Athens music pioneers the B-52's keep the beat going
Love Rocks, the recently released compilation album from the Human Rights Campaign, features a slate of big-name performers including Yoko Ono, Carole King, the Dixie Chicks, Cyndi Lauper and more. One of the standout tracks is the B-52's' "Summer of Love." Originally released on 1986's Bouncing Off the Satellites, their last album to feature guitarist Ricky Wilson before his death in '85, the tune shimmers as the compilation's centerpiece.
"The project is basically a benefit to raise money and awareness to fight the ban on same-sex marriage and other acts of intolerance," explains vocalist Cindy Wilson. "We contributed 'Summer of Love' and its message is a perfect fit. The B-52's have always been about inclusiveness, about poking fun at ourselves and everyone else as a way of celebrating diversity."
Perhaps it's that lack of pretense that has kept the band active for so long. After debuting on Valentine's Day in 1977 at a modest house party in Athens, the band single-handedly ushered in a whole phase of new and quirky music from the Classic City. Animated vocalists Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson joined drummer Keith Strickland, vocalist Wilson and her brother Ricky to create a host of unusual and enduring songs.
More than a quarter-century later, the B's continue to inspire listeners and add new generations of fans. Proof of their lasting legacy is apparent in Rolling Stone's "Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" roundup, which includes two of the B-52's' biggest hits: 1979's "Rock Lobster" (No. 146) and 1989's "Love Shack" (No. 243).
Also, astute listeners may have heard the B's take on the Beatles' "Paperback Writer" on a recent series of Buick ads. "No one could ever come close to the original of any Beatle song, but it is fun to give it your interpretation," says Wilson.
The song will be available online in mid-December, but don't expect to hear it in the B's live set. "We base our set on songs that we think fans want to hear," explains Schneider, "and we've reworked songs to make them fresher."
"The set list is pretty much set for a tour or for a period of time with some variables that can be thrown in or taken out as the mood strikes us," continues Wilson. "It's usually just a mutual band decision and there's no real magic to it."
The magic comes in the actual in-the-moment performance. "I love to sing and every night is a new experience," Wilson says. "That moment is unique and will never come again."
"We all go to the gym to keep up the pace," says Schneider. "Plus, I never know what stupid things I'll say for stage patter."
When the band isn't on tour, the members keep busy with other projects. Wilson played a bunch of solo dates last year. Pierson performs in New York lounges with her band the Chanteuse Club, and she oversees Kate's Lazy Meadow, a cool and kitschy resort located 10 minutes from Woodstock. Schneider has a weekly radio show called "Party Out of Bounds" on Sirius Satellite Radio and recently appeared in a teen slasher movie called Each Time I Kill.
Next year, the band will release its first album featuring all four members since Cosmic Thing in '89. But for now, the B's are excited to be doing three dates with Cher on her seemingly never ending Farewell Tour. "I like a lot of Cher's early work, like 'Bang Bang,' 'Beat Goes On' and even 'Half-Breed,'" says Schneider. "Also, I like her politics."
"She's a living legend," Wilson says, "a true renaissance woman: her acting, her writing, her singing career, not to mention her command of an audience. Plus, I hear she is a cool person."