Sunday, September 18, 2011

Masterpieces of Pop: "Dance This Mess Around"

As we have discovered in past installments of “Masterpieces of Pop,” there was a revolution going on in music in the late 70s and early 80s. The new genres of Punk and “New Wave” (a term invented to describe musical acts that defied being pigeon-holed into a specific niche) were confusing, scaring, inspiring, and provoking young and old alike.

One of the more fun and odd groups to break out of this scene were The B-52s, from Athens, GA. There was a burgeoning alternative music scene in Athens at that time that also gave birth to the band R.E.M.

Formed in 1976, Cindy Wilson and her brother Ricky joined with Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland, and Fred Schneider. They shared a love of surf music, lounge lizard kitsch, and general late 50s/ early 60s pop culture. They named themselves after a popular early 1960s beehive hair style whose bouffant shape resembles the nose cone of a B-52 Stratofortress bomber. And of course this hair style has been sported at various times by Wilson and Pierson.


The B-52s released their eponymously titled debut album in 1979. With its bright yellow cover, period catchpenny font, and tongue-in-cheek “High Fidelity” logo in the upper left hand corner (in imitation of “Hi-Fi” vinyl records from the late 50s/ early 60s) the record was a stunning and fresh homage to the twangy lo-fi guitars of surf music, teen dance culture, go-go boots, teased hair, the Space Age, Flaming Volcano cocktails, and cheap B-movies of that period (this pop culture milieu was simultaneously being explored on film by John Waters). Their dedication to the period even led them to record an impromptu-sounding version of a classic from the era, Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” which closes the record.


The entire album seems to be chock full of memorable moments yet clocks in at a shockingly short thirty-nine minutes. “Rock Lobster” was the breakout hit, but that was the easy choice for frat parties. “Planet Claire” with its sci-fi B-movie take on the “Peter Gunn” theme, or “52 Girls” with its phenomenal pairing of Kate and Cindy’s vocal harmonies both come close to being the standout songs from the collection, but it is “Dance This Mess Around” that captures the essence of what The B-52s were all about. Playing like some demented episode of the television show “Shin Dig,” the song is an angst-ridden rant about rejection and popularity. Cindy Wilson wonders why a certain someone will not dance with her, prompting her to cry out that she is “not no Limburger.” Her astonishing vocals, breaking and shrieking, make her sound as if she might lose it any moment, while she and Fred Schneider roll call obscure dances that one assumes the “popular kids” who are in-the-know do at the “popular dance parties” of the time. Among the tooting and bipping Farfisa organ, the ominous bass, and the deranged-asylum-sound of the toy piano, there are references to “Stop! In the Name of Love” by The Supremes and “The Hippy Hippy Shake” by Chan Romero. But the innocence of the source music is wonderfully tinged with the ferocity and viciousness of punk. It was a groundbreaking and startling combination. Like so much music happening at that time, the B-52s were vital, immediate, and intriguingly off-kilter.

“Remember when you held my hand
Say, remember when you were my man
Walk, talk in the name of love
Before you break my heart
Dance on over, yeah,
Roll it over in your mind
Why don't you dance with me
I'm not no Limburger
Just a Limburger

Dance this mess around
Dance this mess around, 'round, 'round

Everybody goes to parties
They dance this mess around
They do all 16 dances
They do the Shu-ga-loo
Do the Shy Tuna
Do the Camel Walk
Do the Hip-o-crit

Ah-Hippy Hippy forward Hippy Hippy
Hippy Hippy Hippy Shake

Oh-it's time to do 'em right
Hey, said doesn't that make you feel a lot better, huh?
Huh?
I said, doesn't that make you feel a lot better?

What you say?
I'm just askin'
Come on!
Shake!
Bake!
Shake!
Bake!

Everybody goes to parties
They dance this mess around
They do all 16 dances
Do the Coo-ca-choo
Do the Aqua-velva
Do the Dirty Dog
Do the Escalator

Ah-Hippy Hippy forward Hippy Hippy
Hippy Hippy Hippy Shake

It's time to do 'em right
Hey! So Fred, doesn't that make you feel a lot better?
Huh?
Said, doesn't that make you feel a lot better?

What you say?
I'm just askin'

Yeah, yeah, yeah...
Stop!
Dance on over
Yeah, yeah

Dance this mess around

Shake, shake-a-bake shake
Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
Dance this mess around
Yeah, yeah, yeah........”

video

http://www.theb52s.com/


This is the eighth installment of my original, ongoing "Masterpieces of Pop" series. You can read the other essays here:

Masterpieces of Pop: "Ode To Billie Joe"
Masterpieces of Pop: "Rikki Don't Lose That Number"
Masterpieces of Pop: "I Only Have Eyes For You"
Masterpieces of Pop: "I'm Not In Love"
Masterpieces of Pop: "Warm Leatherette" and "Cars"
Masterpieces of Pop: “Family Affair”
Masterpieces of Pop: "Dreams"

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