It’s hard to imagine that the world was ready for the likes of The B-52’s in 1979 with the release of their self-titled debut album. With an unheard mesh of new wave, dance-pop, surf rock, and art rock, The B-52’s crafted themselves a unique sound a bit ahead of what was to come in the following decade. With their avant-garde and humorous lyrics, The B-52’s earned their place as one of the early adopters of the classic alternative rock sound with unusually groovy tracks like the eccentric lead-off single, Rock Lobster.
Prior to guitarist Ricky Wilson's untimely and tragic death in 1985, the group along with their brethren in the alternative rock realm embraced the guitar forward sound heard no better than on Rock Lobster, 52 Girls and Lava. With the help of Ricky’s unusual guitar tunings and plenty of synths, no other bands really quite had that same sound. The vocal trio leading the group made up of Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, and Cindy Wilson embraced all of the weirdness and creativity of the times leaving timeless and fun-loving lyrics.
Apart from the well-aged track Rock Lobster and all of its references in pop culture over the years, tracks like Planet Claire and Lava have aged just as well. Taking inspiration from the Peter Gunn private-eye television theme of the early 60’s, the opening track Planet Claire expresses unmatched levels of avant-garde mixed with Ricky’s groovy guitar hook. From morse code and a smoke alarm as an instrument, to Kate Pierson harmonizing with a synthesizer, tracks like these just beg to be put on repeat.
As B-52’s fans will tell you, their lyrics are anything from typical. Fred Schnieder tells a comical story about a phone number in a lady’s room in 6060-842, before Tommy Tutone made it cool. Atypical lyrics are heard all throughout the thrash-influenced LP apart from just the staple Rock Lobster. Aside from all the fun and weirdness that was this band, the guitar may have been the secret weapon. The bridge between new-wave and alternative rock is almost always built on the backs of guitarists with this team of misfits being no different.
Whether it’s Fred Schnieder’s talking-lyrical style, the melodic shrieking of Cindy and Kate, or Ricky’s guitar, the debut album is often rightfully thrown in the mix when discussing the most important new-wave and early alternative albums. Retrospectively speaking, it can be hard to see the importance of the closing track Downtown made famous by Petula Clark (and of course the gang from Seinfeld). Perhaps to the youth of the time, it was a “cool '' take on a song liked by their “uncool” parents although retrospectively, it does not quite carry the same weight as the first eight tracks.
From videos across the internet and stories of those fortunate enough to see the band live in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the energy and party atmosphere of The B-52’s live shows were unparalleled. The group nailed the atmosphere while backing it up with skillful musicianship, breaking barriers between dance-pop and alternative rock. When discussing iconic early alternative rock albums, nothing quite sounds like this one, and there really can’t be much of a doubt of its legacy.