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B-52s Biography


Home > Music > B > B-52s > Biography


Birth Place: Athens, Georgia, United States
Years Active: 1976-present
Genres: New Wave, Post-punk, Pop Rock


The B-52's 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. Rooted in New Wave and 1960s rock and roll, the group later covered many genres ranging from post-punk to pop rock. The “guy vs. gals” vocals of Schneider, Pierson, and Wilson, sometimes used in call and response style are a trademark. Presenting themselves as a positive, enthusiastic, slightly oddball party band, the B-52's tell tall tales, glorify wild youth, and celebrate wild romance. The band name had long been “The B-52's,” until 2008 when they dropped the apostrophe and are now “The B-52s.”

Their first single, “Rock Lobster,” recorded for DB Records in 1978, was an underground success, which led to The B-52s performing at CBGB and Max's Kansas City in New York City. In Canada, released on the Warner Bros. label, the single went from cult hit to bona fide smash, eventually going on to reach the #1 position in Canada in 1980.

In 1979 The B-52s signed a contract with Warner Bros. Records agreeing to Chris Blackwell producing their debut studio album. Recorded at Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas, and released in July 1979 under the Island Records label, “The B-52's” contained re-recorded versions of “Rock Lobster” and “52 Girls,” six originals recorded solely for the album, and a remake of the Petula Clark single "Downtown.” It was a major success for the band, in the U.S., the single “Rock Lobster” reached the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart, while the album itself was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

The follow-up, “Wild Planet,” reached #18 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart in 1980 and was certified gold. “Private Idaho” became their second Hot 100 entry. Their third album “Party Mix!” was released next, a remix album that took tracks from the first two LPs and presented them in extended forms. In 1981 the band collaborated with musician David Byrne to produce a fourth studio album. Due to alleged conflicts with Byrne over the album's musical direction recording sessions for the album were aborted, prompting the band to release the album, Mesopotamia (1982), as an extended play (EP);[8] in 1991, Party Mix! and Mesopotamia, the latter of which had been remixed, were combined and released together on a single compact disc.

In 1983 the band released “Whammy!” which brought the band into synthesizer and drum machine experimentation. The album entered the Billboard 200 chart in 1983, reaching #29 during the year. “Legal Tender” reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Singles chart alongside “Whammy Kiss” and “Song for a Future Generation.”

After taking a one year absence from their musical careers in 1984 The B-52s regrouped in 1985 to record “Bouncing off the Satellites,” their fifth studio record. During the recording, guitarist Wilson had been suffering from AIDS/HIV-related health complications. On October 12, 1985 Wilson died from the illness, at the age of 32. The band went into seclusion and did not tour to promote the album, prompting a hiatus from their musical careers.

During the hiatus following Wilson's death Strickland switched from drums to guitar and began writing music. After Strickland played some of his new music for the other band members, they all agreed to try writing together again, with Pierson, Wilson and Schneider contributing the lyrics and melodies. In 1989 the band released “Cosmic Thing,” their mainstream breakthrough. The single “Channel Z,” became an alternative and college radio hit, hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart. The next single, “Love Shack,” became their first Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, ultimately reaching #3 in November 1989. That peak was matched in March 1990 when their follow-up single, “Roam,” also reached #3. The “Cosmic Thing” album climbed into the U.S Top 5 and earned multi-platinum certification.

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-52s 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 U.K.

“Funplex,” the band's first original album in sixteen years (since 1992's “Good Stuff”), was released in March 2008by Astralwerks. The album was produced by Steve Osborne, who was asked to work on the album based on his work with New Order. With this album, the band dropped the apostrophe from their name and became The B-52s. “Funplex” debuted at #11 on the Billboard 200, immediately making it the second-highest charting B-52s album ever. The first single from the album was the title track, "”Funplex.” The second single lifted from the album was “Juliet of the Spirits.”