Written by 4:28 am Audiophile Music

Early B-52s – Best On Stage & In Studio Recordings

Mark Smotroff is a Cancerian from New Jersey who likes collecting records and exploring new releases by The B-52s…

At their root, The B-52s are a dance oriented party band and, arguably, a singles band. I mean, be honest, aside from the first two albums (which are kinda of a perfect pair), how many of you really listen to the full albums beyond the hit singles? 

Yeah, right….. thanks you in the back row and also the two of you up in the balcony…. that’s kinda what I expected….

AR-B52sLive79Cover225.jpgDon’t get me wrong, I love those early albums. I’m a fan of Whammy beginning to end as well. But for so many people who joined the party around the time of “Love Shack,” they’d be well suited to have a good compilation of hits from the early days to complement their one B-52s CD or record in the collection. 

A few years ago I came across one such album, a single LP collection called Dance This Mess Around : The Best of The B-52s. My copy was a nice sounding German import which I was more than content and happy with, cheesy blue rock lobster on the cover and all. But then I received a email from the good folks at Music On Vinyl announcing that they were bringing out the same collection as a limited edition reissue pressed on 180-gram red vinyl. So I asked for a copy to review for you, Dear Readers (full disclosure). 

And then…. I remembered I had bought the limited edition live B-52s album on Black Friday / Record Store Day last year, so I thought: golly gee whiz, together, that’d make for a handy review for a lot of folks.  

Ok, so maybe I didn’t think “golly gee whiz…”

But anyhow, here we go…

AR-DanceThisMessAround225.jpgDance This Mess Around — This new reissue is just ducky. The vinyl is thick, quiet and well centered — important for songs like “Planet Claire” with its long organ lines that could waver annoyingly if it was pressed poorly.  The album comes to you protected in a fine quality black paper innersleeve with audiophile grade plastic lining. The outer cover art is almost identical to the original and in some ways is better — the new Music On Vinyl version is a much thicker grade cardboard sleeve. But enough of the visual aesthetics, you want to know how this new one compares to the original: I’m happy to say that it compares extremely favorably and in fact may sound a bit fuller and rounder overall.  

Now one big challenge with making a “hits” compilation is trying to achieve aural consistency between tracks recorded at different times in the band’s career. This is especially challenging for The B-52s as they went through some very different incarnations, from the early Sci Fi Surf pop of their first two albums to their third record which was recorded with a drum machine! That said, the sound from track to track is remarkably good on this collection.  I mean, don’t go into this expecting Dark Side of the Moon, folks. But as collection of late 70s and 80s recordings go, it sounds fine and holds up remarkably well as a listening experience. But there will no doubt be sonic compromises. For example, on “Song For a Future Generation” the synthesized bass parts are noticeably deeper and fuller on the original Whammy album than on the similar track found on my German import of Dance This Mess Around. Then, playing the same song on the new Music On Vinyl edition, I like the sound there better than the German import as its closer to the original album version’s sound. 

And so it goes…

AR-B52sBestOfPlaying225.jpgLive 8.24.1979 — This Record Store Day special release from Rhino Records was something of a surprise. Why now?  Why this show? Why gold vinyl?  So many questions. And I have a total of zero answers for you, Dear Readers. However, I can tell you that it was a pleasant surprise to find that this release actually sounds pretty wonderful. My guess is it was recorded (but not used) for The Warner Brothers Music Show, a series of live concert recordings which were pressed on special (and now highly collectible) promotional LPs that were sent out to radio for syndicated airplay. In fact there is a radio announcer who comes in at the end just as if this show was being broadcast on the radio. 

The great thing about this is that you are getting much more than some quazi-archival soundboard recording that was found in some roadie’s basement. This is a mixed, probably multi-track full-fidelity recording capturing The B-52s  just as they were about to ascend to new wave / punk pop royalty status. As a live bands go, they are great, tight and frisky. 

I mean, back then The B-52s sounded like they were visitors from Mars, but now in retrospect you can hear that they were just a great little rock ‘n roll band. With 20/20 hindsight, its clear that the Punk / New Wave movement accomplished what it set out to do: providing a much needed corrective balance to the overblown pop, cheesy disco and pretentious prog rock that had in many ways jumped the shark by the late 70s. 

AR-B52sLive79LABEL225.jpgThe B-52s were always about having fun and it comes across in buckets on tracks like “Strobe Light” and their signature breakthrough hit “Rock Lobster.”  Singer Fred Schneider does this super charming thing throughout the show, introducing many of the songs by saying “this next song is a dance tune,” as if the audience needed to be reminded that it was now ok to let loose and dance at concerts. 

Remember what I said earlier about The B-52s being a dance oriented singles party band? 

There you have it.  Yup. Dance this mess around, kids. Life is short. Lets have a party! 

Live or in the studio, here you have two sides of The B-52s that will give you a fairly complete snapshot of what this band was all about. 

Between these two albums (and your CD of Cosmic Thing with “Love Shack” on it) you should be able to actually do all 16 dances…

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah 

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah 

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah 

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!!

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