I am a bit embarrassed to say that my introduction to The B-52’s didn’t happen until probably 1987 when I met Michael, one of my (future) best friends and the person who has been the most influential in music for me. By 1987, The B’s had already released 4 albums and 2 EPs, and lost guitarist Ricky Wilson to AIDS (he was the brother of B-52’s vocalist Cindy Wilson).
But, I wasn’t the only one who got a late start in getting into the Athens, GA New Wave / Alt-Rock heroes. With the release of their excellent 1989 album, COSMIC THING, and the singles from the album, “Love Shack,” “Roam” (both No. 3 hits on the BILLBOARD Hot 100), “Channel Z” and “Deadbeat Club,” The B-52’s finally got the recognition they deserved.
Rewinding back to 1980, The B’s memorable first hit, “Rock Lobster,” had peaked at No. 56 on the Hot 100 in May that year, and just a few months later, they released their second album, WILD PLANET. And by October 1980, it was “Private Idaho” that returned them to the Hot 100. Its run on the chart was short-lived, lasting just 6 weeks, and it spent a week at its peak position of No. 74 in early November 1980. It did fare better on the BILLBOARD Dance chart, reaching No. 5, and in Australia, where it hit No. 11 and finished the year at No. 83.
The legacy of “Private Idaho” has long since outlasted its short chart run. In 1991, Gus Van Sant used the name of the song as part of the title of his well-received indie film, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, starring River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves. In 1998, it was heavily featured in my favorite Adam Sandler film, THE WEDDING SINGER. “Private Idaho” also remains as one of the most-requested songs on my little 20-year-old radio program on WMPG-FM and WMPG.org, STUCK IN THE 80s.
Why the continued appeal of “Private Idaho?” The answer is in the question. It’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s one of the best dance songs ever. I’ve seen The B-52’s perform live a couple of times, but it’s been awhile, and I would love to see them perform at least one more time, because like the continued appeal of “Private Idaho,” they are fun and they will make you dance and they will try (intentionally or not) to take the roof (tin roof rusted?) off a venue with their sensationally collective energy and persona, and amazing songs, including (the thankfully not-so) “Private Idaho…”