The Isolated Vocal Tracks of the B‑52s “Roam”: Enjoy the Angelic Harmonies of Kate Pierson & Cindy Wilson

The B‑52s’ debut sin­gle “Rock Lob­ster” brought the par­ty and a play­ful sense of the absurd
to New Wave.

The New York Times nailed the band’s appeal as “70s punks mold­ed not from the syringes and leather of New York City, but from the campy detri­tus you might have found in the thrift stores and garage sales of their home of Athens, Ga.: bright clothes, toy pianos, old issues of Vogue, tall wigs and dis­card­ed vinyl:”

They chan­neled spy sound­tracks, exot­i­ca, surf music, long-aban­doned dance crazes and garage rock …The B‑52s were a sui gener­is clash of sounds that help bring punk to the sub­ur­ban kids more like­ly to watch Sat­ur­day Night Live than vis­it CBGB:  Fred Schnei­der’s sing-shout poet­ry, Cindy Wil­son and Kate Pierson’s alien girl-group har­monies, Ricky Wilson’s tricky gui­tar riffs and Kei­th Strickland’s art-funky drums. Even demo­graph­i­cal­ly they were noth­ing like the new world of new wave being built by Talk­ing Heads and Devo: 40 per­cent female, 60 per­cent South­ern, 80 per­cent queer, 100 per­cent fun.

Their quirky sense of humor found favor with a wider audi­ence thanks to 1989’s Cos­mic Thing, with its irre­sistible “Love Shack.”

“It’s a fic­ti­tious place, but the whole idea is that everyone’s wel­come to the par­ty,” Kate Pier­son told The Guardian.

“Roam,” Cos­mic Thing’s oth­er chart top­per offers a sim­i­lar­ly boun­cy groove, well suit­ed to road trips and oth­er adven­tures.  “We were on the bus,” Pier­son explains:

We par­tied with each oth­er – we had some epic bus par­ties, and the bus dri­ver cre­at­ed a dance called the Bore Hog. We would do our con­cert then get on the bus and keep rolling. It was a wild ride though. We were tired of being this under­ground band – this was a con­fir­ma­tion of some­thing.

Pier­son and Cindy Wilson’s iso­lat­ed “Roam” har­monies, above, strike us as aur­al con­fir­ma­tion of  some­thing else.

Not just Clas­sic Pop’s apt descrip­tion of the pair’s tight har­monies as a com­bi­na­tion of “Appalachi­an folk music” and “teenage Motown fan­tasies of hair­brush­es for micro­phones…”

With the instru­ments removed (and Schnei­der tem­porar­i­ly benched), “Roam” evinces a haunt­ing qual­i­ty that sup­ports Cindy Wilson’s asser­tion that “it’s a beau­ti­ful song about death:”

It’s about when your spir­it leaves your body and you can just roam.

Wil­son, whose broth­er and band­mate, Ricky, died from AIDS in 1985 at the age of 32, recalled the record­ing process:

When we start­ed jam­ming, it felt like Ricky was in the room with us. I was hav­ing a real­ly hard time with the griev­ing and sor­row, but cre­at­ing this music was such a won­der­ful thing. Ricky’s spir­it was there and it was amaz­ing. We did that music for our­selves, and it real­ly helped me.

Imag­ine the after­life as a great after par­ty, where auto-tune has­n’t been invent­ed yet, and the har­monies are tru­ly angel­ic.

