Dance This Mess Around: The B-52's - "Dance This Mess Around"

When you think of B-52's songs, you think fun, wacky, playful, bizarre. With "Dance This Mess Around", you get raw, emotionally charged, sultry, and ... the best song they ever wrote.

The B-52's

Dance This Mess Around [single]

Label: Island
US Release Date: 1979

When people think of the B-52's, they often think of fun, silly, and energetic party-pop songs, and for good reason: a great majority of the hits they're remembered for fit this bill to a T, filled with call-and-response vocals and rather buoyant melodies. Sometimes they were goofy, sometimes they were a bit more traditional with their themes, but they were always a lot of people's one-stop-shop for good times and fun rhymes.

However, what may arguably be the single greatest song they've ever created retains none of these features. "Dance This Mess Around" is filled with longing, a bit of rage, and a vibe that is downright sultry, the soundtrack to a late-night slowjam in a room lit by nothing but lava lamps. There has never been a B-52's song quite like it, but, most distressingly, they never attempted to go after this vibe ever again.

The first song on The B-52's that was written by the entire band, "Dance This Mess Around" opens with an incessant '60s keyboard bounce that matches a thick, descending bassline and Ricky Wilson's open strum guitar chords, creating an atmosphere that's unusually sparse in comparison to the rest of the band's work. Once Cindy Wilson's voice comes in, though, she sings with a quiet, understated tone, one that's more reflective than celebratory. "Remember", she starts, "when you held my hand?" Then, as Fred Schneider's surprisingly haunting toy piano plinks join in, Cindy delivers a much more personal query: "I say remember / When you were my man?"

Although playing things close to the heart has never been the band's MO, there's still a few songs that have hinted at deeper, raw emotions, and "Dance This Mess Around" truly shows the group with their guard let down. The song's second half distracts us from the emotional inquiries at the onset, naming lots of non-existent dances like "the Aqua Velva" and "the Shy Tuna" while Cindy engages Fred in more call-and-response vocals ("Doesn't that make you feel a whole lot better?" she asks; "Huh?" is what she gets in response).

Yet even with the veil of silliness drawn part-way through, there are few goosebump-inducing moments as potent as when Cindy screams the song's pre-chorus during that first verse: "Why don't you dance with me?! / I'm not no Limburger!" While referencing a paritcular type of cheese assuredly falls within the nonsense-driven lyrical universe that the B-52's inhabit, the passion in which Cindy screeches out "Why don't you dance with me?" is that of a woman scorned, confused, and breaking. Prior to this, she asks her mystery man to "roll it over in your mind", referring to this idea that she doesn't need her heart broken again. The actual lyrics, sparse as they may be, only hint at so much, but Cindy's performance sells us on a pain that is much deeper than what is superficially there. Name all the dances you want, but the narrator of his song is hurting, and, also, is not cheese.

As always, some well-placed unamplified strums by Ricky Wilson ends up helping creating a unique and foreboding atmosphere, as the song goes through enough dynamic shifts to keep things interesting even though it's all rooted in the same melody line. The band would go on to write songs keeping this sort of sparseness on their second album (see: "Dirty Back Road" from 1980's Wild Planet), but rarely were they able to recreate this kind of emotional intensity on later works.

The song was released as the third and final single from the B-52's' debut album, and although it reached #24 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play charts, it failed to breakthrough to the mainstream even after the group played it during their appearance on the January 26th, 1980 episode of Saturday Night Live (with host Teri Garr). Some raw footage from 1978 shows just how raw-nerve the song could be given the circumstances, but, really, true B-52's fans have known this track for years as not only one of the finest tunes the group has ever composed, but also one of the absolute best tracks of the era, commercial recognition be damned. This, along with "52 Girls", are the kind of songs that gave the band's debut its distinct personality, and it's for this reason that it's a shame they never came close to matching it ever again.

Previous installments:


*"Planet Claire"

*"52 Girls"






In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?


The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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