Monday, July 12, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #74

A quick entry this week, and perhaps the most mainstream band I've included in the whole NW4NW series, but since they're playing right here in my good ol' hometown tomorrow night, and since they are one of those bands that everybody thinks of when you talk about New Wave, it's only fitting that this week's entry be The B-52's.

Not going into biography or discography here.  If you don't who The B-52's are, you really need to get out of the house more often.  The second band (behind Pylon) to come out of the Athens, GA music scene that would eventually give us an incredible string of fantastic bands (including, notably, R.E.M.), The B-52's combination of '50s/'60s kitsch, twangy surf guitars, and the juxtaposition of Fred Schneider's bombastically nasal yelps with Cindy Wilson's and Kate Pierson's southern-fried harmonies became the template for what the mainstream thought New Wave was supposed to sound like.

By the time The B-52's finally broke onto the American charts with "Love Shack," the band was already well past their prime.  That album (Cosmic Thing), as well as the follow-ups Bouncing Off the Satellites and Good Stuff, were clearly geared for commercial airplay, and to long-time fans sounded so watered down compared to their groundbreaking early material.  No collection of Punk/New Wave vinyl is truly complete without their first two albums.  The 1979 debut, The B-52's (sometimes called "the yellow album"), is still jaw-dropping 31 years later: fun, funny, insanely catchy and without a bad song, it is one of the ultimate party records ever recorded.  Classics like "52 Girls," "Planet Claire," "Dance This Mess Around," and of course "Rock Lobster" all sound as fresh and enthusiastic as they did back then.  Wild Planet, released the following year, picks right up where the debut left off, with "Private Idaho," "Give Me Back My Man," Strobe Light" and more.  Both are essential.  I also include 1983's Whammy! with those first two albums - although the material here is a step below the classics, when it hits the mark ("Legal Tender," "Song For A Future Generation," "Whammy Kiss") it scores big.

Last year, The B-52's released a brand new album, Funplex, which has its moments and shows that the band is still capable of getting the party going.  The tour they've been on brings them to Lancaster's American Music Theatre tomorrow night, but I don't think I'll be going.  $49 is a steep price to see them three decades on and well past their classic days.  I might have shelled out that amount back in the Whammy! days, but not now.

No, instead, I'll be content remembering the glory days of The B-52s.  This week's NW4NW entry, for example: here are The B-52's back in 1979 performing the classic "Private Idaho." Enjoy!

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