Roam if you want to

Roam around the world

Roam if you want to

With­out wings, with­out wheels

Roam if you want to

Roam around the world

Roam if you want to

With­out any­thing but the love we feel

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Very Ear­ly Con­cert Footage of the B‑52s, When New Wave Music Was Actu­al­ly New (1978)

Talk­ing Heads Per­form The Ramones’ “I Wan­na Be Your Boyfriend” Live in 1977 (and How the Bands Got Their Start Togeth­er)

The Iso­lat­ed Vocal Tracks of the Talk­ing Heads’ “Once In A Life­time” Turn David Byrne into a Wild-Eyed Holy Preach­er

Two Very Ear­ly Con­cert Films of R.E.M., Live in ‘81 and ‘82

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and the soon to be released Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (12)
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  • Kimberly Taylor says:

    I have loved and admired the B52’s for years. I dis­cov­ered their music in 1982 when I was an awk­ward school­girl who felt all alone in the world. Their music and style gave me hope as well as hap­pi­ness. Their music is so fun,and hap­py. It is so cool to fol­low your own path. I am so thank­ful to the kids from Athens Geor­gia, who crashed a bor­ing par­ty, one Decem­ber night.

  • Mike Perez says:

    The song ‘Topaz’ reminds me of my home­town, Cor­pus Christi Texas. Sparkling city by the Sea
    “Yes I see cities by the Sea”

  • Patricia johns-Richert says:

    I have loved the B‑52’s since 1978
    When­ev­er the yel­low ablum came out. I was always the weird kid in the neigh­bor­hood who was lis­ten­ing to them. I would always get.. what are you lis­ten­ing too? I was the only kid around who had her­bown stereo. It was pret­ty loud. The 1st time I heard them fell in love with them. I was with my friend and these guys asked us to go caus­ing with them. He had a Ford pin­to wag­on. He had like 8bspeakers in it. He played Plan­et Claire. I was hooked. I’ve tried for the last 40 u ra to see them live and it nev­er worked out… BUT Oct.28,2022..I said I’m going qrather it be alone or with who­ev­er. And I did. My man and I went togeth­er and stayed the whole week­end in the city. So I thank you B‑52’s for the awe­some show. My boyfriend was very impressed. He loved the drum­mer… so yes I’m 59 yrs old and final­ly seen one of my child­hood-Grand­par­ent-hood fav­iorts. You are the boomb… for­ev­er one of ur #1 fan. Love, Love ‚Love you all.

  • Mickey White says:

    So, will some­one please explain to me why this group is not yet in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? I’m just sayin’.…

  • Jennifer says:

    Saw B52s at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty on the mid 80s. A delight­ful, humor­ous, upbeat act. I stood about 6 ft from Kate next to the stage. She is a real­ly beau­ti­ful woman, and although she danced through the entire per­for­mance nev­er seemed to sweat lol.

  • OC says:

    The B‑52s haven’t admit­ted to Rock Hall of Fame. And they haven’t even been nom­i­nat­ed. RHOF must have some­thing against inno­v­a­tive, influ­en­tial, orig­i­nal bands.

    Open Cul­ture

  • Jamie Ellison says:

    They have been My group sence the 70,s full of ener­gy

  • tex shelters says:

    Cool! How­ev­er, Are we Not Men came out a few months ear­li­er, and that brought the quirk to new wave.

  • John says:

    The 80’s was the time of punk.The B‑52’s will always be a part of my life with there har­mo­niz­ing voic­es and bass rythem drum beats, I used to Pogo dance to there mag­nif­i­cent music.

  • Ricardo says:

    Found their ‘Good Stuff’ CD in the cheap bin and it was fun with the B’s ever since. That was 1994. Only the I remem­bered hear­ing them play­ing ‘Legal Ten­der’ in the first Rock in Rio, 1985 — that was a show!

  • Mattias says:

    The only time I can remem­ber being asked to change record last mil­len­ni­um was when play­ing The B52s. Fun­ni­ly enough it made me love them even more💜

  • ScottBottcherScooter says:

    I remem­ber see­ing the B52’sone day before Hal­loween and David Byrne on Hal­loween two of the best con­certs at the Northrup hall in Min­neapo­lis MN ear­ly 80’s, some of the best con­certs that’ll ever see, and I have seen a lot of great shows!when I heard Roam it was like time stood still
    I have always loved their VIBE and ener­gy. God bless great bands and good MUSIC

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