Many B-52s songs have fun, whimsical lyrics, and this is one of them. It's about a beach party where someone encounters a rock lobster (which is also known as a crayfish, but that wouldn't sound as good), and hijinx ensue.
The B-52s Fred Schneider stopped eating crustaceans at the age of four after going crabbing with family in New Jersey and watching them being boiled alive. He explained in a video he narrated for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that he got the idea for this song when he was at an Atlanta disco called 2001 where a projector displayed images of lobsters on a grill. He thought, "Rock this, rock that... rock lobster!" The band jammed on the title and "Rock Lobster" was created.
Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson's fish noises on this song are an homage to Yoko Ono, whose work is filled with these kind of screams and blurts. Yoko performed these parts when she joined the band at their 25th Anniversary concert at Irving Plaza in New York City on February 04, 2002.
The Yoko Ono influence on this song was clear to John Lennon, who heard it playing in a Bermuda disco in 1979. It reminded him of Yoko Ono's music so much that it inspired him to return to the recording studio after a five-year retirement. The B52s guitarist Keith Strickland recalled to Q magazine that at the end of the song, "Cindy does this scream that was inspired by Yoko Ono. John heard it in some club in the Bahamas, and the story goes that he calls up Yoko and says, Get the axe out – they're ready for us again! Yoko has said that she and John were listening to us in the weeks before he died."
Yoko confirmed the story in her 2013 Songfacts interview. She recalled: "Listening to the B-52s, John said he realized that my time had come. So he could record an album by making me an equal partner and we won't get flack like we used to up to then."
This was the first single the B-52s released. They recorded it on a shoestring budget at Mountain Studios in Atlanta in February 1978, and released the track as a single on DB Records in April. Danny Beard, who owned the label, recalls spending about $700 on the single in a session where a key on Pierson's Farfisa organ didn't work. The recording was rough but effective: it earned airplay and established the band as quirky, innovative, thrift-store punk rockers with pop appeal. Warner Bros. Records signed them and had them record a full album, complete with a new version of "Rock Lobster," in Nassau, Bahamas with producer Chris Blackwell. The album was issued in 1979 along with the single, which reached its US chart peak of #56 in May 1980. In the UK, where the band initially had a stronger following, it reached #37 in August 1979. When the song was re-issued in the UK in 1986, it reached #12.
The song has a vintage feel thanks to the Farfisa organ played by Kate Pierson and the surf guitar sound Ricky Wilson created, both throwbacks to '60s music.
Fred Schneider and B-52s guitarist Ricky Wilson were listed as the writers on this track, but at some point the other three band members - Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson and Keith Strickland - were added to the credits.
In 1985, Wilson became one of the first celebrities to die from AIDS-related causes. He was 32.
This song has one of the most famous bass lines of all time, but it wasn't done with a bass guitar. Guitarist Ricky Wilson came up with the riff, and Kate Pierson played it on Korg SB-100 Synthe-Bass, a little machine with a big sound that can also be heard on early Soft Cell recordings, including "Tainted Love."
The original 1978 version runs 4:37; the album version released in 1979 goes 6:49, with the single edited down to 4:52.
Fred Schneider mentions several unusual sea creatures near the end of the song, including a narwhal, which is a rarely seen whale-like creature with a horn that makes it look like some kind of aquatic unicorn (one shows up in cartoon form in the movie Elf). The the best of our knowledge, "Rock Lobster" is the only Hot 100 hit where a narwhal shows up in the lyric.
Other creatures mentioned: sting ray, manta ray, jellyfish, dogfish, catfish, sea robin, piranha, bikini whale. As Schneider sings, Wilson and Pierson approximate their calls with some impressive vocalizations.
Speaking with the Toronto radio station Boom 97.3, Fred Schneider explained how the song came together: "We jammed on it for hours and hours and miles and miles of reel-to-reel tape. Keith and Ricky went and spliced ideas together, brought them to Kate, Cindy and I, and we put in our six cents and we came up with this six minute and forty-eight second song. We have a hard time editing ourselves, but who cares?"
"We always just did things our own way," he continued. "You don't have any preconceived notions. I was writing lyrics with Keith on the way into the studio, but then I changed my lines and stuff and then the girls added their noises at the end."
This reached #1 on the Canadian charts in 1980, following Blondie's "Call Me" and preceding The Pretenders' "Brass In Pocket." It held the pole position for one week.
