On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82. From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend. Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day. For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet. And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).
In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June (and now through July), I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post. On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40. Sometime here in July, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1.
As Casey used to say on AT40, “And on we go!”
Casey Kasem used to also say, “As the numbers get smaller, the hits get bigger.” And so does the number of songs that reached these “smaller” positions. Between 1979 and 1989, more than 110 songs peaked at No. 3, and many artists stayed there more than once, including Bobby Brown, El DeBarge (solo and with DeBarge), Duran Duran, Genesis, The Jets, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis & The News, Richard Marx, Olivia Newton-John, The Pointer Sisters, The Police (Sting also had a No. 3 solo hit), Kenny Rogers, Barbra Streisand, Styx, Wham! and Donna Summer. Chicago reached the No. 3 positions four times between 1979 and 1989.
1988 was a popular year for No. 3 hits, when 17 songs reached that position, including songs by Taylor Dayne, Samantha Fox, Debbie Gibson, the “comeback” hit for Hall & Oates (“Everything Your Heart Desires”), Breathe, Anita Baker, Information Society, INXS, U2 and (real) one-hit wonder Patrick Swayze (from DIRTY DANCING).
No. 3 hits also included the first solo by David Lee Roth (his cover of The Beach Boys’ “California Girls”), as well as the first Van Halen hit without him, “Why Can’t This Be Love.” There were also big No. 3 hits for Simple Minds, Belinda Carlisle, The Cars, Neneh Cherry, Charlie Daniels Band, Chris de Burgh, Earth, Wind & Fire, Corey Hart, Don Henley, Chaka Khan, Love & Rockets, Men At Work, Men Without Hats, Nu Shooz, Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The S.O.S. Band, The Stray Cats, Tears For Fears, Thompson Twins, Madonna and the last Top 40 hit for the late, great Marvin Gaye (“Sexual Healing”).
Love was a constant theme among the No. 3 hits, and was featured in the title of 15 songs, and implied in many others. One of the 15 hits with the “Love” connection (sorry, couldn’t be helped) was one of two No. 3 hits in a row for The B-52’s – “Love Shack.”
One of the 80s’ biggest success stories – some would say one of the biggest comebacks – belonged to Athens, GA’s New Wave / Alt-Rock / Alt-Dance legends, The B-52’s. By 1989, The B-52’s had already released four albums and two EPs, and had reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 three times – “Rock Lobster” (No. 56, 1980), “Private Idaho” (No. 74, 1980) and “Legal Tender” (No. 81, 1983).
The B-52’s started recorded their fourth album – BOUNCING OFF THE SATELLITES – in July 1985. At that time, the band was comprised of vocalist Fred Schneider, vocalist and keyboardist Kate Pierson, vocalist and percussionist Cindy Wilson, lead guitarist Ricky Wilson (Cindy’s brother), and drummer / rhythm guitarist and keyboardist Keith Strickland. This had been the lineup since the band’s formation in 1976.
During the recording of BOUNCING OFF THE SATELLITES, it was discovered that Ricky Wilson was suffering from AIDS. None of the rest of The B-52’s (except for Keith Strickland) had known about it. In an interview, Kate Pierson had said that Ricky Wilson kept his illness a secret from the rest of the band because he “did not want anyone to worry about him or fuss about him.”
On October 12, 1985, while still in the recording process of BOUNCING OFF THE SATELLITES, Ricky Wilson died of AIDS at the heartbreakingly young age of 32 years old.
After Ricky’s death, drummer Keith Strickland learned how to play guitar in Ricky’s own style and switched from drummer to lead guitarist. The band hired session musicians to help out as well, including the album’s producer, Tony Mansfield (who had also worked with Naked Eyes, Captain Sensible, a-ha and After The Fire).
Devastated beyond belief at the loss of Ricky Wilson, The B-52’s released BOUNCING OFF THE SATELLITES on September 8, 1986, with no fanfare and no tour, though they did make a music video for my favorite song on the album, “Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland.”
Cindy Wilson went into a deep depression following her brother’s death, Keith Strickland spent some time at Woodstock, NY, while Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson remained in New York City. They all felt at that moment The B-52’s couldn’t continue without Ricky Wilson.
But, in time, Keith Strickland began composing songs again, and after playing some of the new music he had worked on to the rest of the band, they agreed to try and start writing together again. The result was COSMIC THING, the biggest album the band would ever have.
COSMIC THING’s production was smartly split up between Don Was (of Was (Not Was) fame) and Nile Rodgers. It worked and then some, and the album’s first single, “Channel Z,” was not well-received anywhere except College and Modern Rock radio, who embraced it right away. “Channel Z” would spend three weeks at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Modern Rock chart in August 1989.
“Channel Z” was also the B-side of the album’s second single, “Love Shack,” which was released a week in advance of COSMIC THING in late June 1989. It took a month and a half to reach BILLBOARD’s Hot 100 chart and become the band’s fourth single to reach the chart.
