I bought this album on the same day in 1979 as I bought the debut album by Yachts. One of them I was planning to buy and knew what they sounded like, the other I was encouraged to get by a mate (whose name has been lost to the mists of time). They are both great (we’ll get to the 2 Yachts albums waaay down the line) and if it was my forgotten mate who advised me to buy this one, whoever you were, I thank you.
From the off it struck me as sounding like music from another planet (Claire ?) or at least the soundtrack of a bizarre low budget 60’s sci-fi movie. As “Planet Claire” fades in we are greeted with eerie, high pitched girls voices sounding like they came direct from the sound effects department at Star Trek HQ. Then “singer” (I use the term loosely, he’s more of a fairground barker) Fred Schneider starts ranting at you about a girl from another planet who has pink hair but possibly no head. None of this was normal to me back in ’79.
They didn’t have a bass player, Kate Pierson played bass parts on a keyboard, and guitarist Ricky Wilson and drummer Keith Strickland smashed out mutant dance rhythms that were odd but oddly compelling. Kate and Cindy Wilson take over vocal duties on “52 Girls” and Fred gets back to haranguing you on “Dance This Mess Around”.
Side 1 then draws to a close with what is, to these ears and feet, one of the greatest dance songs ever written and likely The B-52’s high point, “Rock Lobster”. Many will counter that because it was a worldwide hit and more people know it that The B-52’s greatest moment was “Love Shack”. Now, as great as that is and as easily as it can fill a dance floor at any hen party in the land it pales into insignificance when compared to “Rock Lobster”. Close your eyes while it’s on and you can see one of those Technicolour Teen movies going on, set on a beach somewhere in California or the Carolinas, girls in bikinis, boys with surfboards, everybody’s rockin’, everybody’s fruggin’, pass the tanning butter. It’s brilliant in its imagery and its ability to get your hips moving.
Side 2 carries on in much the same vein, they don’t stray far from what they’re good at. Fred gets positively apoplectic on”6060-842” and Kate and Cindy close things out with a somewhat subdued take on Petula Clark’s hit “Downtown”. The B-52’s would go on to sell millions of records and have huge international hits but I’m not sure they ever quite hit the heights they reached on this album.
Rock Lobster - https://youtu.be/2uH5AhFh8UI
(PS…the original UK release of this album came in a yellow B-52’s carrier bag (mine disintegrated long ago, maybe it was biodegradable ?) and included a facsimile copy 7” of the original single of “Rock Lobster”. For the purposes of what I wrote above however we are talking about the re-recorded album version of the song)