Quirky new-wave rockers the B-52's toured the U.S. last year to support the release of
the retrospective album Time Capsule -- Songs for a Future Generation. The
successful road trip was especially significant because it marked the return to the group
of founding member Cindy Wilson, the singer and percussionist-guitarist who left earlier
in the decade and was absent from the previous B-52's tour and album.
Wilson, who often is pointed out as "the blonde one" in contrast to red-headed co-singer
Kate Pierson, was born 42 years ago today in Athens, Ga. In 1976, Wilson and her
brother, the late guitarist Ricky, formed a band with Pierson, singer Fred Schneider and
drummer Keith Strickland after jamming while drunk on tropical libations. The group
dubbed itself the B-52's after Wilson's and Pierson's bouffant hairstyles.
The B-52's first played publicly at a Valentine's Day gig in Athens, Ga., in 1977. During
its early shows, the band performed with taped guitar-and-drums accompaniment. After
shows at famed New York punk club Max's Kansas City, the B-52's began amassing a
loyal cult following. The group's chief draw, besides its quirky bass-less new-wave
dance pop, was its wild stage image, replete with miniskirts and go-go boots on the
women, who performed wacky, retro dance steps.
The B-52's self-pressed their debut single, the uproarious "Rock Lobster." Warner Bros.
Records took notice of the popular record and signed the band in 1979, issuing its
eponymous debut LP. The album sold well and the B-52's began gigging across the
United States and Europe.
Wild Planet (1980) came out at the height of the new wave movement in the U.S.
The LP went top 20 and spawned the radio favorite, "Private Idaho," as well as a dance
remix offshoot EP, Party Mix. But 1982's Mesopotomia, produced by
Talking Head David Byrne, produced no hits and stalled the band's career.
Whammy! (1983) was similarly unpopular.
Ricky Wilson then died of AIDS, ending the B-52's' productivity for quite some time. By
the late '80s, the band was remembered mostly as a novelty act, a situation rectified by
the enormous success of 1989's Cosmic Thing. The album, produced by Don
Was and Nile Rodgers, yielded huge hits in "Roam" and "Love Shack" and seemed to
bode a bright future for the B-52's.
But Cindy Wilson decided to quit soon after a 1990 Earth Day gig before an audience of
750,000 in New York City's Central Park. "I'd been a B-52 for a long time, and it just felt
like time for a change," she reported on the band's official website (www.theb52s.com).
During her B-52's hiatus, Wilson gave birth to a daughter.
The remaining B-52's trio issued 1992's Good Stuff, which didn't quite match the
sales of its predecessor. When the band decided to tour behind Time Capsule last
year, Wilson opted back in. Her wild dancing and percussion talents were highlights of
the shows, which featured such new tunes as the band's ode to Blondie's Debbie Harry,
"Debbie" (RealAudio excerpt), and "Hallucinating
Strickland said at the time: "Maybe people are at last beginning to pick up on what we're
doing. ... The underlying message of the B-52's is, 'it's okay to be different.' "
The band's pay-per-view "Rock-n-Rockets" concert, filmed in September at the Disney
Institute, aired this month.
Other birthdays: Joe South, 59; Barbara Acklin, 56; Eddie Manion (Southside Johnny
and the Asbury Jukes), 47; Phillip Gould (Level 42), 42 ... Brian Jones (Rolling Stones),