the b52’s

So. Haven’t written about music in a while. Therefore I will offer something old first and then something new second.

The old.

B52s are celebrating 35 years. Think about it … the B-52s played their first show at a Valentine’s Day party in Athens, Ga. in 1977. Now. I didn’t see that show <I was in Los Angeles then> but I am fairly sure I saw them close to this time.

Greek theater in Los Angeles. They opened for the Talking Heads <and I have probably seen them 4 more times since then over the years>.

That was an awesomely weird show. Both bands musically quite talented. Both bands musically performed some quite different music then the music I heard the night before at the same theater (Christopher Cross opening for Fleetwood Mac).

Regardless. B52s are often underrated as a band because their music is so different and very quirky and awesomely weird. While it is easy to label it party music … it is kind of a quirky disciplined chaos.

Anyway. Here is my main example.

Rock Lobster, probably their best known – and possibly their best – song shouldn’t be measured by its awesomely quirky lyrics but rather the amazing guitar riff that carries it and makes up the really well done closing minute or so of the song.

They shouldn’t be measured by the fact the lead, Fred, couldn’t sing his way onto a deaf choir (although he may have been one of the first lyrical white rappers) but rather Kate Pierson’s melodic voice and Cindy Wilson’s lyrical delivery.

Sure. They are one of the best party bands of all time and their concerts rank up in my “best parties of all time” but their really good songs are just plain …well …good.

The secret in my eyes?

The guitar playing.

And that is/was primarily Ricky Wilson.

The original guitar player.

It is obvious to anyone who listens the stylistic playing aspect part of the songs … but there was something I just couldn’t quite put my finger on that made it sound unique. And <of course> I did some research to see if someone else had put their finger on it.

I will give you the salient points first <as the answer>.

1. Ricky didn’t know standard tuning on his guitar.

2. <and I had forgotten the first aspect> B52s didn’t have a lead & bass guitar players so Ricky, when he played, was covering both roles … and strung his guitar to both.


I found someone who had played with Ricky:

i can tell you something about ricky’s “style.” i spent some time with ricky. we were playing different things and he kept trying different tunings. after a while i said, “well, why don’t you just try standard tuning and maybe we can come up with something interesting that way too?”

he said, “i don’t know standard tuning” so i said, “well, what tuning are you in, (G?, D?, etc…) and i can show you how to get to standard tuning from there” and he said, “i don’t know what tuning i am in.”

I said, “huh, you don’t know what tuning you are in? how do you write songs?” and he said, “i just tune the strings till i hear something i like and then something comes out.”

so i asked him, “well, how do you replay the songs you have written, like rock lobster? do you write down the tunings?” and he said, “no, i don’t write anything down, and i have no idea how the tunings go. i asked him, “how the hell do you play the songs again then”, and he said (in all seriousness), “i don’t know!” if you try to copy ricky’s style, you are in for a hell of a figure out.

So. He featured his own creation of his own open tunings. I also found it interesting that he grouped the strings of his guitar into a bass course (usually tuned to fifths for strumming) and a treble course (often tuned in unison). Technically speaking he removed the middle two strings from his playing entirely <although I read somewhere that he sometimes played with five strings>.


I love that their music has aspects of new wave, ‘60s rock and roll, post-punk, pop rock and what I call “white man’s hip hop” sound.  If you have an opportunity to see them in concert it is fun, enthusiastic, slightly oddball, always a party.

And despite the fact they are probably best known for their album Roam. I like their earlier stuff the best. 52 girls, Dance this Mess Around, Planet Claire & Private Idaho <which may still be my favorite 52 song of all time>.

I could have provided a long list but I will try a top 5.

5. Dance this Mess Around –  ok. I could summarize this with … “why won’t you dance with me? I am not no limburger.” This may be the original outrageous lyric song with amazing interplay vocals between Cindy & Fred driven by a relentless subtle tough riff guitar strung at some abnormal tuning.

(from SNL:

4. Planet Claire — over 2 minutes with no vocal and an amazingly cool I-Spy bass line to open the song. But. “she is from planet Claire and drives a Plymouth Satellite and no one has a head there.”

Awesome lyrics again with a guitar groove that any band would kill for.

3. 52 Girls — The groove is impossibly sick.

2. Private Idaho — with a slashing guitar hook and a melody that won’t quit and the best of a Kate & Fred & Cindy lyrical interplay this song was almost my number 1.



1. Rock Lobster — a party classic. It is amazing for maybe the simple fact it has so many different distinct parts … and each one is so well crafted the song is seamlessly fun to listen to. By the time the song is over, you feel like you’ve listened to three different songs and been at one big insane funky cool party. All connected by Ricky Wilson’s oddly tuned <somewhere in the middle of a bass and a lead guitar> driving rolling chord driven riff.

Ok. This is the official video (which I do not believe many people have seen). As it is the B52s it is extremely odd … but at the 2:36 mark it shifts into live footage and you get to see Ricky doing his guitar thing, a young Fred showing why he was the perfect lead and the girls doing their thing.


But if I were to add in that one later album I wouldn’t add Roam or Love Shack … I would suggest Deadbeat Club as the ultimate reflective B52’s song. As they have suggested … “Deadbeat Club” evokes that sense of being young, acting crazy. That song is reflective of that earlier period, before the band began, when we were just kids running around this college town doing crazy things just for the hell of it, just for the sake of being outrageous and shocking. You just want to declare your difference, you know? But we were part of a much larger circle of friends who were very bohemian—artists, poets, we were the arty crowd.

Deadbeat Club:

There will always be quirky bands but there will always only be one B52s.

Oh. And a bonus for the guys.

Say you have a special evening lined up with that special lady. You have the perfect wine, the mood is good … the heck with Sade or Seal to seal the deal. Me? Strobe Light by B52s. I promise you it will make the evening special:

Strobe Light:

<and this may also help answer the reason why I am still single>

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Written by Bruce