The Story Behind "Love Shack" by the B-52's

It sees only appro­pri­ate that I should cel­e­brate one year of Flash­back Fri­days with the B-52’s, since I posted my first blog post on Feb­ru­ary 14, 2011, because I was inspired by how the B’s played their first con­cert on Valentine’s Day 1977.

The B-52’s released “Love Shack,” the sec­ond sin­gle from their Cos­mic Thing album, in Sep­tem­ber of 1989.  MTV and radio were resis­tant to play the song at first, because they didn’t know how to mar­ket the B’s.  How­ever, view­ers and lis­ten­ers responded to the col­or­ful, quirky video.  “Love Shack” began sell­ing over 200,000 copies per week, even­tu­ally going plat­inum and sell­ing almost two mil­lion.  The song charted at #3 in the U.S., #2 in the U.K., and topped the charts in Aus­tralia for eight weeks.

The suc­cess never should have hap­pened, though.  Just a few years before, many in the music busi­ness had writ­ten the B-52’s off after the death of their gui­tarist, Ricky Wil­son (and Cindy’s brother), shortly before the release of their Bounc­ing Off Satel­lites album.  The album and sin­gles “Sum­mer of Love” and “Girl from Impanema Goes to Green­land” were not suc­cess­ful, except on Billboard’s Hot Club Dance Play charts, and  “Wig” charted at #79 in the U.K.

The B-52’s weren’t sure if they wanted to con­tinue, either.  Drum­mer Keith Strick­land began to teach him­self to play the gui­tar like his late best friend, and soon began com­pos­ing music of his own.  One  day in 1987, vocal­ists Cindy Wil­son and Kate Pier­son paid him a visit.  Strick­land played them a tune he called “There Is a River.”  The girls began singing a par­ody of Mor­ris­sey to the music, yet soon began singing about mem­o­ries of their younger years in Athens, Geor­gia, which evolved into “Dead­beat Club.”  They soon attempted a for­mal record­ing ses­sion and wrote “Junebug.”  After that expe­ri­ence, they knew they could con­tinue as a band.

Direc­tor Julian Tem­ple con­tacted them to write an upbeat song for a car chase in his new film Earth Girls Are Easy; the B-52’s recorded “Shake That Cos­mic Thing” with pro­ducer Nile Rodgers.

Vocal­ist Fred Schnei­der was a big fan of the Was Not Was album at the time, so he ral­lied the band to record their new album with Don Was, who pro­duced “Junebug,” “Bush­fire,” “Chan­nel Z,” and “Love Shack.”  Prior com­mit­ments kept him from com­plet­ing the rest of the album, so the band fin­ished it with Nile Rodgers.

Kate Pier­son lived in the actual love shack, com­plete with tin roof, when she lived in Athens before the B-52’s formed. “Rock Lob­ster” was orig­i­nally writ­ten in the love shack. It burned down in 2004. “Tin roof … rusted,” was a vocal out­take by Cindy Wil­son that was added to the song later.

After releas­ing their first com­pi­la­tion, Time Cap­sule: Songs for a Future Gen­er­a­tion, in 1998, the record com­pany released “Love Shack 99,” which was remixed by DJ Tonka, to pro­mote the album.

Love Shack [Edit] 4’18
Love Shack [Remix/Edit] 4’07
Love Shack [Album Ver­sion] 5’21
Love Shack [Ben Grosse 12″ Remix] 7’58
Love Shack [12″ Mix] 6’09
Love Shack [Big Radio Mix] 5’32
Love Shack [Danny Ram­pling 12″ Remix] ?’?? (I’ve never heard this mix!)
Love Shack 99 [Radio Mix] 4’39
Love Shack 99 [DJ Tonka Remix] 6’28

Music Video
The music video for “Love Shack” was directed by Adam Bern­stein and shot at the home and stu­dio of ceramic artists Philip Maberry and Scott Walker.  The band called on friends–including future Super­model of the World, RuPaul–to appear in the video.  The clip begins with the band rid­ing in a big-ass con­vert­ible, then tran­si­tions inside the home of Maberry and Walker.  It’s a fun, exu­ber­ant, and col­or­ful video that cap­tures the con­ta­gious enthu­si­asm of a B-52’s performance.

I was already famil­iar with the B-52’s first album after catch­ing their per­for­mance on Sat­ur­day Night Live in the late ‘70s.  As a kid, I didn’t quite know what to make of them.  How­ever, by the time I got to col­lege, we were danc­ing to “Rock Lob­ster” at clubs.

I was already famil­iar with the song “Shake That Cos­mic Thing” after buy­ing the sound­track to Earth Girls Are Easy, so I decided to take a chance on buy­ing the Cos­mic Thing album for my birth­day that year, after hear­ing “Love Shack” at Sound Ware­house.  I told my friends, “This is going to be a big hit.”  They thought it was too weird.  Within a month’s time, the music video and song were all over MTV and radio.  Sud­denly, every­one was a B-52’s fan.

Although CD sin­gles had already emerged in Europe, Amer­i­can record com­pa­nies had not started to offer them until the Fall of 1989, with a hand­ful of choices:  “I Want That Man” by Deb­o­rah Harry, “Per­sonal Jesus” by Depeche Mode, “Drama!” by Era­sure, “Sow­ing the Seeds of Love” by Tears for Fears, “Sugar Daddy” by the Thomp­son Twins, and “Love Shack/Channel Z” by the B-52’s.  Frankly, I wasn’t impressed wit the 12″ Mix or the Big Radio Mix, but I enjoyed Ben Grosse’s Remix/Edit and 12″ Remix.  I would end up becom­ing a fan of his remixes for the B-52’s and Book of Love.  I’ve never heard the Danny Ram­pling 12″ Remix, have you?

I talked my col­lege room­mate, Chris Pope, into going to the B-52’s con­cert with me on Decem­ber 12 at the Bronco Bowl, which is a music venue attached to a bowl­ing alley.  The inti­mate space made the con­cert spe­cial to me; it felt more like friends play­ing for friends than a band play­ing to an audi­ence.  I remem­ber Cindy wore a pur­ple vel­veteen coat over match­ing hot pants and thigh-high boots with a tall hat that reminded me of the hats the female cashiers wore at Burger King in the ‘70s.  They sang “Mesopotamia,” “Give Me Back My Man,” “Dance This Mess Around,” “52 Girls,” “Quiche Lor­raine,” “Strobe Light,” “Rock Lob­ster,” and, of course, “Love Shack.”  Chris became a B-52’s fan that night.  The fol­low­ing sum­mer, we would see the B’s again on August 3 at the Starplex Amphithe­ater with a larger group of converts.

What are your mem­o­ries of “Love Shack” by the B-52’s?

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