It's set way back in the middle of a field
Just a funky old shack and I gotta get back
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The charred remains of the Love Shack - note the tin roof
Imagine a distant planet populated by sentient aliens. They want to invade earth, but they only want to do it through infiltrating our pop culture. So they take advantage of the fact that radio and TV waves go on forever in space, and they pick up our shows until they're fairly confident that they have a handle on what we like, and then they assemble a group to beam over to us doing something like what we do - as closely as aliens can get it. Except they made one mistake: they forgot that the signals took 40-some years traveling through space to reach them, so they're actually imitating a culture that's 40 years out of date. They try to improvise anyway.
If this turned out to be the true story of where the B-52s came from, you wouldn't be a bit surprised, would you?
Words cannot convey what impact the song "Love Shack" made in 1989. It came from nowhere, from a band that (almost) nobody had heard of, and then all at once it was on every radio station, every TV channel, sampled by every DJ, played at every party, requested at every prom. Six-year-old kids loved it, 80-year-old seniors loved it, punks and mods and headbangers and new wavers and hipsters loved it. In the United States, the UK, and Australia, all at the same time. You could not escape it in 1989. It played in your dreams.
And who could possibly have seen them coming? The lead singer didn't so much sing as yell (the technique is called "sprechgesang"). The backing vocalists were women in go-go boots and beehive hairdos. The songs' lyrics mostly did not make sense, similar to the styles of the Talking Heads and Nirvana. They were unclassifiable. And they were determinedly retro, beyond lame into square territory, at a time when it seemed like '50s retro would have been the last thing anybody wanted.
So, if you're "heading on down to the Love Shack"... exactly where is it that you are going?
Well, technically, nowhere; it's a fictional club. But the song's inspiration is a cabin located somewhere around Athens, Georgia, which actually did have a tin roof. Band member Kate Pierson lived in this cabin in the 1970s, and it was where the group conceived of the hit "Rock Lobster" from their first album. But you will search in vain for this cabin, because it burned down in 2004.
Athens, Georgia comes up again in the song "Deadbeat Club," whose black-and-white video was filmed with the group driving around Athens, Georgia. In fact, the band originates from there, so even though the video for "Love Shack" was filmed at a friend's house in upstate New York, Athens, Georgia, can be said to be the true place of the song.
The B-52s are full of mystery. They're a definitive genre unto themselves, being both a ground-breaking group of the New Wave movement and a brilliant subversion of it at the same time. The best way to enjoy the B-52s might just be to not think about them too much, but just dance along as if you knew what it was about the whole time. You know that's what the bohemians do anyway, and it's certainly what the space aliens want us to do.
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