Things I’m Supposed To Like But Can’t Stand: The B-52s

I first heard about the B-52s in probably tenth grade.

“They’re so fun!”, I was told.  “They’re, like, a party band!”

I was directed to listen to “Rock Lobster”.  They were indeed a party band.

I hated party bands. And I hated the B52s.

“But Mitch!”, you might respond, “how could you possibly hate the B-52s?  They were fun!”

Music wasn’t supposed to be fun.  Not to me, anyway. I was an over-tall, under-coordinated, anti-popular kid, a fish-out-of-water, sick of high school cliques and pecking orders, all hormoned-up with no place to go, already banging my head against the bars of small-town life.

Music for me was about channelling explosive adolescent rage.  I listened to the Who, and the Clash and Generation X and the Sex Pistols (and the bleeding passion of Beethoven and the crusader-esque purposefulness of Händel and the over the top expressionism of Tchaikowski, for that matter), and Springsteen in my rare introspective moments.  For me, music wasn’t about dancing; it was about breaking things and people, and furious adolescent angst.  The sound in my imagination at age 15 was me windmilling an open A5 chord on a Les Paul Standard through four Marshall stacks cranked to 11.  No wussy third tones.  No subtlety.  No shelter.  Certainly no murtha-farging “parties”.  Just pure un-subtle angry noise, blowing away the things that broke my heart and the lies that left me lost and brokenhearted…

…whatever they were.    It was a song, so they weren’t so much something I “knew” as “felt”. 

And I didn’t feel “party”. 

But I’m digressing.

The B-52s?  Yeah, they were “fun”.  And I was not.  I was very, very un-fun.  They played intentionally cheesed-up Farfisa organs, and I was all about the teeth-clenched throb of a Hammond B3 through an overdriven Leslie speaker.   They were lightweight, eggheaded college kids, and I was not.  They went to parties, and God knows I was never invited to parties.  Screw ’em.

Oh, yeah.  Lead singer Fred Schneider’s voice annoyed the bejeebers out of me.  No, it wasn’t “homophobia”; at that age, I literally didn’t know what “gay” meant (and even if I did know what it meant?  I loved Freddy Mercury’s voice).   I didn’t actually know that guys could dig guys until college.  (Note to my 3-4 high school friends who, it turns out, were gay?  Even though you were all the girls’ best friends, and you actually did sit by the piano before play practice playing show tunes?  Hand to God, never figured it out until after high school.  And figuring it out didn’t make me like y’all any less – or show tunes any more).  So no, it wasn’t that Schneider was gay, even if I had known at the time what that meant.  No, it was that his voice annoyed me like few other sounds ever have.  I could literally listen to fingernails scraping on chalkboards all day long – but Schneider’s voice sent me racing for the volume knob.   And it still does.

But time went on.  My tastes in music broadened.  I lived a little more life.  Moved to the big city, started a career, ended a career, maybe mellowed out ever so slightly, knocked around, worked in bars…

…when “Love Shack” came out:

Nope. Still hated the B-52s. Part of it was residual disdain for “Party…” anything.

Part of it was that I had to play the damn song so ungodly often. I was at KDWB at the time; we’d play it every couple of hours on the air. Then I’d work my money gig, at the bars, and play it at least once a night, 4-6 nights a week, sometimes more. But then I played a lot of music way too much back then; I actually bought a car that had no radio, I was so sick of music.

But even with that context, the B52s still annoyed me half to death.  That voice.  That beat.  That contrived retro-sixies triviality.  Blech. 

And they still do.

Except for anything involving Kate Pierson.

Then, all is forgiven.

That is all.

18 thoughts on “Things I’m Supposed To Like But Can’t Stand: The B-52s

  1. Context is everything. In 1979, “Rock Lobster” was a nice antidote to the competition, which as I recall was “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart and/or Ambrosia or The Little River Band or somesuch. In that company, it was a useful corrective. By the album, listening to the B-52s is like eating a 2-lb. bag of cotton candy, but as a one-shot on the radio I could take ’em.

  2. Context is everything. In 1979, “Rock Lobster” was a nice antidote to the competition,

    …which I also largely hated (and you remember Ambrosia, so we both know How Much I Feel about this issue), and had my own correctives for…

    …but I know you know what I mean.

  3. The firsts time I saw the “Love Shack” video, I thought Kate Pierson was somehow Carrie Fisher.

    I had way too much Star Wars influence as a child.

  4. The B-52s were to dance to with girls, nothing more. They served that purpose well. 🙂 Kind of like REO Speedwagon’s later stuff, in that sense.

