With an aesthetic borrowed from thrift stores and mid-century American fashions, coupled with a musical sound that was part punk, part party, the B-52s quickly became one of the most unique band’s in American popular music history.
Shortly after the band has begun to experience success with the release of their first three albums, tragedy struck. One of the band’s founding members, guitarist Ricky Wilson died Oct. 12, 1985 from complications of AIDS.
The loss of Wilson devastated the band. The last album Wilson worked on “Bouncing Off the Satellites,” received little promotion from the band. With no support, the album’s trajectory up the charts was stalled by a lack of support. However, the release yielded one single “Summer of Love,” which reached No. 3 on dance charts. Overall, though, the album stalled at No. 85 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Ricky Wilson is largely credited for B-52s unique guitar sound because of how he tuned his instruments. His sister, Cindy continues to sing with the band, creating otherworldly melodies with the other female singer, Kate Pierson.
B-52s: before and after tragedy
The band formed in Athens, Georgia in 1976. By 1978, they had a national hit with the aquatic anthem, “Rock Lobster.” In recent decades the song was given new life on an episode of the adult cartoon “Family Guy.” In 1978, the song reached No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The band had another hit with “Private Idaho” in 1980. The single would prove to be another cultural hit for the band. It was featured in the early 1990s movie of the same name, and was featured in the 1998 Adam Sandler movie “The Wedding Singer.”
Residents in some markets might not have heard of the B-52s, relegated as they might have been to college rock stations before the proliferation of alternative rock stations. But with the release of 1989’s “Cosmic Thing,” the band came back stronger and funnier than ever with “Love Shack” and “Roam.”
The songs made effective use of singers Wilson’s and Pierson’s voices. They take the lead on ” Roam,” and create an irresistible back and forth exchange with male singer, Fred Schneider.
In terms of success, “Love Shack” reached No.3 on the charts, and “Roam” was nominated for a Grammy in 1991.
The long history of the B-52s is not without adversity. However, the band worked through their tragedy and continued to be successful. The legacy of Ricky Wilson can certainly be heard in the band’s early work, and perhaps the fact that the group continues serves as a lasting tribute to him.