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Sunday, August 12, 2012

The B-52's Cosmic Thing

Sometimes I look back at my blog and wonder how I managed to come up with one blog entry a day for fifteen months straight.  Some have called me dedicated, while others have called me crazy and in desperate need of a life.

(Those latter people I no longer associate with, by the way.)

It’s certainly been a labour of love to keep this blog going, and I love being able to write a little bit each day.  It allows me to become a better writer, and it allows me to get my writing out there so that the public can read my bizarre and unique as they are.

Most importantly, this blogging venture has to be fun.  The minute the blog stops being fun is the minute I pull the plug and move on to something else.  And how do I keep this blog fun?  By choosing topics that are also fun.

And to me, nothing symbolizes fun more than the album that I plan to spotlight in today’s edition of the Sunday Jukebox.

The reason why I decided to go for an album is simple.  Initially, I was planning on choosing one song only...but then as I was listening to the whole album on my CD player, I realized one thing.  This album is one of the very few albums that I can listen to without skipping one song.

Whenever I think of this album, I think of beach parties, lounging by a swimming pool, and weirdly enough, my high school graduation.  That last one, I’ll explain a little bit later in this blog.

This is also a band that I have never seen in concert before, and I am hopeful that one day, I will be able to see them in person.  After all, they’ve been playing together for over thirty-five years, and are still going strong.  The possibility is still least for now.

So, let’s not waste any more time.  Today’s featured band is the Athens, Georgia based group known as “The B-52’s”. 

And, the album we’re going to look back on is the band’s biggest...1989’s “Cosmic Thing”.

“Cosmic Thing” was the band’s sixth studio album, released on June 27, 1989.  Looking at the bold colours of the album cover, it certainly stood out on record shelves back in the day.  Featured on the album cover are some of the members of the band.  From left to right are Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider, and Kate Pierson.  Also included in the band, but not pictured in the album cover are Paul Gordon, Sterling Campbell, and Tracy Wormworth. 

The band formed in what I would consider to be one of the best band formation stories that I have ever heard in my life.  The members of the band ended up playing their first gig at a Chinese restaurant after they shared a tropical drink known as a “Flaming Volcano”.  A few months later, the band played their very first concert on February 14, 1977 at a Valentine’s Day party, and two years later, the band signed a recording contract with Warner Records. 

TRIVIA:  The band’s name was inspired by the beehive hairstyle resembling the nose cone of the B-52 aircraft.  In the band’s early years, both Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson wore their hair in a similar fashion.

For the first few years, the band released five albums, and even had a couple of singles charting on the Billboard 100 (“Rock Lobster” and “Private Idaho” notably).  Their biggest successes came from the American dance charts, where the band had five Top 20 singles charting between 1980 and 1986.

But just as the band was beginning to see success on the horizon, one of the band members received a devastating diagnosis.  Ricky Wilson, the original guitarist of the band (and brother to Cindy Wilson) was diagnosed as being HIV positive in 1983.  During the recording sessions of the band’s 1985 album “Bouncing off the Satellites”, Ricky kept his illness a secret from the other members because he didn’t want them to worry about him.  After fighting the disease for two years, Ricky Wilson succumbed to complications from AIDS in October 1985, at the age of 32.

The band took a hiatus to deal with the loss of their bandmate, friend, and brother, and during the process, some changes were made within the band.  Keith Strickland, who originally played the drums decided to become the lead guitarist to honour his friend, and he also took on more songwriting duties.  That decision would lead to the planning of songs for the band’s next album, “Cosmic Thing”.

“Cosmic Thing” was widely considered a comeback album for the band following Ricky Wilson’s passing, and this particular album would end up making a huge impression on the charts.  The album was produced by Nile Rodgers and Don Was, and with the exception of two songs, the band wrote the lyrics to all ten songs on the album.  The album stayed on the Billboard 200 for a huge part of late 1989 and early 1990, peaking at number four, and went quadruple platinum.  And, of the five single releases from “Cosmic Thing”, two of them were Top 5 hits!

Of course, this blog will focus on all five singles...all of which I loved listening to.  As always, they’ll be listed in chronological order.

SONG:  (Shake That) Cosmic Thing
DATE RELEASED:  June 6, 1989

Okay, so I had trouble finding an official music video for this song.  In all honesty, I don’t even know if one was ever made.  But all sources list this particular song as the debut single from “Cosmic Thing”, and it did make the Top 10 on the Modern Rock Chart, so I figured it was worth mentioning.  There’s not a whole lot that I can say about this song except that it ended up appearing on the soundtrack of the 1989 film “Earth Girls Are Easy”, which starred Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis.

