Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The B-52s

The B-52s were the band that started it all, the first Athens rock band to achieve national recognition and success.  And their success came quickly.

Formed in 1976, they made their first public appearance at an Athens party on Valentine's Day 1977. In December that year, after playing in public exactly three times, they played a show at Max's Kansas City, a prestigious new-music club in Manhattan.  The show was a great success and led to other New York gigs.  They released their first single in 1978, then signed with Warner Bros Records and released their first album in 1979.  The album went platinum.

It has often been said that the success of the B-52s inspired others in Athens to pick up guitars and try it themselves, thus creating the groundswell of musical activity that ultimately made Athens famous.  But I think there is something else about the B-52s that had an even bigger impact on the Athens music scene.  The B-52s succeeded by being completely unconventional and uncompromisingly following their creative instincts.  This was to be a common thread for all Athens bands to follow; and it made the Athens music scene more diverse and interesting than any other.

The B-52s' early success in New York City also established a tradition for Athens bands: playing New York early and often in their careers.  Many of the bands featured here played New York regularly.  New York fans were intrigued by all the talent coming out of one sleepy Southern town, and the shows were well attended.  The New York new-music press, the most influential in the country, followed suit, lauding most Athens groups with much praise.  As author Rodger Lyle Brown wrote, Manhattan  became a "candy store" for bands from Athens.

The B-52s have sold over 30 million records and are still going strong – they released their latest studio album in 2008 and are still touring.  Shoe-ins for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  What I like most about the B-52s is the fact that after over 30 years, they still have the same happy-go-lucky, party-girl attitude they had when they started.

Here's an Athens-inspired song from their 1989 album Cosmic Thing, the first album they did after a four-year hiatus following the tragic death of guitarist Ricky Wilson, and their best selling record ever.  It has to be the greatest comeback album of all time.
Deadbeat Club

From their first album, released in 1979.

From their second album Wild Planet, 1980.

From the album Whammy!, 1983

A beautiful tribute to Ricky Wilson, by sister Cindy Wilson's side project The Cindy Wilson Band:

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