In honor of one of Athens’ most legendary bands celebrating the anniversary of its first gig 40 years ago this Valentine’s Day, here are 52 fun, freaky and factual things to know about the B-52s.
The band was formed one night in Oct. 1976 after drinks at a Chinese restaurant in town.
The band’s first show, a house party, didn’t roll around until Feb. 14, 1977.
The B-52s were the unintentional result of an impromptu jam session between the five founding members.
At the time, these members were backing vocalist Cindy Wilson, her older brother and guitarist Ricky, along with keyboardist and backing vocalist Kate Pierson, original drummer and percussionist Keith Strickland and lead vocalist and cowbell-aficionado Fred Schneider.
The band’s name also has Southern roots, coming from the bouffant, beehive-shaped hairstyle popularized in the 1960s.
The hairstyle itself is so named for resembling the the nose cone of Boeing B-52 planes which have been in active service with the United States Air Force since 1955.
Although the band is usually listed as American new wave, the B-52s have dabbled in everything from 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, surf-infused rock, post-punk, garage rock and pop rock.
One of the band’s largest claims to fame were the outrageous and often bizarre outfits members would wear, a style that was called “thrift-store chic.”
The band’s first single was the now-infamously quirky song “Rock Lobster,” known for nonsensical lyrics about bizarre sea creatures infiltrating a beach party.
Released in April 1978, it hit the “Billboard”Hot 100 at #56, went all the way to No. 1 in the RPM national singles chart in Canada.
What’s more, currently the song remains No. 147 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The song’s surfy guitar riff was even sampled by popular pop group Panic! at the Disco’s fifth studio album in the song "Don't Threaten Me with a Good Time” in 2016.
The single, paired with it’s B-side counterpart “52 Girls,” was produced by Chris Blackwell and sold more than 500,000 copies in it’s time of release.
Fred Schneider III, a founding member of the band specializing in vocalics and the cowbell, attended the University of Georgia briefly before dropping out, and currently lives in New York, New York.
In addition to work with the B-52s, Schneider also currently works with a side project, the American comedy synthpop band the Superions.
Keith Strickland was originally the band’s drummer but switched to playing guitar following the death of original guitarist Ricky Wilson in 1985.
Strickland, currently 62, came out as openly gay to the public in 1992.
Reflecting on his time playing in Athens, Strickland said that he had many straight friends that were very supportive in town, which led to his coming out with no qualms.
In addition to being a founding member, multi-instrumentalist and composer for the band Strickland is also a visual artist.
In Jan. 2013 Keith Strickland announced that he had made a decision to stop touring with the band.
According to the band’s official website, Strickland wished nothing but the best for the remaining members, saying “I wholeheartedly support Cindy, Fred and Kate’s decision to continue.”
Cindy Wilson, age 59, continues to be a main vocalist for the B-52s today, a primary founder along with her older brother Ricky Wilson.
Ricky Wilson was the band’s guitarist and the often under-remembered fifth member of the band before his AIDS-related death in 1985.
The band took a long hiatus following Wilson’s death. The album “Bouncing Off the Satellites,” while completed, was not released for several more months as a result.
The fourth studio album released by the B-52s, “Bouncing Off the Satellites” is considered a critical failure due to its lukewarm reception, both given Wilson’s death and the darker and slower aesthetic of the track listing.
Cindy Wilson was known for singing solo pieces for the band in songs such as “Hero Worship” and “Loveland,” as well as harmonizing with fellow female bandmate Kate Pierson.
The two would perform in a characteristic B-52s style item called “call-and-response” that would see the female singers alternating with Strickland and Schneider.
In addition to doing work with the band, B-52s keyboardist Kate Pierson has done collaborations outside the B-52s, working with such artists as Iggy Pop, R.E.M., David Byrne, the Ramones and Matthew Sweet.
Pierson still sports vibrantly colored hair, currently electric red, and continues a love of retro clothing.
Now 66-year-old Pierson released her first solo album in 2015 called “Guitars and Microphones.”
Like Wilson and Strickland, Pierson’s hometown is Athens.
From 1979 with its first eponymously titled album to 2008’s “Funplex,” the band has produced eight studio albums.
Additionally, from 1981 to 2002 the B-52s have also released five compilation albums.
“Earth Girls Are Easy,” “The Wedding Singer,” “Ugly Betty,” “Fringe,” “Queer as Folk” and “Knocked Up” are only a handful of the movies and TV shows that the band’s signature, surfy tunes have made it to the soundtrack.
The B-52s went prehistoric in a cameo in the 1994 film “The Flintstones” when they played a band dressed in bones and furs called the BC-52s.
Other films the band has held cameos in include: Paul Simon’s 1980 feature film “One Trick Pony,” the documentary “Athens, GA: Inside/Out” chronicling the city’s mid-1980s music scene, and the upcoming independent American documentary “A Life in the Death of Joe Meek.”
The group is also slated to have a special guest appearance during season seven of the quirky sketch show “Portlandia” on IFC.
“With the Wild Crowd! Live in Athens, GA” was the first official live album and DVD release for the band, commemorating the 34th anniversary of the band’s first performance.
The band’s second live album was recorded at a concert at the Berklee Center in Boston, MA on Aug. 24, 1979.
The song “Private Idaho,” featured on “Wild Planet” reached number 18 on the “Billboard” 200 chart in 1980, and would later become the band’s second Hot 100 entry.
The song was prominently featured on the soundtrack of the Adam Sandler movie “The Wedding Singer,” where it gathered popularity.
Perhaps the band’s most well-known track is the infectious “Love Shack,” released in 1989 on its fifth studio album “Cosmic Thing.”
The song was the band’s first million-copy seller, and the first song of the band to reach the “Billboard” Top 40 charts, peaking at number three in its prime.
The song was reportedly inspired by a cabin located in Athens where Pierson lived in the ’70s, and where the band came up with the idea for “Rock Lobster.”
“Love Shack” would eventually be named one of the 365 “Songs of the Century” in 2001 and was ranked number 246 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”
St. Mary's Steeple, a musical landmark in the Classic City where other famous Athens-born band R.E.M. played its first show in 1980, has memorabilia from the B-52s and other well-loved Athens groups.
From the B-52s, this includes a dress worn by the B-52s Kate Pierson during the “With the Wild Crowd” live album, taken and added to other memorabilia to save the Steeple in 2014.
In addition to raucous rock band R.E.M, the B-52s are often ranked as one of the most popular bands to ever come out of Athens in the city’s entirety, often cited along with Neutral Milk Hotel, Drive-By Truckers, the Whigs, Pylon, Of Montreal and Widespread Panic.
For the 40th anniversary show the B-52s will be performing in Auckland, New Zealand in the Vector Arena.
This performance, and the following one on Feb. 16 in Christchurch, New Zealand, is part of the larger current tour with Scottish rock band Simple Minds.
In a statement describing both upcoming shows Schnieder said, “From Athens to Auckland, 40 years and the party ain’t stopping!”
Although Athens isn’t on its list, the group will be playing at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on Sept. 15.