She Brakes for Rainbows

That title certainly sounds like some hippie, summer-of-love bullshit. A t-shirt from a vendor in Golden Gate Park, years after all the actual hippies got cleared out. But that’s not the vibe this song is going for at all. It makes braking for rainbows sound kind of melancholy. What? When has the word ‘melancholy’ ever appeared in an article about The B-52’s? They’re the band who made it their life’s mission to be the opposite of everything sad and blue. Well, that was before their guitarist died of AIDS. Although their Bouncing Off the Satellites album was recorded before Ricky Wilson’s death, and none of the other band members were aware that he was ill, there’s a definitely something-ain’t-right vibe about the record. Maybe the band was just running out of steam after a really solid run of really good records, and also maybe they at least had to have suspected that Wilson wasn’t well. HIV can take years to develop into full-blown AIDS, but once it does, the effects are brutal. The person is walking around but their immune system is already dead. Not exactly conducive to writing and recording happytime party fun music. Hence, a lousy and depressing B-52’s album that disappeared upon arrival, because the band understandably was in no state to for promotional activities. Still, some of the songs have a weird beauty; not party music, but crying on the morning after music.



You all know this one, and chances are, it’s a favorite party-starter. For the B-52’s, party-starting is pretty much a mission statement. Being outrageous, flamboyant, campy and fun is their game, and it’s honestly hard to think of a more reliable spirit-booster. As a big radio hit, this song is definitely one of their least weird. For some fans, any song not featuring Fred Schneider is not really a proper B-52’s song. I’ve always been of the opinion that the ladies deserve more credit than they get for shaping the band’s signature sound – especially Kate Pierson. They’re more than backups or accessories for a charismatic frontman, they are the aesthetic. (And major fashion icons!) So this is a perennial favorite that can’t possibly be played into oblivion.

Revolution Earth

Kate Pierson is so underrated. Yes, it’s agreed that Fred Schneider and his weirdness is what makes The B-52’s. But not all of their songs lean on weirdness so much, because all that quirkiness can sometimes come off as trying too hard to be fun, and it can lead to fun exhaustion. (Also, some people find Fred Schneider really annoying, but that I cannot abide.) Mostly though, I really like to hear a good showcase for Pierson. She’s an astounding vocalist, obviously, though weird too in her own way. You can’t say that she often gets lost in the mix, because it’s hard to mix down a voice like that, but she deserves to fly solo sometimes too. This is probably the best sustained Pierson solo performance in the band’s career, and incidentally or not, it’s from the one album where Cindy Wilson was on hiatus.

Quiche Lorraine

I’m an absolute sucker for songs about pets. Forget love songs about humans; human loves do nothing but let you down. Animals will never let you down. Every animal companion deserves to be immortalized in song. If that was the case, the world of music would be a lot cuter. Few groups injected as much undiluted silliness into the music world as The B-52’s, so it’s no surprise that they’re also responsible for one of the greatest all-time dog songs. I have no idea if Quiche La Poodle was a real dog or not, but I’d like to imagine so. A miniature poodle dyed neon colors sounds like a very Fred Schneider thing to have. Or maybe I’m mistaken and he secretly has very refined and somber tastes in real life, in which case it would be just a regular colored poodle. Anyhow, Quiche La Poodle is a great character, real or not. She should be in a children’s book. Then we’d finally find out what happened to her. Which, if you haven’t listened to the song very closely though, I have to break to you: in the second half, Quiche escapes and runs away and we never get to find out if she ever comes back. So it’s actually kind of more of a metaphor for a human relationship, from the delight of being in love to the resentment of being left alone. Some people do invest those kinds of feelings onto their pets, though, and some people, conversely, treat their loved ones like animals, so it works either way. And either way it’s hilarious.

Private Idaho

I think it says everything about The B-52’s aesthetic that they performed on television with duct tape on their instruments (you can see a clear close up of Ricky Wilson’s mended guitar near the end of the video below.) They didn’t mind looking trashy like that because trash was their thing; fright wigs, thrift store dresses, the dregs of 1960’s pop culture. And most important to their success, total joy. They were really a tall cold drink of loopy juice at a time when most bands took their posturing very seriously. Rock star posturing is fun, though! Camp is fun! Wigs are fun! Inspiring edgy movies about male prostitutes with mommy issues is fun! Ok, you lost me at Gus Van Sant, but whatever, it’s all in fun.

Planet Claire

The B-52’s really don’t get enough credit. I mean, have you seen them? Like, really paid attention, though? Their good-taste-to-the-wind brand of eccentricity is like nothing else. And how about Kate Pierson? She’s the icon you didn’t know you were indebted to; one part drag queen, one part hipster dream girl. Being campy and kooky isn’t mutually exclusive with being edgy, either. The B-52’s were pretty experimental for a party band. Examine the extended intro of this song. I, for one, didn’t know until just now that the space wave noise was actually Pierson’s modulated voice. Unfortunately, the older video is ruined halfway through by the appearance of some kind of alarmingly hirsute talk show host, but the first half is a marvel of sustained weirdness.


Party Out of Bounds

Would you mind that terribly much if The B-52’s crashed your kegger? They seem fun, though Fred Schneider seems like the kind of guy who would make you feel bad about your record/book collection. They also make a crashed party sound like fairly innocent fun, because pretending that everything’s the 50’s is their thing. Nothing bad could ever happen in the tacky glow of The B-52’s retro world. It’s all wigs and martinis and camp.