Formed on an October night in 1976 following drinks at an Athens, GA, Chinese restaurant, the band played their first gig at a friend’s house on Valentine’s Day 1977. Naming themselves after Southern slang for exaggerated ‘bouffant” hairdos, the newly-christened B-52s (Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson and Ricky Wilson) began weekend road trips to New York City for gigs at CBGB’s and a handful of other venues. Before long, their thrift store aesthetic and genre-defying songs were the talk of the post-punk underground. A record deal soon followed and their self-titled debut disc, produced by Chris Blackwell, sold more than 500,000 copies on the strength of their first singles, the garage rock party classic “Rock Lobster,” and “52 Girls.” The B-52s began to attract fans far beyond the punk clubs of the Lower East Side — galvanizing the pop world with their ‘stream-of-consciousness’ approach to songwriting and outrageous performance. They had clearly tapped into a growing audience for new music that was much larger than anyone could have anticipated. “We always appealed to people outside the mainstream,” says Kate Pierson, “and I think more people feel they’re outside the mainstream these days.”
With the release of their second studio effort, Wild Planet (1980), the B-52s and co-producer Rhett Davies proved their success was no fluke with hits with “Private Idaho,” “Give Me Back My Man” and “Strobe Light.” In just two albums, the B-52s created a lexicon of songs, styles, phrases and images which would set the standard for the development of the ‘alternative music scene’ for the next decade. The success of Mesopotamia, produced by David Byrne (1982), and Whammy! (1983) positioned the B-52s as MTV regulars as well as alternative radio staples.