B-52’s – Rock Lobster…. 80’s Underground Mondays

I couldn’t continue these underground Mondays without featuring the B-52s. I always smile when I hear this band. I could not listen to them for hours on end but once in a while is great.

I like the sixties sound of this. It sounds that way because of the Farfisa organ played by Kate Pierson and the surf guitar sound that Ricky Wilson created.

Fred Schneider and B-52s guitarist Ricky Wilson were listed as the writers on this track, but at some point the other three band members – Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson and Keith Strickland were added to the credits.

Canada really responded Rock Lobster. The song peaked at #1 in Canada, #56 in the Billboard 100, and #37 in the UK, and #38 in New Zealand in 1978.

Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson’s fish noises on this song are an homage to Yoko Ono, whose work is filled with these kind of screams and blurts. Yoko performed these parts when she joined the band at their 25th Anniversary concert at Irving Plaza in New York City in 2002.

John Lennon noticed the The Yoko Ono influence on this song when he heard it in 1979.  It reminded him of Yoko’s music so much that it inspired him to return to the recording studio after a five-year retirement, resulting in the 1980 album Double Fantasy.

Yoko Ono: “Listening to the B-52s, John said he realized that my time had come. So he could record an album by making me an equal partner and we won’t get flack like we used to up to then.”

Fred Schneider: “We jammed on it for hours and hours and miles and miles of reel-to-reel tape. Keith and Ricky went and spliced ideas together, brought them to Kate, Cindy and I, and we put in our six cents and we came up with this six minute and forty-eight second song. We have a hard time editing ourselves, but who cares?”

From Songfacts

Many B-52s songs have fun, whimsical lyrics, and this is one of them. It’s about a beach party where someone encounters a rock lobster (which is also known as a crayfish, but that wouldn’t sound as good), and hijinx ensue.

Fred Schneider of The B-52s stopped eating crustaceans at the age of four after going crabbing with his family in New Jersey and watching the crabs get boiled alive. He explained in a video he narrated for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that he got the idea for this song when he was at an Atlanta disco called 2001 where a projector displayed images of lobsters on a grill. He thought, “Rock this, rock that… rock lobster!” The band jammed on the title and “Rock Lobster” was created.

The B-52s’ guitarist, Keith Strickland, recalled to Q magazine that at the end of the song, “Cindy does this scream that was inspired by Yoko Ono. John heard it in some club in the Bahamas, and the story goes that he calls up Yoko and says, Get the axe out – they’re ready for us again! Yoko has said that she and John were listening to us in the weeks before he died.”

This was the first single the B-52s released. They recorded it on a shoestring budget at Mountain Studios in Atlanta in February 1978, and released the track as a single on DB Records in April. Danny Beard, who owned the label, recalls spending about $700 on the single in a session where a key on Pierson’s Farfisa organ didn’t work. The recording was rough but effective: it earned airplay and established the band as quirky, innovative, thrift-store punk rockers with pop appeal. Warner Bros. Records signed them and had them record a full album, complete with a new version of “Rock Lobster,” in Nassau, Bahamas, with producer Chris Blackwell. The album was issued in 1979 along with the single, which reached its US chart peak of #56 in May 1980. In the UK, where the band initially had a stronger following, it reached #37 in August 1979. When the song was re-issued in the UK in 1986, it reached #12.

In 1985, Wilson became one of the first celebrities to die from AIDS-related causes. He was 32.

This song has one of the most famous bass lines of all time, but it wasn’t done with a bass guitar. Guitarist Ricky Wilson came up with the riff, and Kate Pierson played it on Korg SB-100 Synthe-Bass, a little machine with a big sound that can also be heard on early Soft Cell recordings, including “Tainted Love.”

The original 1978 version runs 4:37; the album version released in 1979 goes 6:49, with the single edited down to 4:52.

Fred Schneider mentions several unusual sea creatures near the end of the song, including a narwhal, which is a rarely seen whale-like creature with a horn that makes it look like some kind of aquatic unicorn (one appears in cartoon form in the movie Elf). To the best of our knowledge, “Rock Lobster” is the only Hot 100 hit where a narwhal shows up in the lyric.

