this was one of the last three songs that was actually written for inclusion on the LP (the others being the album’s low-point “There’s a Moon in the Sky” and arguably the group’s greatest-ever number, “Dance This Mess Around”), and crackles with an energy and aloofness that the group just wasn’t able to recreate on their latter albums. It still personifies the spirit of the album in glorious fashion, and has become a minor cult notice in its own right.
In 2007, the band Karmadoza wound up doing an entire album of modern, more punkish reworkings of the B-52’s’ most notable hits, and ‘lo and behold, “6060-842” was one of the disc’s highlights. That tribute also focused on some of the earlier, lesser-known tracks in the B’s’ discography, a third of its songs actually coming from this album.
As if it needs mentioning again, part of what makes The B-52’s such a compelling album is how utterly lost in its own universe it is, its slightly fractured sense of humor somehow managing to tie everything together. Prince is someone else who tried imposing his humor on both his films and his albums, but with the B-52’s, the jokes were actually funny. (Although, it bears noting that in the original album’s liner notes, there is a footnote that reads “This is an imaginary phone number and any similarities to this number are purely coincidental.”)