SIDE ONE TRACK ONE: THE B-52’S

Yesterday The B-52’s announced their Farewell European tour, which is sure to be a bittersweet set of shows. We chatted with Cindy Wilson about the band’s back catalogue, and those all important album openers.

At TRASH we celebrate the art of the album. Sure, streaming’s convenient, but nothing beats the anticipation of getting a physical release home from the record store, hearing the tracks in the order the artist intended, and of course, hearing which track they wanted to be the introduction of a brand new chapter.

Following our Funplex episode of Track By Track: The TRASH Music Podcast yesterday, and with news of the band returning to the UK for one final fling this summer, we discussed the band’s seven studio albums (and one EP) and those all important first impressions – could any open the upcoming shows?

How often do you go back and listen to The B-52’s albums?

I do it every few years. I just sit down and spend the whole day listening from top to bottom. I remember last time I did that I was crying at times, and I thought, ‘how interesting is this group? How unusual. And nobody’s like this…’ It was free and easy… Imagination and magic. I love Kate and my harmonies, how they take off and propel. They’re really experimental, and that comes from just jamming and liking the unusual. The more unusual the better! And then we put all the ingredients together and see if it makes sense… It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t.

In a world of streams and YouTube views, how important is an album to you?

I always used to go buy a record when I got my allowance – I liked to hold it in my hands and read the notes. I like the sound of a vinyl – it’s wonderful. You can’t beat it.

Planet Claire (The B-52’s, 1979)

We wanted to start it off with a bang, and it certainly did that. It had all the ingredients of The B-52’s: Ricky’s wonderful riff, Keith and Ricky’s partnership with the music, and Keith’s hard-driving drums. Kate and I were acting like background singers to Fred’s crazy frontman deal, and he’s such a great wordsmith. He painted this wonderful crazy scene – as you know with tracks like Rock Lobster – and it’s nonsensical sometimes, but it’s playful and wonderful so it’s a fantastic song to start off the first record with.

We play Planet Claire every single show. Of course we were thinking sci-fi movies and space age, a real American kitsch kind of space age, with lobsters and planets with pink hair, and nobody has a head… It’s like a poem. And Kate does her wonderful, sci-fi vocal, and that really propels the song. It’s a really great song.

Party Out Of Bounds (Wild Planet, 1980)

It wasn’t a difficult second album because we had enough songs for two albums. Wild Planet was easy. Even the lesser songs that people don’t usually ask about, I love them! It’s a fun thing, this stream of consciousness, and it’s playful — it’s everybody’s energy together, and it’s a hard way to write. We recorded it in the Bahamas — Chris Blackwell had a house there, with a studio. It was a vacation. Actually, Wild Planet might be my favourite. I like the sound of it, and I’ve got lots of good memories.

People like Party Out Of Bounds. I think everyone can relate to a party that goes crazy and you can’t control it! It’s one of those party horror songs, which is a lot of fun to do every night – I enjoy it. I scream out “House-a-tosis!”, which you British guys wouldn’t know the reference; it’s from an old TV commercial in America about a spray to clean the air in the room. Again, very kitschy and funny… We thought it was hilarious.

Loveland (Mesopotamia, 1982)

We’d bought a house in Putnam County, New York, on a big lake, with the money we got from Warner Brothers. We’d been touring so much and there’d been so many changes, but it was very exciting and fun. We were expected to settle down and start writing some more, but we’d have parties, and we were friends with the Talking Heads, so we interviewed a few people [to produce the album] but we thought that David Byrne would be an interesting guy to do it, and he really did make an interesting sound. I like what he did, but it was craziness. Warner Brothers didn’t like all of the songs… That was weird, come to think about it. Mesopotamia became a big hit in Detroit, which was really cool. This radio DJ started playing it, and it was really popular. It might have been one of our first big hits.

The music’s really beautiful on Loveland — it was one of Ricky & Keith’s greats. It works as an instrumental better, I think.

