Music

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

Their last song is a bit of a party-ending lark (a cover of Petula Clark's "Downtown"), but cooling down is just the move needed to close out one of the greatest pop albums in history.


The B-52's

The B-52's

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

For an album as giddy, raw, punkish, fun, and overall exciting as The B-52's is, it is actually somewhat fitting that the final song on it isn't only a cover, but also a stripped down, laid-back, celebratory send-off to one of the finest discs in the history of pop music.

Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, part of what made The B-52's so special was the fact that while the band certainly borrowed tropes from B-movies, vintage shops, and forgotten New Wave 45s to create a universe that was all its own, it wound up creating an album that was musically well-considered and very assertive (sometimes even downright aggressive) with lyrics that were offbeat, wacky, and hinting at real human emotions when you weren't distracted by their bizarre turns towards the sci-fi. Outside of "There's a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)", where the song's title proves better than the song itself, The B-52's is truly one of the greatest pop albums ever made. The B-52's were never able to fully recreate the magic captured here (and boy howdy did they try sometimes), but after introducing us to their own unique and strange world with such unbelievable conviction, closing with a Petula Clark cover just seems absolutely fitting.

Opening with some room chatter, as if this was done at an office party, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilsonquietly sing and shout as the drums (complete with cowbell!) keep a simple beat and the old whirring keyboard is used the song's only instrument at the start. There's a bit of an unrehearsed, casual vibe to the whole thing, almost like it was recorded on a lark, but during the track's last minute, Ricky Wilson's guitar adds in a few notes, and then the full-band sound comes into play, giving a nice bit of pep and energy at the end before fading out, just like it started, into some casual conversations -- and then the disc stops spinning.

While some may argue that by closing with "Downtown", the album goes out with a whimper instead of a bang, but after wrapping up the b-side with the charge- up tracks of "Hero Worship" and "6060-842", "Downtown" serves as an excellent cool-down, a good-natured vibe to let the people know that while the party is over, the mood doesn't have to be dour because of it. Hence the nice element of the people talking before and after the song (and even a bit during): the song is kind of secondary to everything else at the moment, more of a tone-setter than a fully realized work -- which, due to its placement, works brilliantly.

Some bands truly are capable of creating their own universes within the course of their discographies, but the B-52's wound up doing so within their own, compressing their worldview into a bright yellow album that reeks of originality and was absolutely unafraid to be weird. It was bold for a band that soon got consumed by its own knack for party-pop whimsy, and while there were great songs after, no album ever featured the same attitude or style that it displayed here. Even with "Rock Lobster" having gained an immortality all its own, "Hero Worship", "52 Girls", and especially "Dance This Mess Around" are all absolute, undisputed gems, all stemming from a rarefied air that most bands only wished they could capture for a single song, much less an entire album.

Although my own memory can be spotty sometimes, I actually think that the B-52's were the very first concert I ever attended, where the Pretenders and the Mask-featured swing band Royal Crown Revue opened for them. The B-52's invited certain members to come up on stage and dance during the duration of their set as they went out to tour on the strength of Time Capsule, their single-disc greatest hits set, but although the concert was extremely good, I was left with the impression that these people didn't treat pop music like a monolith to be worshiped but more like a playground to fool around in. They were sometimes sexy but never overt, often wacky but never too far-flung as to stretch credulity. They were, in fact, just the B-52's, one of the most unique bands to ever exist, and, with this one disc, they crafted a world that we all wanted to live on upon first listen. Although they never matched the end-to-end quality of this disc, in some ways, they didn't need to: this is the finest distillation of their aesthetic, and, truly, one of the greatest pop albums in history.


Previous installments:

*Introduction

*"Planet Claire"

*"52 Girls"

*"Dance This Mess Around"

*"Rock Lobster"

*"Lava"

*"There's a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)"

*"Hero Worship"

*"6060-842"

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image