B-52s

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By 1978, with the Bea­tles eight years in his rearview mir­ror, John Len­non had stopped mak­ing mu­sic and found him­self va­ca­tion­ing apart from his wife and muse, Yoko Ono. That same year, a group of eclec­tic mis­fits from Athens, Ga., who called them­selves the B-52s re­leased their first sin­gle, “Rock Lob­ster.”

The song was re­leased 40 years ago this year on a small, nowde­funct la­bel called DB Records. It was later re-recorded and rere­leased as part of the band’s 1979 epony­mous de­but al­bum for Warner Bros.

It’s a bizarre tune con­tain­ing non­sen­si­cal lyrics and cir­cus­like surf mu­sic, but it would prove deeply im­por­tant to the B-52s (it launched them into star­dom) and Len­non (it in­spired him to team up with Ono and record the last songs of his life).

The B-52s, who will per­form Sun­day in Pom­pano Beach, were a new wave band be­fore new wave was an of­fi­cial genre, and “Rock Lob­ster” hit the masses like a ton of psy­che­delic bricks. Deliri­ous sounds pump­ing out of a Farfisa or­gan flut­ter and spin around a dron­ing back­beat. Vo­cal­ists Kate Pier­son and Cindy Wil­son sing “ohh” and “ahh” in their best im­i­ta­tion of fish dur­ing the song’s nearly seven-minute run. At the end, Wil­son shrieks like a dol­phin. There’s more than a lit­tle cow­bell.

Strangest of all, though, are Fred Sch­nei­der’s spo­ken-sung vo­cals about a rock lob­ster — a red, brown or col­or­ful crea­ture that lives among co­ral reefs in trop­i­cal ar­eas — spot­ted near a beach­side party where “ev­ery­body had match­ing tow­els.”

The lyrics paint a strange pic­ture, with sense­less im­agery ... “We were at a party “His ear­lobe fell in the deep “Some­one reached in and grabbed it” ... odd cloth­ing choices ... LBoys in biki­nis The B-52s are sched­uled to per­form at Pom­pano Beach Am­phithe­ater on Sun­day. Where: Pom­pano Beach Am­phithe­ater, 1806 NE Sixth St. When: July 1. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. Cul­ture Club and Tom Bai­ley of Thomp­son Twins also will per­form. Cost: Tick­ets cost $49.50-$199.50. Con­tact: 954-946-2402 or go to TheAm­pPom­pano.org. “Girls in surf­boards” ... and a list of the in­creas­ingly lu­di­crous an­i­mals pass­ing by: “Here comes a stingray “There goes a manta ray “In walked a jel­ly­fish “There goes a dog­fish “Chased by a cat­fish “In flew a sea robin “Watch out for that pi­ranha “There goes a nar­whal “Here comes a bikini whale.” The song’s in­spi­ra­tion? A strange South­ern night­club.

“I went to this disco in At­lanta, Ga., called 2001. And in­stead of hav­ing a light show and fab­u­lous­ness, they had a slide show,” Sch­nei­der said in an in­ter­view with Boom 97.3. “And it was empty, and they showed pic­tures of pup­pies, ba­bies and lob­sters on a grill, and I thought, ‘OK, “Rock Lob­ster,” that’s a good ti­tle for a song.’”

In some ways, the song was a happy ac­ci­dent. The band went to a Chi­nese restau­rant one night “and we had this big ce­ramic bowl of a rum con­coc­tion that was very strong,” Wil­son re­cently told The Wash­ing­ton Post. Dur­ing a post­din­ner jam ses­sion, the be­gin­nings of “Rock Lob­ster” emerged. Wil­son said the band knew it was on to some­thing.

“We were just rolling on the floor laugh­ing,” Wil­son re­calls. “It just kind of hap­pened by want­ing to have a good time. And we kept fol­low­ing that.”

The song launched the out­landish band into the main­stream, be­com­ing its first to hit the Bill­board top 100. It didn’t peak un­til 1980, how­ever, af­ter the B-52s played the song on “Satur­day Night Live.”

“Rock Lob­ster” also re­vived a ca­reer that had stalled. Len­non’s well of post-Bea­tles in­spi­ra­tion had dried by 1975. Al­though he of­ten cited Ono as his muse, the two had never put out an en­tirely col­lab­o­ra­tive al­bum. That changed when he heard “Rock Lob­ster” for the first time while on a va­ca­tion with­out Ono.

“I was at a dance club one night in Ber­muda. Up­stairs, they were play­ing disco, and down­stairs I sud­denly heard ‘Rock Lob­ster’ by the B-52s for the first time,” Len­non told Rolling Stone in 1980. “It sounds just like Yoko’s mu­sic, so I said to me­self, ‘It’s time to get out the old ax and wake the wife up!’”

That the song re­minded Len­non of Ono’s mu­sic isn’t sur­pris­ing. Wil­son told the Post that the song was, in part, “a trib­ute to Yoko.”

“Yoko was such an in­spi­ra­tion for us in the early days,” the song’s co-writer, Keith Strick­land, told Spin­ner. “That’s def­i­nitely an homage to Yoko when Cindy [Wil­son] does that scream at the end.”

Ono re­called the mo­ment sim­i­larly.

“Lis­ten­ing to the B-52s, John said he re­al­ized that my time had come,” she told Song­facts. “So he could record an al­bum by mak­ing me an equal part­ner and we won’t get flak like we used to up to then.” Ono re­ferred to gos­sip swirling at the time that her re­la­tion­ship with Len­non was re­spon­si­ble for the dis­so­lu­tion of the Bea­tles. (Paul McCart­ney has since de­nied the al­le­ga­tion.)

The two be­gan be­fore he got home from va­ca­tion, singing to each other over the phone ev­ery day. They wrote an en­tire al­bum in three weeks.

Those songs be­came Len­non’s fi­nal true al­bum, “Dou­ble Fan­tasy.” The two re­leased it on Nov. 17, 1980, mere weeks be­fore Len­non was killed on Dec. 8. Some of the songs also ap­peared on his post­hu­mous re­lease “Milk and Honey.”

“Con­sti­pated for five years, and then di­ar­rhea for three weeks,” Len­non told Rolling Stone of the al­bum. All it took was “Rock Lob­ster.”

Al­though Len­non was never af­forded the chance to record more mu­sic, Ono has con­tin­ued fol­low­ing her ex­per­i­men­tal mu­si­cal muse. But she never for­got “Rock Lob­ster.”

“You guys made John very happy,” she told Pier­son in 1992. “It was a beau­ti­ful, de­light­ful thing for him.”

Fi­nally, a decade later, she joined the B-52s on­stage to per­form that fa­mous pri­mal scream.

The song re­mains a pop-cul­ture sta­ple, even show­ing up in car­toons such as “Fam­ily Guy.”

As Wil­son puts it: “‘Rock Lob­ster’ lives on.”

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