It took a potent tropical beverage and a vivid dream to give birth to one of the most unique party bands in music.
The B-52s formed after a night out drinking Flaming Volcanos at a local Chinese restaurant. An impromptu jam session followed, where it was evident that something special was happening.
Drummer Keith Strickland had a dream about a group of people with big hair, in which the name of the group was whispered to him. Thus the band’s look and name was cemented.
Its five members brought a broad range of largely avant garde influences to the group, which helped shaped the unique sound of the band. Artists such as Nino Rota, Dusty Springfield, James Brown, Junior Walker, Captain Beefheart, Aku Pygmy music and as well as the incredible vocalist Yma Sumac and Yoko Ono were all major influences.
Yoko Ono’s influence can be heard through Cindy Wilson’s screechy quavering yowls in their kooky breakout first single ‘Rock Lobster’.
Guitarist Ricky Wilson came up with the ridiculously infectious riff while singer Fred Schneider came up with the lobster lyrical imagery via Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear books he was reading at the time.
John Lennon, whilst holidaying in Bermuda, heard ‘Rock Lobster’ while in a bar. He called Yoko, ecstatic that her music had an influence on others. He has credited the song with helping him find his musical mojo, the creative outpouring resulting in a swag of songs such as ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’, ‘Woman’, ‘Beautiful Boy’ and ‘Watching The Wheels’ which formed their 1980 Double Fantasy album.
In the suburbs of Virginia, a young Dave Grohl was settling in for his essential weekend viewing of Saturday Night Live. On the show that night The B-52s powered their way through songs from their self-titled album. He was instantly hooked by the weirdness and energy of their look and songs.
It wasn’t just a passing fascination for him either. In a 1997 Melody Maker interview Grohl said that The B-52s were “…definitely the first thing after KISS or Rush that totally absorbed me like that.”
One of the things the B-52s wanted to accomplish was for people to embrace their difference and encourage people to be who they are and accept themselves.Kate Pierson
Although they’ve been crowned The World’s Greatest Party Band by author Mats Sexton, singer Kate Pierson told Al Jazeera America last year that there was a side to the band that’s been overlooked.
"We felt like everyone's just calling us, 'wacky, wacky, wacky,' and they didn't understand the incredible seriousness of the band," Pierson said.
“I think the greatest legacy of the band, I realised later, is that people are allowed to have fun. To let their freak flag fly. It gives people joy and it actually helped a lot of people get through life.”
Lyrics like ‘If you’re in outer space, don’t feel out of place, ‘cause there are thousands of others just like you, others like you, others like you…’ from album track ‘There’s A Moon in the Sky’ provided comfort and courage to anyone who felt like an outsider.
Kate Pierson re-iterated this in 2014 on AfterEllen.
“I think aside from being gay, one of the things the B-52s wanted to accomplish was for people to embrace their difference and encourage people to be who they are and accept themselves.”
Whether you listen for kicks, or get something more serious out of The B-52s debut, it still stands up as a classic cut of genius, off-kilter pop.