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The B-52s are commonly known as the "World's Greatest Party Band" and the "tacky little dance band from Athens, Georgia" who created such hits as "Rock Lobster" and "Love Shack."

They dared to be different long before it became a cliché, and welcomed everyone else who did the same. Naturally, this held—and continues to hold—appeal for the glbtq community who welcome the message expressed in the song "Junebug": "Well, don't you listen to what they say. / We're a little different anyway. / Ain't it the truth, uh huh."

In addition to their ability to have a good time, the B-52s have influenced glbtq musicians such as Peaches and the Scissor Sisters, are active in glbtq, AIDS, environmental, and animal rights issues, and have collaborated with numerous musicians. Although firmly rooted in New Wave and 1960s rock and roll, they bring an eclectic sensibility and have adapted many influences, from post-punk to pop rock.

Before R.E.M. put Athens on the map, five friends--Kate Pierson (b. April 27, 1948), Fred Schneider (b. July 1, 1960), Keith Strickland (b. October 26, 1953) Cindy Wilson (b. February 28, 1957), and her brother, Ricky Wilson (b. March 19, 1953)-- formed a band. Cindy Wilson is the only heterosexual among the five.

After a night of flaming volcano drinks at a local Chinese restaurant in October of 1976, the band began their first jam, which is how many of their early songs were created.

Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, who made thrift-store clothes look chic and wore the towering bouffant hairdos that the band is named after, supply vocals. Fred Schneider sings/speaks and plays instruments like the glockenspiel, walkie-talkie, and a toy piano. Both Pierson and Cindy Wilson have also played guitar, especially in the early days; Cindy Wilson also plays the bongos and Pierson the keyboard on many of the band's signature songs.

Initially, Strickland played drums (and sometimes, keyboards and guitar) and Ricky Wilson played the guitar. Both Strickland and Wilson wrote the music, and all five members jammed collectively on lyrics.

The band's first official gig was at a friend's Valentine's Day party in 1977. Word spread quickly of their unique sound (which some described as kitschy and campy), and they soon began weekend road trips to New York City to play at venues such as CBGB's and Max's Kansas City. They quickly became the talk of the post-punk underworld and bonded with musicians such as Deborah Harry and Talking Heads.

The B-52s eponymous debut album was released in 1979 and sold more than 500,000 copies on the strength of their first singles, "Rock Lobster" and "52 Girls." The group began to attract fans far beyond the Lower East Side, and even toured in Australia and Japan. (Aaron Fricke's memoir Reflections of a Rock Lobster: A Story About Growing Up Gay, published in 1981, pays homage to the B-52s song in its title.)

After their second album, Wild Planet, was released in 1980, the band appeared on Saturday Night Live and in Paul Simon's movie, One Trick Pony (1980). One of the singles from this album, "Private Idaho," is mentioned by Gus Van Sant in the credits of his movie My Own Private Idaho (1991). The song is about living in your own little world, and makes a subtle and obscure reference to environmental pollution.

Over the next three years, the band settled into becoming one of the world's top live acts, and released a new album each year--Party Mix (1981) Mesopotamia (1982), which was produced by Talking Heads' David Byrne, and Whammy! (1983).

Many of the B-52s songs openly express sexual freedom and have double meanings. For example, because "Whammy Kiss" is sung by Schneider, it can be perceived as a song between two gay men. Other songs have double-entendres, as, for example, the disaster song, "Lava," about a volcano.

The band soon attracted international acclaim. In January of 1985, they performed in Brazil's "Rock in Rio" concert festival, which turned out to be Ricky Wilson's last live performance.

Tragically, Ricky Wilson died of an AIDS-related virus in October of 1985 while the band was working on Bouncing off the Satellites, their fifth album.

The band was devastated by the loss. "He really had a vision," Cindy Wilson says on the band's official website. "He was one of the strongest elements of the B-52s from the beginning." The band released Bouncing off the Satellites a year later, and dedicated the album to Ricky Wilson.

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The B-52s performing in Barcelona in 2008. Left to right: Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson, Kate Pierson, and Fred Schneider.
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