Sunday, January 14, 2018

The B-52's - Various Rarities


This year marks the 40th anniversary of The B-52's as recording artists - hard to believe they've been around, and have been part of my life, for so long! I'm sure that none of the members of this "tacky little dance band from Georgia" ever contemplated that four decades removed from their first late-night jam session after getting buzzed on Flaming Volcano drinks at a restaurant in downtown Athens, they'd still be at it all these years later, packing in fans the world over. Love, love, LOVE me some Bee-Fives!

In honor of their anniversary year, and in response to some recent requests, I thought I'd make available a few of the following group rarities/hard-to-find items:
"Rock Lobster" b/w "52 Girls" - The record that started it all; the original DB Records pressing, released on that 
label in April 1978. Both of these versions are faster and rawer than the rerecorded ones that came out on Warner Brothers the following year; I've always found all versions of these songs equally enjoyable.
    What I find very weird is that, given the humongous significance and importance of these tunes in the overall B-52's canon, these 1978 versions have NEVER appeared on CD in any band compilation release. What's maddening is that the label itself (Warner Bros.), not the band, put the kibosh on any and all efforts to bring these versions to a wider audience.
    From what I can gather, the 1998 compilation album Time Capsule was originally planned as a box set featuring rarities from across the band's career and several new tracks, as well as remastered older tracks. Warner Brothers management, assheads that they were, didn't think a comp like that would sell - instead, they had the band cut it back to a single disc, heavily weighted towards later-period B-52's tunes (I've already said my piece about what a sorry, half-assed set this turned out to be). Had Time Capsule been released as per the band's wishes, it would have included not only the original single versions of "Rock Lobster" and "52 Girls", but also a whole host of demos and outtakes that Cindy Wilson had prepared, and a number of new songs that the band had been working on (not just "Debbie" and "Hallucinating Pluto", as it turned out)... and in all likelihood I wouldn't be writing this post, since most of the stuff provided here probably would have been included.  A dumb decision driven by Corporate Accounting Department logic on Warner's part, in my opinion.

    "Adios Desconocida" - I've already said quite a bit in a previous post about the band working with David Byrne in
    the early '80s on the aborted Mesopotamia sessions. As I mentioned in that post, Warner Brothers was anticipating releasing a full-blown B-52's album in 1981, not an EP; to that end, the group had worked up a number of songs with their producer that were in various stages of production by the time Byrne left/was fired from the project. The tentative lineup for the expected Mesopotamia album (in no particular order) was:
      "Cake"
      "Deep Sleep"
      "Loveland"
      "Mesopotamia"
      "Nip It In The Bud"
      "Throw That Beat In The Garbage Can"
      "Big Bird"
      "Butterbean"
      "Queen Of Las Vegas"
      "Adios Desconocida"
      Of course, only the first six songs made it onto the various abbreviated Mesopotamia EPs released in 1982. As for the other four songs, the first three were all re-recorded and included on The B-52's follow-up album, 1983's Whammy!. On that album, "Queen Of Las Vegas" was changed drastically from the Mesopotamia demo (which can be heard on the Nude On The Moon anthology). And I recall the group playing "Big Bird" during the Providence leg of their Meso-Americans tour, a show I attended in early 1982 - the Whammy! version was identical to what I heard back then. As for "Butterbean", the earlier version has never been released, so I couldn't tell you if the 1983 version was that much different.

      That leaves only "Adios Desconocida" as the only unreleased track from those sessions. This tune is unusual for the band in that it's a languid guitar-driven romantic ballad, sung by Fred Schneider with backing vocals by Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson - very atypical, and unrelated in almost any way to both the band's signature sound from their previous two albums or the slate of tunes from those Byrne sessions. I've tried to determine whether the song was written by group members or brought in from outside, but can't find any definitive information on authorship. It's my guess that it was the latter, because after the demo was recorded, Fred himself nixed any further work on it, citing his boredom with and disinterest in the song, and the rest of the band didn't raise much of a fuss about it. As such, "Adios Desconocida" was scrapped, and never appeared in any version on subsequent releases. Rightfully so, in my opinion; like I said, it just doesn't seem to "fit" with what The B-52's were about. But have a listen and decide for yourselves.

      "Don't Worry" - Before his death, John Lennon specifically cited The B-52's (in particular their song "Rock Lobster") as the catalyst/inspiration for his return to the recording studio in 1980. Taken from a recent article in Atlanta magazine:
        In Bermuda, an assistant dragged the reclusive ex-Beatle to Disco 40. Upstairs, a DJ was spinning the club’s namesake musical genre. But the downstairs bar was dedicated to New Wave, where “Rock Lobster” by The B-52’s was playing.

