The first of many acts to cement the college town of Athens, GA, as a hotbed of alternative music, the B-52's took their name from the Southern slang for the mile-high bouffant wigs sported by singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, a look emblematic of the band's campy, thrift-store aesthetic. The five-piece group, which also included founding members Fred Schneider, guitarist Ricky Wilson (Cindy's older brother), and drummer Keith Strickland, formed in the mid-'70s after a drunken evening at a Chinese restaurant; the bandmembers had little or no previous musical experience, and performed most of their earliest shows with taped guitar and percussion accompaniment.
After pressing up a few thousand copies of the single "Rock Lobster," the B-52's traveled to the famed Max's Kansas City club for their first paying gig. Subsequent appearances at CBGB brought the group to the attention of the New York press, and in 1979, they issued their self-titled debut album, a collection of manic, bizarre, and eminently danceable songs which scored an underground club hit with a reworked version of "Rock Lobster." The following year, they issued Wild Planet, which reached the Top 20 on the U.S. album charts; Party Mix!, an EP's worth of reworked material from the band's first two proper outings, appeared in 1981.
Released in 1982, Mesopotamia arose out of a series of aborted sessions with producer David Byrne which saw the B-52's largely abandon their trademark sense of humor, a situation rectified by the next year's Whammy!, a move into electronic territory. After a Schneider solo LP, 1984's Fred Schneider & the Shake Society, the group returned to the studio to record 1986's Bouncing Off the Satellites. On October 12, 1985, however, Ricky Wilson died; though originally his death was attributed to natural causes, it was later revealed that he had succumbed to AIDS. In light of Wilson's death, the group found it impossible to promote the new album, and they spent the next several years in seclusion.
In 1989, the B-52's finally returned with Cosmic Thing, their most commercially successful effort to date. Marked by Strickland's move from drums to guitar and club-friendly production from Don Was and Nile Rodgers, the album launched several hit singles, including the party smash "Love Shack," "Roam," and "Deadbeat Club." In 1990, Cindy Wilson retired from active duty, leaving the remaining trio to soldier on for 1992's Good Stuff. A year later, dubbed the BC-52's, they performed the theme song for Steven Spielberg's live-action feature The Flintstones. Wilson returned to the group for a tour supporting the release of 1998's hits collection Time Capsule. Four years later the double-disc Nude on the Moon compilation would dive deeper into their catalog by featuring rare tracks, live recordings, and remixes along with the hits. The year 2008 found the band returning with a new album for the first time in 16 years. Released by Astralwerks, Funplex, was a slick, synthesizer-driven effort produced by Steve Osborne.[AMG Jason Ankeny]