The B-52’s, one of the strangest and, to fans, most irresistible, pop groups ever to achieve mainstream success, makes its worldwide debut at a Valentine’s Day house party in Athens, GA, on this day in 1977. In their official Warner Brothers bio, the B-52’s described themselves this way: “As a group we enjoy science facts, thrift shopping, tick jokes, fat fad diets, geometric exercising, and discovering the ‘essence from within.'” When taken together with the assertion that the band was “found in the Amazon River basin 40 years ago by Professor Agnes Potter and subsequently abandoned at Athens, Georgia,”, this statement says a lot about the odd, but fun-loving sensibility of the B-52s.
It was over tropical cocktails in a Chinese restaurant just a few weeks earlier that Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland, Kate Pierson and brother and sister Cindy and Ricky Wilson decided to apply their shared esthetic sensibilities to a musical endeavor. While Ricky and Keith invented various extraterrestrial surf-music sounds on guitar and drums, Fred, Kate and Cindy would ad-lib strange lyrics about killer bees, deep-sea life forms and imaginary dances like the Aqua-Velva and the Hypocrite while a tape recorder ran. By the time they debuted at their friend’s house party, they had established a sound that was at once kitschy and totally original, like 60s surf music from some faraway planet.
Later that year, the group began making regular runs in the Wilson family station wagon up to New York City for gigs at seminal New Wave clubs like Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s. With Kate and Cindy in their mile-high beehive wigs and 60s thrift-shop best, and Fred looking like a gay, demented golf pro, the B-52s made an immediate impression on the New York scene, and their independently produced single, “Rock Lobster,” became an underground smash.
The B-52s are still in business three decades later, minus Ricky Wilson, who died of AIDS in 1985. Significantly, their success is widely credited for establishing the viability of the Athens, Georgia, music scene, which would produce many minor successes and one massive one—R.E.M.—in the years immediately following the breakthrough of the B-52’s.