Songs for a future generation:
What we learned from the B-52s
With a band like the B-52s, it’s hard to know where to begin. They’re one of those bands that’s more than their music to us. Which is saying a lot, because the music they’ve made is tremendous - it’s been part of our lives for decades and has always felt right as the years have gone by. They haven’t just stood the test of time, they’ve aced it - and taught us about what it means to do your own thing along the way.
Even if the B-52s name doesn’t ring a bell, chances are you’ve heard one of their songs. Maybe at a party, on a really good playlist, or even a tape that your babysitter brought over, back when that was a thing. Songs like “Rock Lobster,” “Love Shack,” “Private Idaho,” and “Wig” are hits for a reason - they redefined what party music could sound like. Their music fills the room with such joy and positive energy that you can’t help but want to get up and do something - dance, jump around, sing along, or whatever feels right.
From their first release in 1978, the B-52s drew from all sorts of musical styles that surrounded them, like they were throwing a kind of party where everyone was welcome. But the music they made was unique and way ahead of their time, using techniques and instrument combinations that were unusual for the time but flat out worked. They call to mind vocal groups, surf and garage rock bands from the Fifties and Sixties but never felt retro. They have a groove second to none but don’t sound like Motown or disco. They got their start in the legendary punk clubs of New York City but aren’t aggressive-sounding at all. Even as their sound has changed over time, they’ve never sounded like anything but the B-52s.
And it’s the way they were always uniquely themselves that continues to inspire us to this day. The B-52s were weird, in the best possible way. If you’re singing along to one of their songs, you might not even notice that you’re singing about making Southern-style beans, finding rock lobsters in unexpected places, or wearing wigs. In “Rock Lobster,” they created a guitar riff so catchy and memorable that Prince borrowed it for live performances of one of his songs, but listen a little closer and you’ll hear them vocalizing sea animals in the style of avant garde artist Yoko Ono. They’re serious about what they do, but don’t take themselves too seriously.
To us, all of that is the B-52s in a nutshell. It embodies what they did then, and continue to do to this day - make great music without explanation or apology - with so much confidence that it feels completely natural and true to themselves. And from day one, they were so comfortable with who they were that the world accepted them for it.
In the end, that’s a lesson we’ve come to learn from them after so many decades. Be yourself. They may not have had loud guitars or leather jackets, but in a way they were the most punk of all. To us, punk is about freedom - breaking free of the rules society wants to put on you that don’t make sense. The B-52s created an alternate world in which things might not make sense if you think about them too much, but felt perfect the way they were.
Sometimes you don’t need a big message or anthem to get a point across. And when you’re young and feeling uncertain about the future that others may have planned for you, just seeing somebody succeed on their own terms means all the world - even if you’re not fully aware of it at the time. That’s why the B-52s are so important to us - they helped us embrace our true selves and quietly gave us the confidence to go our own way.