There’s no doubt that The B-52’s’ first album is their masterpiece, and without question one of the greatest New Wave albums. But I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the follow-up, most likely because it became a staple of Deutsch Hall parties at UC Berkeley in the fall of 1980. And trust me, there were a lot of parties that fall. Those were different days in college dorms; on my very first night there our dorm RAs hosted a wine-and-cheese party – and mind you, this was an official dorm function. Berkeley was on the quarter system back then, and every quarter each floor of the dorm got a cash allotment (apparently, from an account derived from the fees we paid) to spend on whatever we wanted – and if we wanted a keg party, that was quite alright. (Mind you, I’m not saying these things don’t happen on college campuses anymore, but I somehow suspect that the days of official underage drinking events are over).
But back to the album – the first side is almost (hold up thumb and forefinger) as a good as the debut, beginning with “Party Out of Bounds” and closing with “Private Idaho.” The three songs between them are little more than extended riffs turned into songs, but I always loved the way that the slow burn of “Dirty Back Road” segued into the faster “Runnin’ Around” and “Give Me Back My Man.” The second side isn’t quite as successful, but at least a couple of the songs – “Quiche Lorraine” and “Strobe Light” – work as really good jokes.
So why were The B-52’s so popular with a bunch of crazy smart kids away from home for the first time? Maybe there was something intoxicating about the simplicity of the music and the enthusiasm of the singers – no one who’d never heard Fred Schneider before could really believe what they were hearing, and it wasn’t long before the young women of the dorm were competing for who could do the best impressions of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. And maybe it was just because you couldn’t listen to this stuff without wanting to join in, jump around and have a good time.