Quirky, lively, and original, the B-52’s formed in the late 1970s, and they remain one of Athens’s best-known bands. Named for the bomb-shaped bouffant hairdos of the two female band members, the group debuted at a Valentine’s Day party in Athens in 1977 and before long were performing in New York City, where they attained a cultlike status. Initially the members of the group—Kate Pierson, Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson, and Ricky Wilson—had little or no musical experience, but their campy stage image, walkie talkies, exaggerated wigs, go-go boots, and thrift shop clothing, along with such oddly engaging songs as “Private Idaho” and “Planet Claire,” made them the talk of the postpunk scene. After gaining a following in New York and signing a record deal with Warner Brothers, the B-52’s moved to the city. Their first album, The B-52’s (1979), sold more than 500,000 copies, mostly on the strength of their dance party classics “Rock Lobster” and “52 Girls.”
After becoming a commercial and critical success, the B-52’s released their second album, Wild Planet, in 1980, followed by Mesopotamia in 1982 and Whammy! in 1983. However, Ricky Wilson, lead guitarist and the member responsible for much of the band’s unique vision, died of AIDS in 1985, during the recording of Bouncing off the Satellites. Wilson’s death devastated the band. Bouncing off the Satellites was released in 1986, but the band, saddened by the loss of Wilson, did not promote it aggressively. Three years passed before the group recorded another album.
In 1989 the remaining B-52’s recorded and released Cosmic Thing, their greatest commercial achievement. On the strength of the hits “Love Shack,” “Roam,” and “Deadbeat Club,” the album eventually went to number three on the Billboard charts and has sold five million copies.
In spite of the group’s success, Cindy Wilson left the band in 1991 to start a family. The B-52’s recorded their last studio album, Good Stuff, in 1992. Other projects soon followed. The band recorded the single “Meet the Flintstones” for the 1994 film The Flintstones. In 1997 they returned to Athens to play to a large and enthusiastic crowd at the University of Georgia homecoming. Then, reuniting permanently with Cindy Wilson, the group recorded two new tracks for a collection of their greatest hits, entitled Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation (1998).
The B-52’s continue to tour and play occasional shows. One of the first “DIY” (Do it yourself) bands, having been created as a means to make their own fun in a then-sleepy liberal arts college town, the B-52’s are credited with directly influencing hundreds of other successful bands. The B-52’s were inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2000.