Time for some fun, people! Obviously being November, it’s time for some B-related fun and so here’s the funnest LP I can think of at the moment The B-52’s, by far the funnest thing in the history of funness to bust out of Athens, Georgia.
What’s not to love wildly beyond all reason here? wild haircuts, sweet/deranged vocals, thrift store keyboard sounds, awesome twangy bass, constant name-checking of dance styles (some entirely fictitious), animal impressions, awesome twangy guitars, buzzy doorbell sounds, deranged/sweet vocals and the only reference I have to narwhals on vinyl. And that’s just ‘Rock Lobster’. Look, it’s no secret that given half a chance and sufficient room I like to bust some moves* and I have done so extensively to ‘Rock Lobster’ over the years; in fact I have a highly expressive interpretative modern dance routine worked out for it that upwards of 30 people have enjoyed me performing at one time or another**.
In fact I have a ‘Rock Lobster’ related tale of heroism and derring-do, but if I tell do you promise not to totally ‘Hero Worship’ me? if you don’t feel you can promise me that, I’ll trust you just to skip to the ‘283 Down’ bit below and ‘Lava’ the next bit out.
As a callow young student I remember drinking a lot in a pretty run down, but cavernous pub in Leeds which had a potentially very combustible mix of wussy student types, hardened psycho-nuthouses and professional drunks – we’re not talking about the sort of joint that brews its own gourmet ales and serves four types of breads with a selection of mediterranean dips. Anyway, this particular weekday afternoon at 1.30 I was hard at work drinking copious pints of Tetleys with six friends, when we spotted trouble. This particular brand of trouble was over by the jukebox singing wildly along to Elvis Presley and was a be-sideburned, hard-as-fucking-nails looking Irish guy in his 50s, clearly out of his tree on Guinness and spite and lurching between tables to bother the mostly harmless students earnestly discussing Kierkegaard with a view to getting laid later on that evening. If anyone approached the jukebox they were cajoled / threatened / heavily encouraged to put on more tunes by ‘the fucking KING!! You heard me, he’s the FUCKING king !!’ (repeat as often as you can bear, before caving in and putting on ‘Heartbreak Hotel’). After witnessing him starting to bother a pair of girls on a table a couple down from ours I decided that urgent, heroic action was required, basic chivalry demanded it.
So after going to the bar, buying and consuming another round over a 20 minute period, I sprang into action. Well, this was sort of necessitated by a friend of ours being warned off the jukebox, ‘none of YOUR fucking student shite HERE – les ave more from THE king!’^ , as the drunk danced to music that only he could hear, before approaching our table, showing us his prison tattoo and proceeding to berate us for 10 minutes for a) being students b) being students c) not liking Elvis enough. That was enough. I’m a mild man, a pacifist, but sometimes a man just has to take a stand.
So, boldly I rose to my feet, looked the man in the eye and muttered something about needing the gents, made as if to go, veered left at the last-minute, cut back through the snooker room and sneakily put 50p in the jukebox at arm’s length, selected ‘Rock Lobster’ purely from memory three times – all without actually setting foot back inside our room. By the time it started I was walking back from the direction of the gents toilet, as the drunk was wildly looking around for the culprit, swearing in a frankly terrifying manner. Needless to say I was virtually carried home shoulder-high by my friends after spoiling the poor old fella’s day. I’m a firm believer that sometimes you just have to take a stand. So I associate ‘Rock Lobster’ with a certain sense of triumph and danger as well as lots of fun.
No please, no adulation it just embarrasses me.
The B-52’s ? sorry I got side-tracked for a minute there. ‘Planet Claire’ is almost more fun than the human mind can bear, I love the slow build-up and the absolutely stinging bits of guitar scattered here and there. How does Fred Schneider make these lines sound almost menacing?
Planet Claire has pink air
All the trees are red
No one ever dies there
No one has a head
I just love the B-52’s knowing, kitschy 1950’s weird-out, it’s like a Martian rock and roll revival. I’ve never tried to dance the Shy Tuna, the Shu-ga-loo, or the Hip-o-crit, as advised on ‘Dance this Mess Around’, but I’d be willing to give it a damn good go in the right circumstances. Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson are just brilliant vocalists.
I’ve got a bit of a thing for the more downbeat second side of The B-52’s too, ‘Lava’ in particular is another great tune and I’m pretty sure is the only song in my whole collection to mention ‘Herculaneum’. Also deserving of a honourary mention is ‘There’s a Moon in The Sky (Called the Moon)’, simply for the title alone and ‘Hero Worship’ (sorry to bring it all back to me again), is also brilliant, just listen to the intro – I love it.
All that aside, the dancing, acts of heroism, crunchy guitars, cool vocals and wackiness, what I think I like best about The B-52’s is just that no-one has ever sounded like this before, or since. The band carried on producing versions of this LP, to greater, or lesser effect, but no-one else ever got anywhere near. How could they?
*believe me, when I bust a move – it stays bust; or maybe it just lies down and plays bust.
**okay, so by ‘enjoyed’ I mean ‘have been elbowed/trodden on/bitten/psychologically scarred by me during’ (delete as applicable).
^he may have a point, to be fair, as said friend had once put on ‘Heroin’ by the Velvet Underground three times in a row at 7.30 one Saturday evening – I think the landlord pressed the ‘abort’ button as it was pulling to a finish second time around; good!