    For private listening or hanging out with other guys, those albums never saw the light of day.

  5. Hate to bust a guy’s bubble, Mitch, but Schneider isn’t the only ’52 that bats for the other team.

    Nerd: “The B-52s were to dance to with girls, nothing more.”
    I think you may have hit on the real reason Mitch be h8ing the ’52’s Nerd.

  6. Hate to bust a guy’s bubble, Mitch, but Schneider isn’t the only ’52 that bats for the other team.

    Yeah, but again, it wasn’t about the team they batted for. It was all about the vocal tone.

    I think you may have hit on the real reason Mitch be h8ing the ’52′s Nerd.

    Nah. Danced plenty. Just didn’t care for the band.

  7. I like the Little River Band. Especially “Reminiscing”. That song brings back a specific childhood memory of tagging along with my Dad and his friend to Northstar Dragstrip up in Blaine, and hearing that song on the radio of the tow truck his friend used from working at a gas station to tow his drag car to the strip.

    It’s one of the few songs that when I hear it, I instantly get hit with a memory.

    I can tell my music tastes are far less “evolved” than Mitch’s. To whit: IMO Billy Joel > Bruce Springsteen, and I do like “Love Shack” because it’s a fun, careless, frivolous sing.

    Related: Rod Stewart? *barf*

    Ambrosia “How Much I Feel”? Good 70s romantic campy shtick.

  8. I see the B-52s as almost a novelty band/music. If you hate novelty songs (like I do), the B-52s grow old fast.

  9. ” It was all about the vocal tone.”

    DAMMIT! How could I have failed to have that one in my panty snatching arsenal back in the 80’s!

  10. Personally, I’ve mellowed out a lot on groups like the Little River Band. If you hear one of their songs now, 35 years on, it’s just a momentary reminder of a different time. When they were getting saturation airplay in the late 70s, I came to really hate them, along with their partners in crime like Ambrosia, Air Supply, Leo Sayer, etc. Between that and the endless supply of disco records from that era, it was a dire time to be listening to the radio.

    When I think back to ’79, what I remember is that following the infamous “Disco Demolition” in Chicago in the middle of the summer, the air seemed to clear. And once we got into 1980, all manner of great music started to fill the airwaves, including a number of albums that Mitch has celebrated in this space (Pretenders, London Calling, Remain in Light, The River — the list goes on and on.)

  11. An opportunity to note one of the few “Brush with Celebrity” moments I’ve had in my life (after you do posts on Ted Turner and Johnny Bench, I’ll be done).
    In ’89 I was in line to rent a car in Detroit. Who was in line directly ahead of me but Fred Schneider. When the opportunity came, I said hello and I’m a fan (slightly true) and he said “thanks”.
    The first time I heard the ’52’s was at a high school party in Summer 1981. It was “Private Idaho”, and the girls went nuts. They never struck me as a great band, but if they could get a bunch of semi-sober, suburban kids out dancing, they couldn’t be that bad. They run together with ‘The Romantics’ in my mind. Later I saw Schneider interviewed about the ‘deeper meaning’ of “Channel Z” and had my first “Shut Up and Sing” moment. There have been quite a few since then.

  12. It was all about the vocal tone.

    Now I can tell you’re lying, Mitch. If it were about the vocal tone you’d have had to rip out your radio, if not your ears, during the late 70s. Compared to 98% of the dreck on the radio in the late 70s the B-52s were golden. And that’s without counting the disaster that was Disco.

    Yeah, I didn’t have much use for the radio in the late 70s.

  13. Agree about the singer’s voice, but Love Shack and Deadbeat Club were great fun songs at the time, and great to play as covers. I used to jam Love Shack with various groups back in the day and I KNEW I didn’t quite have it right, but it was close enough, kinda. Turns out it’s in Open E tuning – makes a big difference when you’re in the right tuning! Of course the usual problems with alternate tunings occur when playing live but it is much more fun to play it right. Aye.

  14. This, apparently, is yet another one of those musical controversies I missed, entirely.

    I turned off my radio when I heard my first BeeGee’s falsetto disco tune, and (happily) missed all of this junk.

    The music of the seventies sucked. The music of the eighties was worse. The music of the nineties was worse still. Since then, it’s been rinse-and-repeat.

  15. How about the old group, Dee-Lite (Groove is in the Heart/ late 80s – early 90s)? I always thought they were a lot like the B-52s.

    Their hit, Groove, etc., seemed quite B-52-like, and just as much of an earworm …

  16. Never much liked the B-52s…..suffice it to say that their lyrics are a trifle obvious….or at least they were 20 years back.

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