        “I said, ‘That’s Yoko!,’” Lennon recalled that fall in an interview with the BBC. “I thought there were two records going at once or something. Because it was so her. I mean, this person had studied her. I thought, ‘Get out the ax and call the wife!’ I called her and I said, ‘You won’t believe this, but I was in a disco and there was somebody doing your voice. This time, they’re ready for us!”
        After Lennon's death, The B-52's became great friends with his widow, Yoko Ono, a dream come true for most of them, since they'd all been fans of hers for years (Cindy later admitted that the noises she made on "Rock Lobster" were indeed a homage to Ono's music). As an acknowledgement of/tribute to their relationship, the group dedicated a song on Whammy! to her, the seventh track "Don't Worry" (a nod to Ono's 1969 release "Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)", the b-side to The Plastic Ono Band's "Cold Turkey" single).

        While the Whammy! song was definitely NOT a cover of Ono's tune, the band still listed Ono in the credits for "Don't Worry" - apparently believing that this further acknowledgement of their friendship was a good idea that would please Yoko.

        Well, apparently The B-52's didn't realize that in doing this, they would be obligated to pay royalties to Yoko based on Whammy!'s sales. As the album rose higher on the charts in 1983 (eventually reaching #29 and going Gold), Ono's attorneys began licking their chops, and began making demands for a sizable amount in songwriting royalties on behalf of their client (while it doesn't seem that Ono instigated these actions against the group - they were apparently corporate-driven - I'm sort of curious as to why she didn't tell her lawyers to stand down...). To avoid paying out big bucks, The B-52's agreed to replace the track with "Moon '83" (a remix of "There's A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon)" off of The Yellow Album) in later album pressings.

        "Don't Worry" rapidly disappeared from the album track list, and since then has been somewhat difficult to find; fortunately, I purchased an early copy of Whammy! which has the song. It's not the greatest tune in the Bee-Fives' ouevre... but they probably could have avoided a TON of trouble and kept it on the album had they just checked with Ono's lawyers first and got everything straightened out beforehand. Oh well. I will mention that, to their credit, both The B-52's and Yoko Ono didn't let this incident poison their connection; they all remain good friends to this day.

        "Creature In A Black Bikini" - Ricky Wilson found out he was stricken with AIDS in 1983, during the Whammy! sessions, and was understandably terrified by this diagnosis. He was reluctant to let anyone know about his condition, but eventually broke the news to band member Keith Strickland, his best friend from their childhood days in Athens, Georgia. Keith was shocked as well, but determined to support and help his friend. He and Ricky began taking trips to New York City together, away from the other band members (everyone had moved up from Georgia and settled in and around the Bethel, NY area), to plot a plan of action. It was during these trips that the two decided the band should work on another album, with the feeling being that the activity would do Ricky good.
          After flying down to Brazil to take part in the Rock In Rio festival on the weekend of January 18th-20th, 1985 (Ricky's last public performance with the group), The B-52's entered Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia later that year for the Bouncing Off The Satellites sessions. Initially, the band was very productive - they quickly recorded the Wilson/Strickland-penned songs "Wig", "Detour Through Your Mind" and "Communicate", and jammed together on a number of other songs the two came up with, that eventually never made it onto the album.
          But as Ricky's condition deteriorated over that summer and fall, so did his creativity and ability to write tunes. He still continued to contribute songs for the album, including "Ain't It A Shame" and "She Brakes For Rainbows", but these songs have a noticeably downbeat quality compared to the earlier music he wrote - perhaps reflecting his attitude at the time.

          It got to the point where, due to his obviously declining health, he was spent creatively. Ricky and Keith told the other band members that if they had any solo material to offer, even stuff recorded with different bands, they could put it on the album as well - Fred and Kate responded with "Juicy Jungle" and "Housework", respectively (I've always felt these two songs didn't quite "fit" on Bouncing Off The Satellites - now I know why). For all intents and purposes, most of the basic album tracks were completed by September.

          Ricky Wilson was admitted to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City in early October, 1985. It was only then that the rest of the band was informed about the nature and severity of his condition. He died three days later, on October 12th. The group still wanted to release the album, as per Ricky's desires and as a final tribute to him. But most of them (especially his sister Cindy) were too distraught to participate in final mixing and overdubs - Keith and a host of session musicians took care of that. The final album did not entirely fit Ricky's vision for it; Warner Brothers insisted that the group add more synthesizers to their music, to make it more "commercial". And in the end, Keith/the band acquiesced to the label's wishes - they just wanted to see the album out. Bouncing Off The Satellites was released in September 1986 with little label support and no band appearances or tours to promote it, and quickly faded off the charts. It was the band's last release for almost three years.