Legal Tender (Whammy!, 1983)

This is when the drum machine came in, and Ricky and Keith were loving that sound. It was very modern, and those were the days of MTV so we did a video which is really cool. I think it was one of our first videos. We weren’t afraid to do something new and be playful with music and enjoy writing. That’s what this album was about too. And we got friends to submit lyrics that we would take and jam with. We did that a few times – Roam was written by Robert Waldrop, and Jeremy Ayres wrote the lyrics to 52 Girls. We were very open to mixing that up. I loved that atmosphere it just worked — if you’re open things will come in, and that will work.

Legal Tender is a really cool song, one of my favourites. I love the lyrics to it, and it’s so kooky. And it was just unexpected. We loved something unexpected.

Summer Of Love (Bouncing off the Satellites, 1986)

Summer Of Love is beautiful song, and sounded really modern. And it still holds up today. Again, it’s Ricky and Keith’s music, but I wrote the lyrics and vocal melody. It turned out so well. I love things that can take you on trip. I’m proud of Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland too.

Cosmic Thing (Cosmic Thing, 1989)

After Ricky passed, Keith moved to Woodstock, New York, and we were all very depressed and mourning Ricky’s loss. But the way Keith was handling it was to write music, so he approached me, Kate and Fred and said, “Do y’all want to try and do something?” We didn’t know if we could, so we rented a room to jam — nothing fancy, something cheap in South Manhattan on Murray Street. It turned out really great, it was just what we needed to heal. Music was a lifesaver… Many times. It was a healing thing for The B-52’s, and it felt like a great camaraderie, like Ricky was there. We had no idea how insanely popular this album was going to be – the songs were focussing back on the earlier days in Athens, Georgia when life was easy, and things were great. So it’s a very nostalgic album, but it turned out to be the most popular album The B-52’s ever wrote, which blew our minds!

Cosmic Thing is a good show opener, it’s like a space-age hootenanny — just a dance party and a frenzy. But we’d have a riot if we didn’t play Love Shack, and I have to say, there’s a certain segment of our audience that love B-52’s pre-Cosmic Thing. They like old B-52’s. And it would be my favourite time because Ricky was there, and it was so thrilling. Not to say it’s not fun now!

Tell It Like It T-I-Is (Good Stuff, 1992)

With success comes a lot of hard, hard work. We toured for three years with Cosmic Thing because it was such a hit – we went around the world and back again so I kinda got burned out, and I was still sad that Ricky wasn’t with us — it had changed things a little bit as far as touring went. I loved the band, it was a family, but there was still something aching inside of me. So I longed to go back to Georgia — taking the midnight train to Georgia! My husband was kicking and screaming, but it was family time, and I got to know my friends. It was a good thing; my parents passed a few years later so I got to have that time with them. After Cosmic Thing there was a lot of pressure to write fast — after that popularity you can’t wait for years, so I think the others had to write fairly quickly but there’s some really good songs on there. Now I get to sing on Is That You Mo-Dean?

We haven’t played Tell It Like It T-I-Is for a while though.

Pump (Funplex, 2008)

We were taking our time with this album, because we were touring and doing shows, and then every once in a while we’d come to Atlanta and head to the studio. It took us a while to do it, but I’m proud of it. I think the harmonies are really pretty.

Pump is a lot fun. Again it has that hard-hitting thing — it’s a good dance number. We’ve thought about releasing a single more recently, but Keith left so it would be really tough to have a good B-52’s album. I wouldn’t mind experimenting with trying to do something, but we get a kick out of touring.

© Robert Gershinson 2018

We celebrated the anniversary of Funplex by featuring it on the latest episode of Track By Track: The TRASH Music Podcast, which you can find here.

If you missed it, Cindy Wilson featured on Shoot First Talk Later: The Photoshoot Podcast. Look and listen here.

Missed Cindy Wilson’s solo tour last year? We were there at Under The Bridge, and here‘s what we thought to it.

Comments (2):

  1. John

    March 27, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    Great article – thanks so much!
    One small point – in Party Out of Bounds, Cindy says “Eww. House-a-tosis!” Not House of Toasters, lol. The old commercial for Glade Air Spray (I believe) said it fought House-a-Tosis – like a take off on halitosis or bad breath. Maybe Cindy’s southern accent threw you off there. 😉

    Reply
  2. Dan Bull

    March 27, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    Haha, it did throw me off! But what a wonderful accent it is. All changed now, thanks for the heads up 👌

    Reply

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