Thursday, March 5, 2009

March 5: The B-52's, "The B-52's"

Artist: The B-52's
Album: The B-52's
Year: 1979
Label: Warner Bros.

As the 1970's merged into the 1980's, Athens, Georgia was becoming a hotbed for some of the most cutting edge music in the world. Widely seen as the birthplace of the US alternative rock and US new wave scene, it produced two of the most important bands of the decade; the other being R.E.M. When it comes to being odd, the B-52's have pretty much cornered the market. Even in a time when music was in a wild state of flux, they still managed to be the freaks of the party. Though their Cosmic Thing album was far more commercially successful, their 1979 self-titled debut encapsulates everything that makes them an amazing band.

The B-52's is like no other album ever recorded. It is stripped down and it borders on an almost "kitschy" feel throughout. Pulling influences from 40's and 50's rock, beat generation poetry, surf rock, and undeniable elements of the punk scene, the band somehow brings together what seems like chaos into a peppy dance party of a record. The band knew they had created an amazing party album, and they encouraged listeners by printing the words "Play Loud" on the original vinyl release. (subsequently, the album is often referred to as "Play Loud.") Truth be told, with The B-52's as well as the albums they've released since, the louder you play them, they better and more fun they are.

Vocals have always been an aspect where the B-52's excel in ways no other band can compete. The juxtaposition of Fred Schneider's campy, spoken delivery against the somewhat shrill vocals of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson make the bands' songs immediately recognizable. This vocal duet has always given their songs a bit of a "boy vs girl" feel to their music, and has also provided them with an ability to be both aggressive and happy simultaneously. At times, Schneider's vocals become dark and maybe even a bit creepy. This is when Pierson will chime in with her angel-like vocals and provide a gorgeous contrast in sounds and styles. This can clearly be heard in their first hit single, the song that got the band noticed, the unexpected dance hit, "Rock Lobster."

Musically, The B-52's are quite eccentric, yet very strict in what varied instrumentation they use. Taking jerky rhythms much like those of Talking Heads, they inject a strange brand of funk into the music and it somehow becomes the perfect dance groove. A majority of their songs are undeniably retro and there are heavy overtones of 50's and 60's surf rock and go-go music. Even their more "pop" songs still have the feel of a time long gone by, from the guitar tones to the doubled and tripled vocal harmonies. But again, by some strange anomaly, the music has a very modern feel and it does not sound like old styles simply being redone in the present.

From their music to their fashion, The B-52's were and continue to a band off in their own little world. Some would try to write off their music as "novelty" or "kitschy" simply because it is, for lack of a better word, "fun." However, the fact remains that the songs still resonate today, which is a testament to the fact that, while "fun," they are still infectiously good songs. Combining surf rock, simple, rhythmic melodies, staggered funk, and spectacular vocals, the band created a sound that is all their own. Whether musically or vocally, The B-52's are easily one of the most recognizable bands you'll ever hear, and their self-titled debut record is a true masterpiece that is not to be missed.

Standout tracks: "52 Girls, " "Rock Lobster," and "There's A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon)."

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