Other creatures mentioned: sting ray, manta ray, jellyfish, dogfish, catfish, sea robin, piranha, bikini whale. As Schneider sings, Wilson and Pierson approximate their calls with some impressive vocalizations.

“We always just did things our own way,” he continued. “You don’t have any preconceived notions. I was writing lyrics with Keith on the way into the studio, but then I changed my lines and stuff and then the girls added their noises at the end.”

This reached #1 on the Canadian charts in 1980, following Blondie’s “Call Me” and preceding The Pretenders’ “Brass In Pocket.” It held the pole position for one week. >>

This is one of the great cowbell songs; drummer Keith Strickland is credited with playing it on the recording, but when performed live, Fred Schneider would play it.

A video was made for this song in 1979 by combining stock footage with various band antics. MTV was still two years away, but the video helped promote the song throughout Europe. The group got their star turn on MTV a decade later when “Love Shack” became one of the most popular clips on the network.

The song appeared in the movies One-Trick Pony (1980), Lobster Man from Mars (1989) and Knocked Up (2007); it was used in episodes of My Name Is Earl (“Joy in a Bubble” – 2008) and Glee (“The Hurt Locker: Part 1” – 2015).

The song is also a favorite on the show Family Guy, where the character Peter Griffin performs it on guitar in two episodes, first in a 2005 episode where he plays it (inappropriately) to cheer up Cleveland, then in a 2011 episode where it plays to a lobster with the lyrics changed to “Iraq Lobster.”

The B-52s performed this on Saturday Night Live, January 26, 1980. This gave the song a big boost; in May, it reached its US peak of #56.

Ricky Wilson didn’t have high expectations for the riff when he came up with it. His sister Cindy Wilson told the CBC: “I came home one day, and Ricky was just working on his guitar, and he was just laughing to himself. He says, ‘I just made up the stupidest riff there ever was.'”

Panic! at the Disco sampled the famous “Rock Lobster” riff on their 2016 track “Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time.” Panic! frontman Brendon Urie is a big fan of the B-52s; he was thrilled when he found out the sample cleared.

Rock Lobster

Ski-doo-be-dop
Eww
Ski-doo-be-dop
Eww
(Ski-doo-be-dop) We were at a party (Eww)
(Ski-doo-be-dop) His ear lobe fell in the deep (Eww)
(Ski-doo-be-dop) Someone reached in and grabbed it (Eww)
(Ski-doo-be-dop) Was a rock lobster (Eww)

Aaaah
Rock lobster
Aaaah
Rock lobster

Eww
Eww
We were at the beach (Eww)
Everybody had matching towels (Eww)
Somebody went under a dock (Eww)
And there they saw a rock (Eww)
It wasn’t a rock (Eww)
Was a rock lobster (Eww)

Aaaah
Rock lobster
Aaaah
Rock lobster

Rock lo-o-obster
Rock lo-o-obster

Motion in the ocean (Ooh ah)
His air hose broke (Hoo ah)
Lots of trouble (Ooh ah)
Lots of bubble (Hoo ah)
He was in a jam (Ooh ah)
He’s in a giant clam! (Hoo ah)

Rock, rock
Rock lobster! (Aaaaaaaaah)
Down, down! (Aaaaaaah)

Lobster
Rock
Lobster
Rock
Let’s rock!

Boys and bikinis
Girls and surfboards
Everybody’s rockin’
Everybody’s frugin’

Twistin’ round the fire
Havin’ fun

Bakin’ potatoes
Bakin’ in the sun

Put on your noseguard
Put on the lifeguard
Pass the tanning butter

Here comes a stingray (ooh wok ooh wok)
There goes a manta ray (ah ah ah)
In walked a jellyfish (huah)
There goes a dogfish (rea-owr)
Chased by a catfish (geh geh geh geh geh geh geh geh geh geh)
In flew a sea robin (Laaaaa)
Watch out for that piranha (eh rek eh rek ah hoo)
There goes a narwhal (eeeeh)
Here comes a bikini whale! (Aaaaah!)

