“Song for a Future Generation”: Athens, GA’s the B-52s were the South’s first new wave band

By on October 23, 2018

In 1985, Night Flight packed up the van in NYC and headed south on Interstate 81 for our somewhat misleadingly titled “Take Off to Southern Rock,” which was actually a geographic-based music video travelogue of ’80s rock & pop acts from the South.

One of those bands is the self-described “World’s Greatest Party Band,” Athens, Georgia’s the B-52s, who announcer Pat Prescott tells us were “a group of students whose songs and appearance became performance art for the South’s first new wave band.”

Watch this nearly-hour long special episode now on Night Flight Plus.

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In a Pitchfork review of their 2012 Funplex album, writer T. Cole Rachel wrote:

“Even though their aesthetic remains singular, the B-52s’ general sensibility — a kind of mannered quirkiness mixed with subject matter often either obliquely or specifically queer — is something that would influence the next several generations of rock bands trailing out of the American South.”

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“Song for a Future Generation” was the third single from their 1983 Whammy! album.

The single — with its whimsical “Mad Libs”-style horoscope intros (“Hey, my name is Keith and I’m a Scorpio from Athens, G-A, and I like to find the essence from within”) — is one of the few songs of theirs featuring more than three members sharing lead vocals.

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The music video for “Song for a Future Generation” — directed by Mick Haggerty & C.D. Taylor — features the band dancing awkwardly atop pedestals of various heights and holding small keyboard synths.

The girls are also wearing way-out wigs, including one (nicknamed “the bird cage”) constructed with a chicken-wire frame and another made of gold tinsel.

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Wigs actually play a big part in the B-52s’ history, including their name, a local Athens-area slang term for oversized beehive bouffant-style hairdos (which they sang about on “52 Girls”).

The video also has an homage to the famous “Brady Bunch” TV show intro, with band members appearing in circular windows and looking up and down at each other.

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Read more about the B-52s below.

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The B-52s — Fred Schneider (vocals), Kate Pierson (vocals/keyboards), Cindy Wilson (vocals/keyboards), Ricky Wilson (guitar) and Keith Strickland (drums) — were formed in October of 1976 after a night of communal drinking through straws from a gigantic tropical rum-based Flaming Volcano drink at a Hunan Chinese restaurant.

Wilson and Strickland were initially the only real musicians in the band, which may be one reason why these University of Georgia students didn’t play their first gig until Valentine’s Day 1977.

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About twenty-five lucky partygoers at a friend’s house party got to hear a handful of the first original songs — including “Rock Lobster” — that they’d written using Eno’s Oblique Strategy cards.

The popularity of “Rock Lobster” — released as a single on DB Records a little over a year later, it sold 20,000 copies — opened a lot of doors for the band from Athens, leading to paying gigs at CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City in NYC.

Here’s footage of the B-52s playing “Rock Lobster” at the Downtown Cafe in Atlanta, GA, on September 2, 1978:

Soon, there were lines around the block to see them play, which led to them being scouted by major record labels eager to cash in on the punk and new wave scene that was taking rock by storm.

They signed with Talking Heads’ Chris Franz’s and Tina Weymouth’s manager, who got them a UK recording deal with Chris Blackwell‘s Island Records and with Warner Bros. Records for the U.S.

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The B-52s recorded their self-titled debut album with Blackwell producing at Compass Point in the Bahamas.

The album — released on July 24, 1979 — was a huge hit with critics and fans both, including John Lennon, who had first heard “Rock Lobster” in Bermuda, in an upstairs disco inside a dance club.

Lennon was soon pointing out how his wife Yoko Ono was an obvious influence, and how they’d inspired him to get back to making music again after a long hiatus, writing songs for his and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy, released a few weeks prior to his tragic death on December 8, 1980 (the B-52s were playing in Paris at the time).

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Their newly-revised single version of “Rock Lobster” — this terrific ’80s new wave classic features Pierson and Wilson caterwauling and making up sounds for jellyfish, narwhal, sea robins and bikini whales while Schneider sings “everybody had matching towels!” — charted on the Billboard Top Singles list (#56) too.

The single likely peaked after they performed the song on Saturday Night Live on January 26, 1980.

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Released in September of 1980, the B-52s’ second studio album, Wild Planet, co-produced with Rhett Davies, peaked at #18 on the Billboard pop album charts.

They followed this one up with a couple of EPs, Party Mix (released in July 1981, it contained remixed versions of popular B-52s tracks) and the David Byrne-produced Mesopotamia, released in early ’82.

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Their third album, Whammy, was considered a return the synth-driven electro-new wave sound they’d perfected on their debut, and they launched a major concert tour to support it, singing “Song” live over a vocal-less backing track.

After the tour, they decided to take a much-needed break, during which Fred Schneider recorded a solo project, 1984’s Fred Schneider & the Shake Society (read more here).

Then, on October 12, 1985, the B-52s suffered a great loss with the AIDS-related cancer death of guitarist Ricky Wilson. He was 32 years old.

Night Flight’s “Take Off to Southern Rock” — watch it on Night Flight Plus — also features music videos by John Fogerty, R.E.M., Jason & the Scorchers, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Blackfoot, Molly Hatchet, 38 Special, and Miami Sound Machine.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.