Music

Dance This Mess Around: The B-52's & Their Incredible First Album

They cornered the genre known as "party-pop", dressed in '60s thrift store kitsch, and poured jokes and humor into all their lyrics. Oh, and their debut album is actually one of the greatest rock albums ever made. No, really.


The B-52's

The B-52's

Label: Island
US Release Date: 1979-07-06
Amazon
iTunes

There are a lot of iconic B-52's one-liners. Most of them are funny. Some of them are downright surreal. Yet virtually all of them leave you feeling like you're going down to where the love honey grows, and picking just one to sum up the entire aesthetic of these fearless Athens, Georgia New Wavers is actually harder than you'd think. Do you pick a zinger from "Love Shack"? The bizarre "Song for a Future Generation"? The wonderful guitar strut of "Private Idaho"?

There's an abundance to choose from, but if you had to go with just one kitsch classic, it's hard to argue with Fred Schneider giving voice to the single greatest warning cry your ears have ever heard: "There goes a narwhal!"

This, of course, comes from one of the group's signature songs, "Rock Lobster" (which also served as their debut single back in 1978), and can be found on their 1979 self-titled debut. A funny thing about that first full-length, though: despite containing memorable tunes like "Rock Lobster" and "Planet Claire", there is an honest-to-goodness magic that is contained within such an unassuming nine-song goof of a disc. It's more than just novelty songs: on this album (and, tragically, only this album), this wacky five-piece -- consisting of drummer Keith Strickland, guitarist Ricky Wilson, and that inimitable trio of great vocalists: Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, and Cindy Wilson -- managed to create an entire world all their own, one where goofy and sexy could co-exist in the same song (sometimes right on the same line), where comedy wasn't made without a great sense of songcraft behind it, and, best of all, absolutely nothing else sounds like it, either when it was released or even now, some 35 years down the line.

While their formation story has been told several times over -- what with this group of Athens, GA friends jamming at a local Chinese restaurant before playing their first-ever gig at a friend's house on Valentine's Day in 1977, soon naming themselves after a kitschy 1960s hairdo, their first single "Rock Lobster" becoming an underground hit before Island Records president Chris Blackwell wound up producing the group's debut -- and while their legacy has been defined by late-'80s/early-'90s landmarks like "Love Shack" and "Roam", their finest artistic statement remains that simple nine-track debut effort. On their early '80s albums, they still managed to find moments where they truly managed to rock out, but their debut album was that only time that they truly managed to be sexy as well.

Truly, there are few debut albums that have arrived as fully-formed as The B-52's, and when all the songs are taken together, from the opening B-movie narrative of "Planet Claire" to the closing cover of Petula Clark's signature song "Downtown", one realizes that by taking all these junk-culture tropes (the odd jokes, the obsession with all things vintage, etc.) and wrapping them in sturdy, polished songs with a bit of a gritty production finish, you have something that no one could have expected from a group that so often gets written off as a mere novelty band: actual, genuinely human moments. Underneath those monster hairdos, there are big brains and beating hearts, and even when a lot of the band's lyrics consist of nothing but lists (see: dance crazes, invented fish, just girls' names), their lasting impact is greater and more memorable than some would argue it has any right to be.

Although the album's commercial success has been modest (although it never charted higher than #59 on the Billboard 200, it has gone platinum, making it the band's second-best-selling album after 1989's Cosmic Thing), the pure emotional power of this album isn't lost on everyone: VH1 named it #99 on their list of the 100 greatest albums ever made, while Rolling Stone placed it at #152 on their own list of the 500 greatest. Everyone knows "Rock Lobster", but few people know the rest of the joyous pieces that make up the awesome power The B-52's, and over the coming weeks, we will dance this mess around, get out our lava lamps, and explore why the B-52's' debut album is one of the greatest albums ever made.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.