The "Love Shack" is in many ways a state of mind; a place where people of all stripes come for a groovy good time. The band drew inspiration from the club in the movie The Color Purple
, and also from a real club outside of Athens, Georgia, called the Hawaiian Ha-Le, where they would hang out. This place drew a multifarious crowd of hippies, scenesters, and lots of students from the nearby University of Georgia. Drummer Keith Strickland has also mentioned keg parties out in the country as another inspiration.
In a Songfacts interview with B-52s singer Cindy Wilson
, she explained: "When you're jamming, everybody is conjuring up their own images. Sometimes we're all singing at the same time and later you go back and you hear what you're doing. I personally was thinking about this bar that was out in the country [the Hawaiian Ha-Le]. It was a really cool place - a run-down love shack kind of thing, but it was a disco. It was a really interesting place."
In 1970, the Temptations released a song called "Psychedelic Shack
," which has the refrain: "Psychedelic Shack, that's where it's at." This was clearly an influence on "Love Shack," although Fred Schneider insists he wasn't thinking of any other song when he came up with the title.
The album was recorded at Dreamland Studios near Woodstock, New York, a town famous for giving off lots of love vibes (although the Woodstock festival
took place 50 miles away in Bethel). According to Fred Schneider, he was driving up there, there thinking of song titles when "Love Shack" popped into his head. When he, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson worked on the lyrics, they thought about what the "Love Shack" meant. For Schneider, it was the Hawaiian Ha-Le.
This introduced The B-52s to a mainstream audience. They had a strong cult following, especially in the gay community and on college radio, but "Love Shack" broke them big. Many listeners who discovered them through this song had no idea they had been around for over a decade and had released four previous albums.
"Love Shack" was their first entry on the US Top 40 (their most popular song to this point: "Rock Lobster
"). The follow-up single, "Roam," also made #3, but pop success proved fleeting and they never got higher than #28 ("Good Stuff" - 1992) with any subsequent releases.
One of the most famous breakdowns in pop music comes near the end of this song, when the music stops and Fred Schneider asks, "You're what?"
Cindy Wilson replies with one of the most famous misinterpreted lines in pop music, as she wails, "Tin Roof, Rusted." The line is commonly misheard, often as something like, "Hennnnn-ry, busted."
This section came from a happy accident: the track stopped as Wilson was doing her vocal, and she just kept singing, which gave them the idea to stop the music in this section. As for the line itself, there were rumors that "tin roof, rusted" meant a pregnant woman. According to Wilson, it's just her recollection of the rusty roof at the Hawaiian Ha-Le.
For Kate Pierson, the actual Love Shack is where she lived in the '70s: a five-room cabin with a tin roof in Athens, Georgia. The band would sometimes work up songs there, including "Rock Lobster." It really was set way back in the middle of a field (off of Jefferson River Road), with no plumbing or running water (an outhouse was nearby). The shack was later renovated, but in 2004 it burned down
The lyrics are fun and harmless, but they can be interpreted as being about a place where people go to have sex. At Disney World, you will never see Mickey Mouse dancing to it. Really - they refuse to play it at Disney weddings.
The video was shot at a house in Upstate New York belonging to a friend of the band who can be seen in the garden as the camera sweeps by the window. It was directed by Adam Bernstein, the go-to director for irreverent videos. His other work includes "Baby Got Back
" for Sir Mix-A-Lot, "Hey Ladies
" for Beastie Boys, and several episodes of the TV series Breaking Bad
The clip was meant to capture the vibe of their shows: a big party where everyone's invited, and spontaneous dancing is likely to break out. Someone on set had a big-as-a-whale Chrysler convertible that the band takes to the love shack at the beginning. Partygoers included friends of the band, along with their touring musicians Zack Alford, Sara Lee and Pat Irwin. The dance line is something the band often did; Fred Schneider's spotlight dance is called The Panty Fling, where you pull down your undies and throw them away.
Don Was, whose other clients include Jewel, Bob Dylan, Elton John and The Rolling Stones, produced this track. He also had his own group in the '80s called Was Not Was, which had a hit with "Walk The Dinosaur
." The B-52s wanted Nile Rodgers to produce the Cosmic Thing
album, but he was tied up on another project, so they started working on it with Was, planning to record three songs with him. Those three were completed early, so the band played him their rough demo of "Love Shack." The first attempt at recording the song didn't go well, but the next day they got it on the first take. The other tracks Was produced on the album are "Junebug," "Bushfire" and "Channel Z
." Rodgers did the rest.
The line, "The love shack is a little old place where we can get together" originally showed up just once in the song, but producer Don Was convinced the group to repeat that line, as it makes a nice hook. Kate Pierson credits Was with turning this song into a hit; on previous albums they often performed the songs live before they recorded them, but the tracks on Cosmic Thing
were recorded before they could play them outside of the studio. "He really helped us structure that," she told The A/V Club
. "It's just such an iconic song that everybody just feels this joy. When we play it, everyone just lets their inner freak out."
When this song took off, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson embarked on a number of non-B-52s projects. In 1991, Schneider made a video for his 1984 solo track "Monster" and re-released it as a single which went to #85 US. In 1990, Pierson sang on the Iggy Pop song "Candy," and the following year appeared on the R.E.M. track "Shiny Happy People
The group performed this on an episode of The Simpsons as "Glove Slap." In the 1999 episode, titled "E-I-E-I-Doh!", Homer takes to slapping people with a glove and challenging them to a duel.
Over the years, various adult video stores have cropped up using the Love Shack name. There was also a movie released on video in 2010 called Love Shack, which is about a group of porn stars who get together to make a film in honor of a deceased producer.
The horns were provided by The Uptown Horns, a New York-based section that toured with the J. Geils Band on their Freeze Frame tour and played on Tom Waits' Rain Dogs album.
The Cosmic Thing album was the first one the group recorded without guitarist Ricky Wilson, who died of AIDS in 1985 while they were recording their fourth album, Bouncing off the Satellites, which was released the following year. They didn't tour and weren't sure they would continue, but they carried on with drummer Keith Strickland recording guitar parts in Wilson's style.
Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson performed this at the 2002 Jammy Awards with the group Particle. Since the awards honored jam bands, they stretched the song into an extended jam.
This was a global hit, but not in Japan, where a band with the name of an American bomber was not a good fit. The group was named after a hairstyle Pierson and Wilson wore, but there was no way to get that message across.