For anyone who lived their formative years during the 1980’s, new wave music was surely a part of that experience. New wave music first came about in the late seventies and melded together two dying genres of music: punk and disco. With a more rockish sound than disco music and less of a harder edge than punk, new wave music became very popular during the decade and a great many stars were borne out of the movement.
One of the most enduring bands to come out of the new wave movement was the Athens, Georgia-based B-52’s. The five-member group consisting of Fred Schneider (vocals), Kate Pierson (vocals), Cindy Wilson (vocals), Keith Strickland (guitar, drums, keyboards), and Ricky Wilson (guitars) started their journey in 1976 and created an as yet unheard of type of sound that eventually skyrocketed them to garner a huge following that has spanned more than thirty years.
The band has been through a lot over the years, most notably losing founding member Ricky Wilson to an AIDS-related illness in 1985. The death resulted in a temporary hiatus from making music for the devastated band, which wouldn’t put out a new album until the hugely successful “Cosmic Thing” in 1989. Nevertheless The B-52s have amassed a nice collection of memorable tunes over the years, and here are their ten best:
#10 – Legal Tender
The opening track to the band’s third album, “Whammy!,” is a slow, but steady moving ditty that pokes fun at the craft of counterfeiting. It’s a fun tune that gets the album going in a nice way.
#9 – Whammy Kiss
Whammy kiss me
Revitalize me give me whammy love…
C’mon mammy, throw me that whammy
This song, the title track to the band’s “Whammy!,” hearkens to their first effort, with a steady, rhythmic music track coupled with lyrics that are indecipherable, a staple of the band’s sound. It’s one of those things that the band did so well and helped make them what they are.
#8 – Song for a Future Generation
Not a huge hit by any means in many places, but this tune, from the “Whammy!” album is unique in that all five members of the band have a turn at taking lead vocal. The song is satirical in that it pokes fun at that part of the American dream about being married and becoming whatever you want. Great song!
#7 – Roam
This eco-friendly, global village kind of tune was the follow-up to the immensely popular “Love Shack” and it’s pretty good all on its own. The dual vocals here by Kate and Cindy are simply splendid!
#6 – Give Me Back My Man
Here’s a favorite from the B’s second effort “Wild Planet.” With a steady, typical guitar riff that epitomizes the band’s sound and even more nonsensical lyrics, this one’s a winner!
#5 – Strobe Light
One of this writer’s personal favorites, “Strobe Light” is nothing but pure fun! The song is a wonderfully brilliant dialogue between Fred and Kate about getting together for “love under the light.” Fabulous!
#4 – Planet Claire
This iconic tune is all about a chick from a foreign planet who drives a Plymouth Satellite and breathes pink air. With a long guitar intro and few lyrics, this one is classic B-52s!
#3 – Dance This Mess Around
Why don’t you dance with me?
I’m not no limberger!
This song, from the B’s first album, is slower during the verses, which borrow lyrics from the Supremes, and really gets going as Cindy belts out the nonsensical chorus, and it gets even more raucous as Fred joins in for the finale.
#2 – Love Shack
Though the B-52’s had been around for more than twelve years by the time this one came out, they never really had a huge hit until this was released in 1989. The song, with such memorable lines as the famous, “tin roof, rusted,” helped make this one a million copy seller and catapulted the group into the pop stratosphere.
#1 – Rock Lobster
Even though “Love Shack” may be the B-52’s most successful single ever, this is the one that put them on the map. From their debut eponymous album, “Rock Lobster” is the very symbol of what gave this group their own unique sound, with fast-moving guitar riffs that induce the body to dance and lyrics that make absolutely no sense at all. The tune is the band’s first to become a hit, hitting the #58 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1978, and remains as the band’s best song.
So there you have it, the ten best songs from that iconic new wave band, The B-52s. Of course there are some honorable mentions bubbling just below the surface of the top ten that include such classics as “Summer of Love,” “52 Girls,” “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland,” and others. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane and please check out some other top tens and reviews of 80’s music:
The Top Ten New Wave Songs of the 80’s
The Top Twenty New Wave bands of the 80’s, Part I
The Top Twenty New Wave bands of the 80’s, Part II
The 80’s: A Decade in Music
Essential Albums of the 80’s: Yaz’ “Upstairs at Eric’s”