The B-52's are a New Wave rock band formed in Athens, Georgia, an important center of alternative rock. The band's name is a pun; Boeing B-52s are eight-engine strategic bombers in use by the United States Air Force, and the beehive hairdo (bouffant wigs) is nicknamed the B-52. During the band's first years beehive wigs were often worn by the band's female singers Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson. Wilson and Pierson formed the band with drummer Keith Strickland, guitarist Ricky Wilson (Cindy's older brother) and vocalist Fred Schneider after a drunken night at a Chinese restaurant and played their first gig in 1977 at a St. Valentine's Day party for friends. The B-52's sound is marked by the vocals and lush harmonies of Wilson and Pierson, and the generally monotone or spoken-word vocals of Schneider. The band's quirky take on the New Wave sound of their era was an ironic combination of dance and surf music set apart by the unusual guitar tunings Ricky Wilson used. Their costume thrift-store chic set them apart as well. During the Mesopotamia tour, The band's famous wigs were under the care of Jackie Slayton, one of Athens' leading artists and long-time friend of the band.
Although recording sessions with David Byrne (of Talking Heads) failed, the recordings were released as the Mesopotamia EP in 1982 (Party Mix! and Mesopotamia would later be combined and released together on a single CD).
The Whammy! album in 1983 brought the band into electronic and drum machine experimentation, much to the chagrin of some of their early fans. "Legal Tender" became their third chart single. After the initial pressings of Whammy! were released, copyright issues with Yoko Ono led to the song "Don't Worry" being pulled and replaced on future copies of the album with a new track called "Moon 83", a variation on "There's A Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)" from their debut album.
1984 brought about an eponymous solo album from Fred Schneider (Fred Schneider & the Shake Society) with contributions from bandmates Kate Pierson and Ricky Wilson. Tina Weymouth from the Talking Heads and RuPaul appeared on the video clip for "Monster", a song about the "monster" in Fred's pants.
That year, the B-52's reformed to record Bouncing Off the Satellites. On October 12, 1985 Ricky Wilson died at age 32 of what was originally reported as cancer but was later revealed to be AIDS-related. Devastated, the band went into immediate seclusion and the album sank without any tour or promotion behind it.