25 Years Ago: The B-52’s Struggle Through ‘Good Stuff’ Without Cindy Wilson
The B-52's tried following up their first-ever Top Five hit album in the usual way. They cooked up some similarly goofy songs and even brought back both producers. But Good Stuff, released June 23, 1992, was still missing something – most notably co-founding singer Cindy Wilson.
They'd already lost her brother Ricky Wilson to an AIDS-related death in the run up to 1989's breakout smash Cosmic Thing. Keith Strickland, their founding drummer, moved over to Ricky's guitar chair as the B-52's soldiered on with Cindy's co-vocalists Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider. All seemed well, before Cindy split after a Earth Day 1990 performance before 750,000 people at Central Park in New York.
"All of a sudden she just decided she was quitting," Schneider told the Las Vegas Sun in 2001. "She wanted to have children, so it was real stressful. It was a real shock."
Her departure threatened to break apart a signature combination of surf rock, punk and pre-Beatles go-go music that powered offbeat favorites like "Planet Claire," "Rock Lobster" and, more recently, "Love Shack." Their kitschy image, dating back to the band's late-'70s start in Athens, Ga., had been made complete by the frontline of Pierson and Wilson (sporting namesake beehive wigs) and Schneider (with his barking, stream-of-consciousness vocal style).
"I'd been a B-52 for a long time," Cindy Wilson told MTV, "and it just felt like time for a change." She later gave birth to a daughter, even as her old band morphed into a retro-bohemian orchestra with some eight people on stage – including Julee Cruise of Twin Peaks fame, who briefly filled in for Wilson.
"I think in Cindy's case it stopped being fun," Pierson told the Chicago Tribune in 1992, adding that Wilson was just 19 when the B-52's were founded. "Basically her whole adult life was in the band. She wanted to be with her parents and her husband, and move back down south."
For a time, it seemed like this continued evolution might work in the B-52's favor. "I feel really good about the new band," Pierson told the Tribune. "Before Cosmic Thing, we never worked with any outside musicians, really. It was always very insular in a way. After Ricky died, we went through so many changes; just musically, we were ready to open up."
That included the first overtly serious messages in their music, as the B-52's sprinkled in pleas for peace and environmental change on Good Stuff. Several non-profits were allowed to set up information booths at their shows in this era, as well.
Listen to the B-52's Perform 'Revolution Earth'
"We had a lot more of an edge in the beginning and then I think (the record label) started to get us to become more wacky, with like funny clothes and bigger hairdos," Schneider told the Las Vegas Sun. "That didn't appeal to me so much, but things evolved. We went into this more synthesizer and keyboard stuff for Whammy! and Bouncing Off the Satellites. I just didn't want to have us labeled as a wacky camp band that dresses funny."
Still, the B-52's were struggling behind the scenes – and the distance from Wilson (who wasn't even talking with the group at first) served as a flash point. "I'm kind of waiting for her to feel ready to make contact," Pierson told the Tribune in 1992. "I'm sure it's painful in some ways. It was painful, I know, for her to make that separation because it was so much a part of her life. I really feel like she'll call when she's ready to. I think she just wants that distance."
The title track for Good Stuff eventually crept into the Top 30, and the gold-selling Good Stuff was nominated for an alternative music Grammy in 1993 (losing to Tom Waits' Bone Machine.) Pierson's soaring "Revolution Earth," like "Roam" before it, traded goofball quips for something more honest – to great effect.
In the end, however, Good Stuff simply wasn't that good. For all of their lofty intentions, and despite whatever sparks were created with their new collaborators, and even with the presence of gold-plated returning producers like Don Was and Nile Rodgers, there was little here on the commercial scale of "Love Shack" – or even "Deadbeat Club."
Like it or not, that had become an expectation in the wake of the multi-platinum Cosmic Thing. The B-52's sputtered to a sudden halt, and didn't put out another album for more than 15 years. “We had not had that kind of success before, and everything changed,” Strickland told the New York Times in 2008. “For me it got too heavy. It just had to stop.”
They B-52's never felt whole again until Wilson eventually returned. They mounted a well-received greatest-hits tour in 2001, then made a triumphant return to the studio for 2008's Funplex – the band's second-highest charting album, after Cosmic Thing.
Wilson admits, however, that she never regretted her time away. "My clock was ticking, so I chose to take some time off," she told the Bay Area Reporter in 2016. "I was really missing Ricky, and I needed to step back and chill."
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