Everyone knew — and still knows — who the B-52′s were after “Rock Lobster” went nationwide at the close of the Me Decade. That bucking backbeat, “96 Tears” Farfisa organ, low-tuned surf guitar and girl vocals inspired by Plastic Ono Band. Yoko’s Plastic Ono Band, that is.
It sounded so alien and familiar at once, whereby the aliens landed on a beach party in 1966. And instead of the weirdness turning everybody off at a time when both disco and punk reigned supreme, everybody loved it. “Rock Lobster” was zany enough to soften the defenses of the most stubborn music snob and was too ingenious to be dismissed as hackneyed by them, anyway.
All of that going for the song wasn’t enough to qualify it as a hit. “Rock Lobster” remains the B-52′s signature song, an iconic party tune for the ages, yet it only reached No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100, while shooting up all the way to No. 1 in Canada. What’s up with that, Late 1970s, America?
I still remember seeing the spectacle of watching the band play it on TV (Saturday Night Live, if I recall correctly) and those chicks with some outlandish beehive hairdos singing like it’s Halloween, as Fred Schneider yells out goofy-assed words and phrases. But what really caught my eye was Ricky Wilson’s guitar: there was only one string on it, maybe two, and he was playing the entire riff on it.
Right then and there I realized the genius of “Rock Lobster.” It’s the opposite of the heavy orchestration of disco, the opposite of the anger found in most punk. By making it simple, campy and extremely loose, the B-52′s in its warped way brought us back to the original intent of party rock music.