Suggestion credit: Kent - Toronto, Canada
This is one of the great cowbell songs; drummer Keith Strickland is credited with playing it on the recording, but when performed live, Fred Schneider would play it.
A video was made for this song in 1979, combining stock footage with various band antics. MTV was still two years away, but the video helped promote the song throughout Europe. The group got their star turn on MTV a decade later, when "Love Shack" became one of the most popular clips on the network.
The song appeared in the movies One-Trick Pony (1980), Lobster Man from Mars (1989) and Knocked Up (2007); it was used in episodes of My Name Is Earl ("Joy in a Bubble" - 2008) and Glee ("The Hurt Locker: Part 1" - 2015).
The song is also a favorite on the show Family Guy, where the character Peter Griffin performs it on guitar in two episodes, first in a 2005 episode where he plays it (inappropriately) to cheer up Cleveland, then in a 2011 episode where it plays to a lobster with the lyrics changed to "Iraq Lobster."
The B-52s performed this on Saturday Night Live, January 26, 1980. This gave the song a big boost; in May, it reached its US peak of #56.
Ricky Wilson didn't have high expectations for the riff when he came up with it. His sister Cindy Wilson told the CBC: "I came home one day, and Ricky was just working on his guitar, and he was just laughing to himself. He says, 'I just made up the stupidest riff there ever was.'"
Pedro from PortugalCanadians did it right This song is so great. Pay attention, cause Rick is playing Rock. His guitar rooocks. But Fred dont sing. Is mostly spoken words. He have a great voice, well. The girls give sometimes a melodic line , other times crazy or funny sounds And Farfisa gives the final touch. A clássic. And original still today.
Thegripester from Wellington, New ZealandMight want to check your sources on that story, Jake from Talahassee. Rock Lobster is on the B-52's first album in 1979 - and Love Shack was released on Cosmic Thing in 1989. All the songs on Cosmic Thing were written by the whole band, jamming together trying to kick-start their creativity in the late 1980's after the death of Ricky Wilson. So I don't think Rock Lobster and Love Shack were written by Fred Schneider on the same day.
Cory Stoczynski from Lancaster, NyThat Song Was Sung On Muppets Tonight With Pierce Brosnan Where The Crustacean Liberation Army Tried To Take Over The KMUP Television Studios!
John from Philadelphia, PaIMO, "Somebody went under a dock" to relieve themselves, aka #1. The rock of course wasn't a rock, it was a...piece of, um, raw sewage, aka #2.
Rui from Porto, PortugalThanks Kevin from Philadelphia! I just heard the Botch cover and it is pretty sick!
Jake from Talahassee, MtWhen Fred Snyder wrote this song he was in an aggressive mood supposedly. As he continued adding more and more lyrics to the song it started to make him feel down. This is where the inspiration in the part where he sings "down, down, down" came about. Later that day he started thinking about ideas for "Love Shack". Obviously his overly aggressive mood had shifted to a more peaceful state and thus their next hit was created.
Lalah from Wasilla, AkIn the early 80s this was popular at dance clubs in the northeast. Lots of hopping thenand falling to the ground when the lyrics say "down down down" where the entire dance floor would be covered by people writhing on their stomachs and backs until the guitar riffs started back up. Then we'd all be hopping straight up with arms flailing until the end. The bars would play it as the last song because we'd be worn out by the end and they could close. I miss punk dances. Nobody maked you down for lack of form.
Kevin from Philadelphia, PaMathcore band Botch did a cover of this that kicks ass. If you get a chance, listen to the Botch version. It is on their album Unifying Themes Redux.
Matthew from Milford, MaThis song is on Donkey Konga for the Gamecube, but it gets cut off after the halfway point. >_<
Jimmy from Orlando, FlFred Schneider once said in an interview that the line "His earlobe fell in the deep" is actually based on an experience he had at a party when he was in drag: his earbob fell off his ear and into a bowl of dip. When they were improvising lines for "Rock Lobster" in a jam session, he turned this into the line that we hear in the song.
Joe from Bellingham, WaWhat a weird song huh? I first heard it on the radio in the late 90's, I thought it was a joke! Oh well very catchy!
