Day 6

40 years of Rock Lobster and how the B-52s revived John Lennon's career

When Rock Lobster was released in April of 1978, it launched the B-52s to stardom and inspired John Lennon to go back into the studio.

B-52s singer Cindy Wilson reflects on John, Yoko and 40 years of boys in bikinis and girls in surfboards.

(Warner Bros. )
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When the B-52s played their first show in New York City following the release of "Rock Lobster," guitarist Ricky Wilson looked out the concert hall window and turned white.

"That's when we knew something was happening because there was a line around the block," laughs his sister Cindy Wilson, who is also one of the band's singers.

"Rock Lobster," the first single ever released by the self-described "tacky little dance band" from Athens, Ga., quickly launched the B-52s into music stardom.

That was 40 years ago.

It was a cool song but nobody had any idea that it would last that long or be part of American culture.- Cindy Wilson

The song was released in April of 1978 on a now-defunct independent label, and it was picked up by Warner Bros. Records a year later.

The band was quirky and loud, singers Wilson and Kate Pierson had big, bouffant hairstyles — and they were a lot of fun.

"It was a cool song but nobody had any idea that it would last that long or be part of American culture," Wilson tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury, with a tone of awe in her voice.

She says she's thankful to be in a band that makes people happy, "and 'Rock Lobster' seems to do that."

Wilson explains that the song was influenced by the music of Yoko Ono, but "Rock Lobster" turned out to be an inspiration for Ono and her husband, John Lennon. In fact, it helped relaunch Lennon's career.

Cindy Wilson performing "Give Me Back My Man" with the B-52s in 1980. (B-52s/Warner Bros.)

Birthing Rock Lobster

The founding members of the B-52s include Wilson, her brother Ricky, Fred Schneider, Pierson and Keith Strickland.

The B-52s perform at the 10th Annual TV Land Awards in New York on April 14, 2012. (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Ricky Wilson and Strickland had been hitchhiking across Europe, because, as Wilson says, "you know, they were young guys, that's what you did back then."

Upon their return, the Wilson siblings bought a little house together. At that point the band was already working on their music.

"I came home one day, and Ricky was just working on his guitar, and he was just laughing to himself," recalls Cindy Wilson. "I said: 'What? What are you doing?' And he says: 'I just made up the stupidest riff there ever was.'"

That riff ended up being the now-famous opening to "Rock Lobster."

John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Fred Schneider had already written a poem about rock lobsters (also known as crayfish) after seeing an abstract slideshow of them at a disco in Atlanta.

Cindy Wilson says she and Pierson "were doing our interpretive vocals, you know, fish noises" to Schneider's words. "It was pretty fun."

I suddenly heard 'Rock Lobster' by the B-52's for the first time. Do you know it? It sounds just like Yoko's music, so I said to meself, 'It's time to get out the old ax and wake the wife up!'- John Lennon in Rolling Stone

"We were big fans of The Beatles and John Lennon," explains Wilson. "And you know, I always thought that Yoko was the coolest. She brought an art form to her singing, which was kind of abstract and primal."

"I love that element and I was doing that as one of the parts, you know, and I said: 'We've got to keep that, let's do that.' It is a tribute to Yoko and her spirit," says Wilson.

The B-52s were inspired by Ono, but they, in turn, inspired Ono and Lennon.

Lennon told the story in his last-ever interview with Rolling Stone magazine:

"I was at a dance club one night in Bermuda. Upstairs, they were playing disco, and downstairs I suddenly heard 'Rock Lobster' by the B-52s for the first time. Do you know it? It sounds just like Yoko's music, so I said to meself, 'It's time to get out the old ax and wake the wife up!'"

Lennon then called Ono and the two started composing songs, over the telephone, after taking a five-year hiatus from music. The result was their collaborative album, Double Fantasy.

Cindy Wilson performs in Atlanta, Georgia. (Ben Rose/Getty Images)

Back on tour

This summer the B-52s will be back on tour along with Boy George and Culture Club.

Wilson says she will once again sport her famous bouffant while on tour.

"It's fun. It's great. It gets me into that mood." she says. "The thing is .... you can't let the beehive rule you. You've got to do it if you feel it, you know."

Kate Pierson, Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland, and Cindy Wilson of the B-52s. (The B-52's/Facebook)

"It puts you back in the mind of those days," Wilson says. "I really miss Ricky, my brother. Those were my favourite times of the B-52s."

Wilson says it was "like an atom bomb going off" when her brother died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1985. He was one of the first celebrities to die of an AIDS-related illness.

It was a hard time for the band. Strickland moved to Woodstock, NY, to try to "get himself back together," says Wilson.

He worked on music as therapy and eventually invited the other band members to visit for a jam session.

"That turned out to be Cosmic Thing, which turned out to be our biggest album we ever put out. And that was amazing."

Wilson just released her solo album, Change. The B-52s tour starts on May 27th.


T​o hear from Cindy Wilson, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.