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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