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B-52's

Date of birth : -
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Athens, Georgia,U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2012-04-09

The B-52s are an American rock band, formed in Athens, Georgia in 1976. The original line-up consisted of Fred Schneider (vocals, cowbell), Kate Pierson (vocals, keyboards), Cindy Wilson (vocals, tambourine, bongos), Ricky Wilson (guitar), and Keith Strickland (drums). Following Ricky Wilson's death in 1985 Strickland switched to guitar. Then they added Tracy Wormworth (bass), Sterling Campbell (drums) and Paul Gordon (keyboards). Rooted in New Wave and 1960s rock and roll, the group later covered many genres ranging from post-punk to pop rock.

The B-52's have been a presence on the new wave music scene since 1979, when their hit "Rock Lobster" started people jumping on dance floors all over the United States and Great Britain. The band, composed of Cindy and Ricky Wilson, Kate Pierson, Fred Schneider III, and Keith Strickland, quickly became known for their wacky lyrics and bouncy music. They followed "Lobster" with a string of popular 1980s dance tunes, including "Planet Claire," "Private Idaho," and "Quiche Lorraine." After a three-year dry spell and the loss of Ricky Wilson to AIDS in 1985, the B-52's re-emerged with the 1989 album Cosmic Thing and its smash hit single, "Love Shack."

The Wilsons, who were brother and sister, and Strickland grew up in Athens, Georgia. Schneider and Pierson also lived in Athens for a long time, but are natives of New Jersey. The five became friends in Athens during the mid-1970s and, after an outing together at a Chinese restaurant late in 1976, decided to form a band. Though all had instrumental talent, they had varied levels of experience: the Wilsons had never played with a band before, Strickland had been in a high school rock group, Pierson had worked with a folk group called the Sun Donuts and played classical piano, and Schneider had been in bands with whimsical names like Bridge Mix and Night Soil. Taking their name not from the military airplane but rather from Southern slang for outrageous bouffant hairdos--which the women in the group wore during performances--the B-52's premiered at a friend's Valentine's Day party in 1977. They played for free at this gig and many others in and around Athens, not having the money to buy equipment for professional stints at the time. Until the group felt confident about their ability, they recorded their music before a performance and played it back on tape, miming their instruments--the only live part being the vocals. Apparently this worked all right except for the time someone accidentally pulled the plug on the tape player in the middle of a show.

Eventually the B-52's improved to the point where they decided to press a few of their own records, notably the song that would later become their first big hit, "Rock Lobster." They distributed the disc to reviewers and sold them to the fans at local appearances. The band received sufficient praise for "Lobster" to convince them to try their act in New York City. Late in 1977 they performed at audition night at Max's Kansas City, a Manhattan club where singers such as Patti Smith and Blondie had made their debuts. Schneider recalled for Michael Small in People: "There were only 17 people. We made 17 bucks."

By 1979 the B-52's were making more lucrative club appearances in New York, and had landed a contract with Warner Bros. Records. In that year, they released their first album, titled simply The B-52's. On the disc, they re-recorded "Rock Lobster," and the song received wide exposure for the first time. Another cut from the album that became popular in dance clubs was "Planet Claire." As Parke Puterbaugh in Rolling Stone put it, the B-52's had "unleashed" these "kitschy classics on a world that had no idea how badly it wanted to have some danceable, unselfconscious fun." The band followed their debut with 1980's Wild Planet. Though the singles from that album, "Private Idaho" and "Quiche Lorraine" did not match the success of "Rock Lobster," they were still featured numbers in discotheques.

But even with "Rock Lobster," the B-52's had not received much airplay on mainstream radio stations. As Small explained, "the ... quintet had an eccentric musical style that only the underground truly appreciated." He elaborated in a different People article that the group sounds "as if they might be the illegitimate offspring of [futuristic cartoon character] George Jetson and [early 1960s pop group] the Shirelles." Schneider had a different response: "Radio stations wouldn't play us," he told Small, "because the people who listened to us didn't buy $30,000 cars."

When Michael Tearson reviewed Bouncing Off the Satellites in Audio, the B-52's 1986 album, he noted that it seemed "subdued." If it was, it might have been because while the group was recording it, Ricky Wilson was dying of AIDS. Shortly after the studio sessions for Bouncing were completed in 1985, the band's lead guitarist passed away. As Puterbaugh reported, "his death devastated the members of the band," and the remaining B-52's did not work together again for about three years.

