The quirky appearance, stage antics and lyrical content of the B-52s belie a formidable musical ability, as the bands rhythmically perfect pop songs show many influences, including 50s rock n roll, punk and commercial dance music. However, it was the late 70s new wave music fans that took them to their hearts. The band was formed in Athens, Georgia, USA, in 1976, and took their name from the bouffant hairstyles worn by Kate Pierson (27 April 1948, Weehawken, New Jersey, USA; keyboards/vocals) and Cindy Wilson (b. Cynthia Leigh Wilson, 28 February 1957, Athens, Georgia, USA; vocals). The line-up was completed by Cindys brother Ricky (b. 19 March 1953, Athens, Georgia, USA, d. 12 October 1985, USA; guitar), Fred Schneider (b. 1 July 1951, Newark, New Jersey, USA; keyboards/vocals) and Keith Strickland (b. Julian Keith Strickland, 26 October 1953, Athens, Georgia, USA; drums). The lyrically bizarre but musically thunderous Rock Lobster was originally a private pressing of 2, 000 copies before being picked up by the Atlanta-based label DB Records. The single also came to the notice of the perceptive Chris Blackwell, who signed the band to Island Records in the UK. Their 1979 full-length debut The B-52s, became a strong seller and established the band as a highly regarded unit with a particularly strong following on the American campus circuit during the early 80s. Their anthem, Rock Lobster, became a belated US hit in 1980 and they received John Lennons seal of approval that year as his favourite band. Subsequent albums continued to defy categorization, their love of melodrama and pop culture running side by side with outright experimentalism (as exemplified by the debut albums 50s sci-fi parody Planet Claire).
Ricky Wilson died of AIDS in 1985 during the recording of Bouncing Off The Satellites (although it was initially claimed that cancer was the cause, to save his family from intrusion). The remaining members went on an extended hiatus to recover from his death. When they returned, Strickland had learned how to play the guitar in Wilsons unique style and switched permanently to the new instrument, leaving session players to complete the rhythm section. The B-52s reached a commercial peak in 1989, winning a new generation of fans with the effacious US Top 5 hit singles Love Shack and Roam, complete with enticing accompanying videos. The attendant Cosmic Thing showed that the band had not lost their touch and blended several musical styles with aplomb.
In 1992 the B-52s parted company with Cindy Wilson and recorded Good Stuff under the eyes of previous producer Don Was and Nile Rodgers (Chic). During a Democratic party fund-raising concert in April 1992, actress Kim Basinger stood in for Wilson, as did Julee Cruise the following year. The band achieved huge commercial success in 1994 with the theme song to The Flintstones, yet despite the cheese factor, it remained hard not to warm to the full-blooded performances from Schneider and Pierson. Schneider recorded a second solo album in 1996, while Wilson rejoined in 1998 as the band embarked on a tour to support that years hits collection. Further tours followed in the new millennium, prompting the quartet to return to the studio to record their seventh album.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.