(Lobster rock lobster-ster) Rock lobster
(Lobster) Rock lobster (Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah)
(Lobster rock lobster-ster) Rock lobster
(Lobster) Rock lobster (Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah)
(Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah)
(Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah)

….

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

37 thoughts on “B-52’s – Rock Lobster…. 80’s Underground Mondays”

  1. I remember hearing a radio interview from Lennon back then, and he mentioned the B-52s several times. So I listened to the B-52s, and instantly thought, “What? No way; this isn’t for me at all”. But now they are fun to hear. It took a couple of decades for me to appreciate them. They were pioneers for sure. The Rock Lobster beat is fun and infectious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is me also…. I took me a long time to warm up to them but I did…I took them as they are…a fun band.
      I thought the same thing when I heard about Lennon saying that…What the heck?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the B-52’s, but Rock Lobster is probably my least favorite song from them. I just really don’t get into experimental rock and pop music that much. There are exceptions, but they are few a far between. I do admire the band a lot. I love the singing of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, and I love the musicianship. Pierson, Ricky Wilson and Keith Strickland are top notch, in my book and Fred Schneider is just fun. I think they’ve written some great songs. I was very sad when Ricky Wilson passed away. He was a superb guitarist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s the complete package…It took a LONG time for me to warm up to them…then I took them as they were…a fun party band. Kate Person and Cindy Wilson are great.
      Yes his death was sad…it’s a wonder they carried on.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I do remember it being huge up north back then, I was originally kind of surprised it wasn’t equally big here. As novelty songs go, it’s pretty decent, though it’s still not a song I’d want to hear multiple times a day. So wild though that it inspired John Lennon! And good on Yoko for joining them on stage to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t realize it was number one in Canada. No I like them once in a while but I could not take them every day. They are a fun band.

      Like

      1. Yes…you don’t see that every day. I have to wonder if it’s because of Ricky Wilson’s death in 85. He is the one that came up with those cool surf type riffs.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Don’t know much of their stuff beyond the hits but always thought this song was the perfect party song – the keyboards the funny vocal mannerisms from Schneider the harmony vocals from Pierson and Wilson the sealife noises but what really clinched it for me was the driving guitar. This song was just total fun. That’s a really interesting backstory about Lennon. Not sure I would have had that reaction listening to the song but hey. Whatever

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well they did sound like Yoko…I guess he thought she would be accepted…
      No John…that won’t happen. When the rap of breaking of the Beatles is on your back…fair or not…that will not happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. If NASA had sent this song up with Voyager rather than JBG perhaps we would have already made contact with alien life as they would want to see where the party planet was 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This tune is so weird that it is actually great! These strange screams do sound like Yoko – it’s kind of hilarious. I also had no idea that this song supposedly inspired “Double Fantasy” – well, I’m glad it did. It’s actually one of my favorite Lennon albums, even though he only wrote half of the songs that are on there!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love this song. It is so awful and stupid that is absolutely wonderful. These guys were so huge down around Athens and Atlanta back in the day, I remember it well. Never saw them though as they weren’t necessarily my type of music, but I have really grown to like them since.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No they are not my type either. Apparently they were huge in Canada…I can’t believe this charted at #1.
      It took me a while to warm up to them…but I took them as they were…a fun band.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Love the B52s and bought this single in 1979, i enjoy anything quirky or fresh or fun, so this was a 3 fer 1. Their party classic is Love Shack no question but this is up there too. Yoko has done some classic stuff too, not least walking on thin ice which john was working on the night he was murdered. Equal to many great tracks by the great. One of the funniest radio ongoing skits on Radio One ever was a series of big pop songs done in the style of the B52s. Totally innapropriate treatment usually, the more innapropriate the funnier…. imagine I Will Always Love You in the style of Love Shack, that sort of thing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the background information on the song. I’m not too crazy about this one but I do have some favorite B52 songs that I love: “Revolution Earth” and “Quiche Lorraine” and of course “Love Shack.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder sometimes how them and Devo made it…once they broke through they were golden…but how the hell did they get a chance?

      Like

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