But, as Pierson confided to Puterbaugh, "it was really a healing thing to get together and be creative again." In 1988, they decided to compose and record a new album. Pierson talked of their composition techniques to Small: "We go into a creative netherworld where you don't monitor yourself. In jam sessions, we're all singing at the same time, bouncing off each other." Further, Strickland explained to Puterbaugh that the album that was released as Cosmic Thing in 1989 was a low-pressure activity: "We unanimously agreed that we wanted to have fun with this record and not worry about what was on the radio or what was current." As Puterbaugh pointed out, however, "ironically, radio has been extremely receptive to Cosmic Thing, " and Schneider believes it is due to the fact that the professional disc jockeys of the late 1980s were working in the college stations that used to play the B-52's music when they first became popular, and still like the band. At any rate, "Love Shack," a single from the album, has proved the B-52's most mainstream, and therefore best-selling hit so far. The title track was featured in the motion picture "Earth Girls Are Easy," and another single, "Roam," has received a great deal of airplay on pop stations.

In late 1990 Cindy Wilson took time off from the band, with Julee Cruise filling in for her parts on the eventual tour. As a trio, the B-52's released Good Stuff in 1992, and the title track reached #28 in August of that year. The album made it to #18 in the U.S. It is also the group's most overtly political album, though they had been activists and fund-raisers for environmental, AIDS and animal rights causes for many years.

The band had their next chart entry in 1994 when, as The BC-52's, they appeared in The Flintstones live-action movie and sang the title song. When released as a single, it reached #33 in the U.S. and #3 in the UK. In 1994, Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider also sang on the theme song for the Nickelodeon series Rocko's Modern Life from the second season on. In the 1990s, former Duran Duran drummer Sterling Campbell joined the band, but left in 2000 to tour with David Bowie and was replaced that year by Zachary Alford, who had recorded and toured with the band during the Cosmic Thing era.

A career retrospective, Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation, appeared in 1998 along with two remixed maxi-singles "Summer of Love '98" and "Hallucinating Pluto". Cindy Wilson rejoined the group on two of the new songs and a major tour (with co-headliners the Pretenders) to promote the collection. "Debbie", another single from the album (a tribute to Blondie's Debbie Harry), placed 35 on Billboard's Hot Modern Rock Tracks. In 1999 they recorded a parody of "Love Shack" called "Glove Slap" for an episode of The Simpsons. They co-headlined another major tour in 2000 with the Go-Go's. In 2000, the band recorded the song "The Chosen One" for the movie Pokemon: The Movie 2000.

A more extensive anthology, Nude on the Moon: The B-52's Anthology, appeared in 2002. The B-52's recorded the song "Orange You Glad It's Summer" for a Target commercial that aired in spring/summer 2002. Target also used the song "Junebug" in a TV spot in 2007.

In late 2004 the band opened for Cher on a few dates of her Farewell Tour. In March 2006 they opened for The Rolling Stones at a benefit for the Robin Hood Foundation. They had three remix EPs released by Planet Clique: Whammy! in 2005, Mesopotamia in 2006 and Wild Planet in 2007. During this time span, they appeared on many television shows including The L Word, V.I.P., The Rosie O'Donnell Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with David Letterman, The Arsenio Hall Show, Saturday Night Live, Live with Regis and Kelly, The Today Show, Good Morning America and numerous times on VH1.

Funplex, the band's first original album in sixteen years (since 1992's Good Stuff), was released on March 25, 2008 by Astralwerks. Talking about the record's sound, Keith Strickland noted, "It’s loud, sexy rock & roll with the beat turned up to hot pink." The album is produced by Steve Osborne, who was asked to work on the album based on his work with New Order on the album Get Ready. With this album, the band dropped the apostrophe from their name and became The B-52s.

The B-52s still steadily play 50–60 live shows a year, including the closing show for the 2011 edition of the Montreal Jazz Festival, the setlist ranging from tracks on Funplex to their greatest hits and songs never played live before (such as Bouncing off the Satellites ' "Wig"). The touring band includes musicians Sterling Campbell (drums), Paul Gordon (keyboards, guitar) and Tracy Wormworth (bass).

Studio albums:
-The B-52's (1979)
-Wild Planet (1980)
-Mesopotamia (1982)
-Whammy! (1983)
-Bouncing off the Satellites (1986)
-Cosmic Thing (1989)
-Good Stuff (1992)
-Funplex (2008)


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