Coming up on the 40th anniversary of its first LP, the B-52s are one of the biggest bands to have come out of the Athens music scene. The group became a household name internationally over the past four decades from hits like “Rock Lobster” to “Love Shack.” We compiled a few highlights of the group and its visits back to its home, right here in this college town.
Origins and departures
In October of 1976 after a night of consuming Chinese food somewhere in Athens, the founding members Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson and Ricky Wilson decided to make music together. As the story has been told, the group played its first gig at a house party on Valentine’s Day in 1977 and the rest was history.
In 1978, The B-52s played gigs around the country, even playing smaller performances in Athens at The Last Resort and packing out Memorial Hall. With beehive up-dos and a strong backbeat from its drum kit, the band started its journey as local musical legends.
Throughout the latter end of the ’70s and early ’80s, the group cranked out record after record from its self-titled debut in 1979, “The B-52’s,” to “Whammy!” in 1983. Having been received well by critics and the public, the group was riding a high until 1985. Ricky Wilson, the ethereal rhythm guitarist of the group, was diagnosed with AIDS and died from the illness on October 12, 1985.
The death of Ricky Wilson was a devastating blow to the group even causing the group to go on a two-year hiatus in 1986 to mourn the loss of a brother and a beloved friend.
Busting the tin roof off the charts
In 1988 the band came back with one of its most popular releases thus far in its career, “Cosmic Thing,” and with college radio hits like “Channel Z.” In 1990, one of the songs off the album broke the Billboard Top 100 at number three with the iconic pop hit “Love Shack.” One of the music videos for the song “Deadbeat Club” described in detail the group’s time in Athens and was shot right here in the Classic City.
According to an issue of The Red & Black newspaper in Oct. 12, 1989, Strickland had said the group had come together more than ever since the passing of Ricky Wilson.
The group continued on the charts and its members collaborated with other artists like Pierson, who appeared on another track by Athens-based band R.E.M’s “Shiny Happy People.”
Throughout the early ’90s, the band was trying to rediscover itself and its voice, leading Cindy Wilson to realize she needed time away after “Cosmic Thing” was released in 1989. Leading the group to release the first album without either Wilson, “Good Stuff” with themes of rights for the LGBTQ community and animals.
The group even performed its first hometown show, reunited with Cindy Wilson on Jan. 28, 1994, with students and locals lining the streets of venues selling the tickets, including Wuxtry Records.
Hiatus into the 21st century to now
The B-52s started becoming enthralled with all mediums of pop culture throughout the late ’90s got involved in everything from the live-action “Flintstones” to the theme track of “Pokémon: The Movie 2000.” Cindy Wilson rejoined the group in 1996 and the group took a break from releasing original music and heading to the studio.
The band celebrated its 25-anniversary right here in Athens at the 40 Watt Club with the four of the founding members in 2002. The event also raised money for local non-profit Nuci’s space.
The B-52s toured with Cher on her farewell tour in 2004 and The Rolling Stones in 2006, tearing up the stage. Meanwhile in Athens, what was rumored to be the actual love shack and its tin roof went up in flames in 2004.
"The Love Shack isn't gone," Pierson said to The Red & Black, who lived in the shack for a time. "It lives in our minds; a place where you can let your freak flag fly and let your beehive down."
Three years after the loss of the shack and the continued touring while not releasing new music, the band went back to the studio to release “Funplex.” The album released in March 2008 was its first original album release since 1992 and with the tide of change, the group also changed its name by dropping the apostrophe from the title.
Authentically Athens artists
While the group hasn’t released any music since then, the band and its members have made its rounds to back to Athens. In 2011 the group performed and filmed a concert movie at The Classic Center called “With The Wild Crowd! Live in Athens GA.” The members have come to play as solo acts in their hometown as well.
Pierson performed her debut solo album "Guitars and Microphones" under the lights of Georgia Theatre in 2015. Cindy has made her way back to the Classic City twice, once in 2010 at The Melting Point and most recently the 40 Watt Club in 2017.
After almost half a century of touring and performing, the B-52s still have a taste for performing under the heat of the stage lights. The group announced a tour this year from May to November and will be covering all of the U.S. and parts of Europe.
While the band has not announced a date for Athens so far, the group will be making its way an hour northeast of Athens at Cadence Bank Amphitheatre in Atlanta on Sept. 7.