          It's too bad that Ricky hadn't lived; Bouncing Off The Satellites would have ended up a much different and better album - possibly one of the band's greatest. As I mentioned earlier, there were a number of brilliant songs that Wilson and Strickland came up with during these sessions that the band noodled over, but never quite committed to. One of the best was "Creature In A Black Bikini" - only an excerpt from a recorded jam session survives, but it's enough to whet the appetites of B-52's fans who've heard it (and they're not many of those who have, as this tune has never been released) and have them wistfully wonder "what if?"...

          I've got a couple of other hard-to-find B-52's nuggets laying around (mostly b-sides of some of their late '70s/early '80s singles releases), but I think I might post that stuff later. For now, here for your listening pleasure are the following:
          • "Rock Lobster" b/w "52 Girls", recorded by producer Danny Beard in Athens, GA in February 1978 and released on his DB Records label in April 1978;
          • "Adios Desconocida", from the aborted Mesopotamia sessions, recorded at Blank Tape Studios in New York City in September 1981 (never released);
          • "Don't Worry", recorded at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas in December 1982/January 1983, and originally a track on the 1983 album Whammy! before being subsequently pulled; and
          • "Creature In A Black Bikini", a jam session outtake from the Bouncing Off The Satellites sessions, recorded in Philadelphia in the spring/summer of 1985 (never released).
          This post is for the true B-52's fans! If you count yourself amongst them, as I do, here you are! Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

          Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

          "Rock Lobster" single (1978): Send Email
          "Adios Desconocida": Send Email
          "Don't Worry": Send Email
          "Creature In A Black Bikini": Send Email

          11 comments:

          1. Thanks so much for the Rock Lobster original single! I hadn't been aware it was a different recording than the album version that came later. I really enjoyed it!

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          2. Spectacular!!!

            I don't think I've heard the Rock Lobster Single since about 1987. Really looking forward to this batch!

            Thanks so much!

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          3. Thanks for the B52 rarities. Hadn't heard them before.

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          4. That's one rare Rock Lobster version, really enjoyed this one !! Thanks for the links !! - Henry A

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          5. Thanks, Danny Beard IS their first label and he just followed his friends(The Bs) wishes.

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          6. Thank you so much for collecting these and sharing. Remembering when my favorite party band got recorded and friends eagerly awaited their first single and hoped Rock Lobster would ever get any radio play. Dance this Mess Around!

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          7. many thanks for your generosity in sharing this rare gem! i recall an old VHS performance of theirs—in some sort of school auditorium, if memory serves me (it often doesn't)—in which they employed the use of some strange instruments, including a smoke alarm at one point. they were endlessly entertaining and so much fun. i hadn't heard about their association with yoko, so thanks for the education. looking forward to more of your postings!

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          8. Thanks! Nice to have a better digital copy of the Rock Lobster single. DB Records is Danny Beard, who is one of the owners of Wax’n’Facts Recods shop in Little Five Points in Atlanta. Really nice guy and can never thank him enough for puttingvout the two Pylon lps.

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          9. Thanks Much for the songs. The Rock Lobster version sounds like the 1st version I heard in 77/78. I remember my 1st thought was "this is just a joke right?" - then I thought, why do I really like this stuff? The I heard B52 Girls and Planet Claire and I realized why I liked it.
            You are right on Creature in a Black Bikini - that could have been a great song for them - a bit like Whammy Kiss but heading into much raunchier moments - surprised they never revisited it. I wasn't too big on the Don't Worry clip, but still good K & C sing anything. Adios sounds OK, but as you suggested, doesn't really sound like the B's.
            Thanks again for the great write-up with some great B'52 history....

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            1. Yup - a full-blown version of "Black Bikini" would have been good to hear. But I guess after Ricky's death, the band wasn't too keen on reviving any of his old tunes when they regrouped for the Cosmic Thing sessions. And "Don't Worry" never did anything for me, either. Whammy isn't a BAD album... but neither is it a great one - I always considered this song semi-filler on that release.

              Thanks for the comment!

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          10. Excellent - thanks for sharing rarities of one of my favorite bands! Excellent feature on the group and REM on the latest Hit Parade podcast from Slate.

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