Graham Reid | | 2 min read
To this day the remaining B-52's are ambivalent about the production on their self-titled debut by Island Records boss Chris Blackwell. As recently as this month the band's drummer Keith Strickland told Mojo magazine, "The sound was very sterile . . . it was very naked, there wasn't a lot of ambence. We were all pretty mortified with the way it sounded and I thought it was going to bomb".
"But in retrospect it was a really smart move because it was a document and it was something that did give us a singularity, where we weren't that polished but it was really together."
When John Lennon heard the album he said, "They're doing Yoko" and you can hear his point: the staccato, dry sound built around percussion and forward momentum . . . Not to mention the sometimes trilling and yelping voices of singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson.
That debut spun the radio hits Planet Claire and Rock Lobster. It also gave them a number three album in New Zealand, their highest chart position anywhere (repeated with their second album Wild Planet (the single was Private Idaho).
The B-52's implosion of sci-fi and B-grade trash horror, dancefloor pop, distinctive visual style, humour (check Song For a Future Generation on their third album Whammy) and those nail-hard rhythms delivered with nagging repition captured audiences as much as their look: bouffant hairstyles for the women, singer Fred Schneider with his pencilled-on moustache . . .
Their jerky rhythms were very much of the era -- Talking Heads, the Feelies -- but they rode them well and even if they sometimes came up short in the song department (there are more than a few songs on these five albums which go right past you) there was something just plain silly and enjoyable about them.
"Come here you little butterbean," sings Fred on Butterbean on their third album. "Some people are bad, some people are lazy, but I want you to tell me the person whot doesn't like butterbeans. You can have your yams and have your collard greens, but if you want to please little ol' me . . .".
People take rock music very seriously -- they certainly took the NYC Downtown scene in the late Seventies so when the B-52's emerged out of Athens, Georgia and made their name at Max's Kansas City and CBGBs. But this stuff was just funny. And danceable.
Their time at the top was briefer than it might have been, perhaps because New Wave and post-punk pop moved on quickly, and by their fourth album Bouncing Off Satellites they weren't damaging the charts at all.
Then, against the odds, they powered back into the charts with Love Shack and Roam off their fifth album Cosmic Thing ('89).
This excellent collection of those first five albums offers up a number of terrific, little-known gems (alongside the filler and hits) and at just $15 at JB Hi-Fi stores here, it is a welcome addition to the collection . . . and one to pull out for parties.