“Love Shack” debuted on the Hot 100 in early September 1989 at No. 84. Within three weeks, “Love Shack” had already surpassed the peak of every B-52’s single which had reached the chart. By the end of September 1989, it was the first Top 40 hit the band had in its U.S. homeland.
In early November 1989, The B-52’s landed their first Top 10 hit, with “Love Shack.” That was also the week I saw them perform for the first time, when they came to the University of Maine at Orono and almost literally brought the roof of the venue down with their show. They were amazing. I would see them again on the COSMIC THING tour in 1990 at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.
“Love Shack” would go on to spend a couple of weeks at No. 3 in November 1989, and just before Xmas 1989, it was certified Gold. Follow-up single “Roam” debuted on the last Hot 100 of 1989, when “Love Shack” was still in the Top 30. And, in late January 1990, “Roam” debuted within the Top 40 the last week “Love Shack” spent in the Top 40. (“Roam” would also reach No. 3 and was certified Gold as well.)
A total of 27 weeks was spent on the Hot 100 for “Love Shack,” one week more than half a year. It was that lengthy time on the chart which saw it finish on the year-end BILLBOARD charts two years in a row. Pretty impressive. It also reached (with “Channel Z”) No. 7 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart, spent four weeks at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Modern Rock chart, and received two MTV Video Music Awards, for Best Group Video and Best Art Direction.
NERDY FUN FACT: “Love Shack” was produced by Don Was, and the inspiration for the song was this cabin around Athens, GA, which had a tin roof, and where the band conceived their first hit, “Rock Lobster.” Kate Pierson even lived in the cabin back in the 70s (it burned down in 2004). Prolly the most famous line in the song, where Cindy Wilson exclaims, “Tin roof…rusted,” was actually an outtake that was added to the song later on.
Around the globe, lots of love was felt for “Love Shack,” and it spent eight weeks at No. 1 in Australia, four weeks at No. 1 in New Zealand, a week at No. 1 in Ireland, plus it reached No. 2 in the U.K., and the Top 20 in Belgium and the Netherlands.
In a 2002 interview with ROLLING STONE (which named “Love Shack” as the Best Single of 1989), Fred Schneider spoke of the album’s success: “We thought it would be good, but we didn’t know how good. We don’t really set out saying, ‘Oh, this is going to be commercial,’ or ‘This is going to be this or that.’ We just wanted good songs, and we thought the songs were really good. We were pretty shocked, because we didn’t expect it to go that big. The success of it brings problems because it’s really hard to do tours. I’m not one to want to go tour at all, but to do eighteen months is like torture. You just get offers that are really good and you’re going to New Zealand and Australia and all over Europe, and it’s pretty exciting. It all went way beyond what you’d think.”
After COSMIC THING, The B-52’s continued to record and chart for a few more years, including a fun cover of the TV theme song, “(Meet) The Flintstones” (from the 1994 FLINTSTONES movie starring John Goodman). It snuck onto the Top 40 for one week in early June 1994.
Apart from recording (as The BC-52’s) for Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty (and a couple of popular compilations), the band took a lengthy hiatus, and in March 2008, released FUNPLEX, their first album in nearly 16 years. It was worth the wait.
In October 2011, they released a CD and a DVD of a live concert from earlier that year, WITH THE WILD CROWD! LIVE IN ATHENS, GA. To borrow from a line out of FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.” Seriously, it’s that good. One of the best live performances I’ve ever seen on the small screen, from one of the bands with two of the best live performances I’ve seen in person.
Though the band hasn’t released a solo album since 2008’s FUNPLEX, The B-52’s continue to tour and perform 50-60 shows a year (minus Keith Strickland, who is still with the band, but who stopped performing live with them in 2012). Sadly, I missed them this Summer, when they came to Hampton Beach, New Hampshire (where I saw Billy Idol in 2014), and when they performed with the Boston Pops. That must have been incredible! Prolly the only Pops show where you can’t control people from dancing on their seats, in the aisles and everywhere!
I gotta be honest, after years of playing it at wedding receptions, “Love Shack” is not my favorite B-52’s song. But, if you were in a jam and tried to get people out onto the dance floor, that was THE go-to song, and people loved it, and loved dancing to it. Though it’s not my favorite from the band, I do love the song to death, and I’m so glad it finally got The B-52’s the recognition they deserved after so many years of struggling despite putting out great music, and with the terrible loss they suffered when they lost Ricky Wilson.
Both COSMIC THING and “Love Shack” are a testament to Ricky’s memory, and I’m so proud to call The B-52’s one of my all-time favorite bands, even if it took me awhile to get there. They are a heluva lot of fun to listen to and dance to, play on the radio and see perform live, which I hope to do again sometime soon…
“Hop in my Chrysler, it’s as big as a whale and it’s about to set sail / I got me a car, like, it seats about 20 / So come on and bring your jukebox money… The Love Shack is a little old place where we can get together / Love Shack, ba-by….”