SONG:  Channel Z
DATE RELEASED:  August 12, 1989

Twenty-three years ago today, the second single from “Cosmic Thing” was released, the quirky “Channel Z”.  Once again, “Channel Z” failed to make an impression on the mainstream Billboard Charts, but the song is very memorable for the band.  It happens to be the very first time the band ever scored a #1 hit!  Mind you, it was on the Modern Rock charts.  Still, it was fantastic news for The B-52’s.  The accompanying music video was filmed outside of New York City, and the song itself is about a fictional radio station with the motto “all static, all day, forever!”  Thankfully, the song was much more interesting than a radio station airing nothing but static.

SONG:  Love Shack
DATE RELEASED:  September 26, 1989

Now we’re getting to the “good stuff”, and, no, I’m not talking about the band’s 1992 album either (though I recommend that album as well).  “Love Shack” was the first B-52’s single to sell over one million copies, and aside from peaking at #3 in America, the song also did very well in the UK and Australia, which reached #2 and #1 respectively.

I also have a personal connection to this song, and yes, it’s linked to the high school graduation story that I referenced earlier in the blog.  At my high school graduation party, we had a karaoke machine set up, and well...guess which song I sang? didn’t end well, and I haven’t sung karaoke since.  At least I had fun though!

The inspiration behind the song came from a cabin that was located outside of Athens, Georgia, where Kate Pierson lived during the 1970s, and it was the place where the band wrote “Rock Lobster”.  In other words, the “Love Shack” was a little old place where the band could get together.

Love Shack, baby!

The video features a cameo by RuPaul, and there’s a little bit of trivia surrounding one one particular lyric.  You know the part of the song where Cindy sings “TIN ROOF...RUSTED”?  That lyric was actually an outtake that was added into the final cut.  Pretty neat, huh?  Many theories have been floating around about what that particular lyric means, but whether or not it does mean anything is up to the interpretation of the listener.  (In other words, don’t ask me, because I don’t know.)

SONG:  Roam
DATE RELEASED:  January 5, 1990

The band ended off 1989 on a high note, and began 1990 with another.  “Roam” became the band’s second hit smash and fourth single overall, matching the success of “Love Shack” by peaking at #3 on the Billboard Charts.  The song is one of the few songs that don’t feature the vocal talents of Fred Schneider, being sung entirely by Wilson and Pierson.  The video itself utilizes green screen technology as the band dances in front of 35mm footage filmed all over the world.  This particular song ended up becoming very popular for television promos and commercials.  The Discovery Channel sampled the song for the network promos during the late 1990s.  The song was used in New Zealand for a Subaru commercial, and is one of the many songs that is featured on the “Rock Band” video game. 

On a personal level, “Roam” is my favourite single from “Cosmic Thing”.

SONG:  Deadbeat Club
DATE RELEASED:  March 1990

The final single released from “Cosmic Thing”, this song is probably the most autobiographical single of the songs found on the album.  The song is all about the band’s early days when they were based in Athens, Georgia.  Back in those days, the band would hang out at coffee shops while trying to follow their dreams.  Because the band was so focused on making it big in music, none of them held other jobs, leading to their parents referring to them as “deadbeats”.

Hence the term, “Deadbeat Club”.

The song could also be considered a part of an “exchange” of sorts.  If you watched the music video, you may have caught a few glimpses of R.E.M. lead singer, Michael Stipe.  R.E.M. also hailed from Athens, Georgia, and members of both bands would end up appearing on projects by the other band.  Stipe appeared in this video, and Kate Pierson appeared as a guest vocalist on R.E.M.’s 1991 smash, “Shiny Happy People”.

This song would also be the last appearance by B-52s member Cindy Wilson for four years.  Cindy took a sabbatical from the band in mid-1990 to focus on raising her family.  She would rejoin the band in 1994, take another break in 1999, and rejoin the band for good in 2001.

That’s our look back on “Cosmic Thing”, as well as five of its biggest singles.  But I definitely recommend listening to the other five singles as well, because they are just as great.  “Dry County” is a song that is slow but easy to listen to, and the instrumental song “Follow Your Bliss” is a song that one could listen to while going on a road trip.  It’s calm and serene, and I really love it.

I really love the B-52s, and I am so happy that they are still going strong...though sometimes I have to keep reminding myself that Kate Pierson is now 64 years old!  I don’t know how she does it, but she still looks fantastic!

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