Eduardo from San Jose, OtherIn fact, it was in the summer of 1980 (not 1979) that John Lennon heard the song while having a vacation with his son Sean in Bermuda. After that, he started to write the songs that were later included in the Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey albums.
Emily from Xenia, OhThe fact that this song was on Family Guy doesn't matter. I mean, the song by itself, Family Guy or no Family Guy, is truly an amazing piece of work. I don't think anyone could have copied the sound that the B52's had. It was just so unique and Rock Lobster is a great example of their individuality. So are soungs like Is That You Mo Dean, Quiche Lorraine, and 52 Girls. People who have only heard this song should really listen to some more of their music. Each of their songs is so unique...it's just so amazing. I'm getting over-excited just writing this..haha.
Kent from Toronto, CanadaSmall correction: it was the more unusual "Making Plan For Nigel" that hit #1 in Canada. Should have done my reference work first!
Kent from Toronto, CanadaI think it is interesting to point out that "Rock Lobster" enjoyed amazing success in Canada, going to #1 (!) in the charts. (Compare with not even getting near the Top 40 in their native country.) In general, Canada was very much more open to New Wave when it hit. "Life Begins At The Hop" (XTC) was also #1 early on, as well as the early Police hits long before they hit it really big in the States. How about including some other chart positions besides only the U.K. and U.S. ones?
Dev01d from Wollongong, AustraliaThe band for this song consists of Drums, Keyboard, Tambourine, cowbell, vocals.. and the best part, a 4 stringed guitar. The guitarist for B52s Only has the two high and two lowest strings and they are downtuned like crazy for this song I believe it is.. (Low E - Tuned down to A) .. (A - Tuned down to G) .. (D - String removed) .. (G - String Removed) .. (B - Tuned DOWN to F) .. (High E - Tuned DOWN to G#) It's a very fun song to play on guitar though.
EDIT: Tried to make it a little clearer.
Dev01d from Wollongong, AustraliaThe band for this song consists of Drums, Keyboard, Tambourine, cowbell, vocals.. and the best part, a 4 stringed guitar. The guitarist for B52s Only has the two high and two lowest strings and they are downtuned like crazy for this song I believe it is.. Low E - Tuned down to A A - Tuned down to G D - String removed G - String Removed B - Tuned DOWN to F High E - Tuned DOWN to G# It's a very fun song to play on guitar though.
Andy from Hunterdon, NjOn the surface, the "motion in the ocean" verse [motion in the ocean / his air hose broke / lots of bubble / lots of trouble / he was in a jam / 's in a giant clam] seems to be about a deep sea diver who faces danger when his air tube breaks. But I am convinced this verse has a double meaning -- it is also about a guy whose rubber accidentally bursts while he is having sexual intercourse.
Billy from Otway, OhRock Lobster is a great song,though all things considered,every B-52's song is great.
Nelson from MelbourneThis song is so inspirational how silly it is! I'm a musician and now I'm not afraid to write about anything!
Jen from Ontario, Canadai haven't heard of this song till it was on family guy it was so funny!!!!
Windy from Otway, OhI like when Peter sings this on family guy. good playing,but he sucks at the high part. he sounds like he has a minor throat irritation
Windy from Otway, Ohread the lyrics. I meant "in walked a Jelly-fish". also,how can one piranha eat you in a matter of seconds?
Windy from Otway, OhWhat's with the line, "He was a Jellyfish,uuuggghhh!"? did the rock lobster mess him up beyond being able to know what he was? did he kill the jelly,or what?
Jesse from Haddam, Ct Whose earlobe fell in the deep? It must be Van Gogh's...
Marlow from Perthid never even heard of this song until long after their loveshack song in 89...
Mike from St. Paul, MnCatchy tune, that keeps rattling around in my head. Drives my wife nuts!
Mike from Winnipeg, CanadaBest song ever.
Also a Rock Lobster is also known as a crayfish.
Pat from Las Vegas, NvThe song is sampled on a popular casino slot machine called "Lucky Larry's Lobster Mania." Hillarious.
Travis from Phoenix, Nythat was hilarious when it was on Family Guy
Ydur from Knoxville, TnThe B-52's performed this on the CBS soap opera "Guiding Light" in the 80's. While the performance itself was amusing, the reaction of the cast was hysterical! I don't think there's been a rock band on a CBS soap since...
Mike from Winnipeg, CanadaThis song is one of a kind.