After the death of guitarist Ricky Wilson, it was impossible to think about recording new music for the B-52s. The band reflected on that time in Billboard recently.
“After Ricky died, we felt that the band was finished. We couldn’t imagine going on without him. I moved to Woodstock in the summer of 1986 and rented a little cabin on a pond off Wittenberg Road that was covered with lily pads and abundant with wildlife. It was idyllic and very healing. I wrote the instrumental portion of the songs. I would record a multi-track of music, and Kate, Fred and Cindy would improvise over it, and together, we would arrange their lyrics and melodies with the music. I remember starting the track for ‘June Bug’ with wildlife sounds that I’d recorded on the pond.” –Keith Strickland
(Pierson also moved to Woodstock and still lives in nearby, where she runs the Lazy Meadow motel with her wife, Monica.)
The region served as a healing and salvation for the band then. And yes, the “Love Shack” was indeed a little ole place deep in the woods & owned by ceramic artists Phillip Maberry and Scott Walker. (I’ve been there!)
“Our friend Tommy and the famous hairdresser Danilo, they told us when they heard the song ‘Love Shack’ and we were gonna do a video they said ‘Oh my God, you have to do the video in this house. It literally is the Love Shack. So I went to the director and told him we have to shoot at this house. I had gone up there though I didn’t know Phillip and Scott lived in this house, which was a literal shack. And they had the checkerboard roof, and two goats named Kate and Cindy. There was an amazing garden and it was in this sorta grotto with stone all around.
We all loved it, but the director wanted to do it in a studio in New York, not have to schlep upstate. But once they saw it, they were like, ‘Oh yes, this is it.’ So they made these signs that say ‘Stay Away Fools’ and ‘Love Rules’ and put the goats in the video. And we invited all our friends and had a party. The video was just one big party. We started out really early in the morning and it turned into this rave. RuPaul got the dance line going, and it almost felt like we weren’t being videotaped.” –Kate Pierson
“It was indeed a party. We wanted to recreate the Soul Traindance line, but the video director didn’t get the process. So RuPaul, who was there, directed that scene.” -Strickland
“I remember how ‘Love Shack’ wasn’t put together yet, and Don said how it needed a chorus. It wasn’t even gonna make the album because it wasn’t solidified. But after we added that chorus, Bingo, here it is; it sounds like a hit. But we didn’t aim to write hits, we aimed to heal ourselves and channel Ricky’s spirit. That was the goal, and I knew his presence was there.” –Pierson
“So we started rearranging the lyrics like a puzzle, and we were able to get it down to three and a half minutes with a chorus and some semblance of a plot line and cut it. The first take was killer except when we got to the tin roof rusted part. Cindy started with this exuberance that shocked everybody. I don’t know what that line means; I don’t think anybody knew what that line means (laughs). But she infused it with so much feeling, it threw everybody. I think she even choked up at the end of the line. It was really deep, and we tried to do it over and over and we couldn’t get the feeling we had in that first take. It took me all night to figure it out before I realized everything should be punched in right after the tin roof rusted line, because we never got that thing back again, that manic energy.” –Producer, Don Was
“We had a hard time selling ‘Love Shack’ at first. I remember our A&R guy taking me around while Kate and Cindy would do soundcheck and we would go to radio stations basically to beg them to play the song. Even the record company thought it was too weird. I thought it was the most accessible thing we had done. College radio embraced it immediately, but mainstream wouldn’t touch it until they saw how well it was doing. We went to No. 1 in several markets, though in America we were beat out by Milli Vanilli and Paula Abdul, both of whom were accused of not singing on their hit songs!” –Fred Schneider
“Cosmic Thing wasn’t a plan to do this big comeback for Ricky. It really was a healing thing. It was about doing it together as a means to heal, because after Ricky died we have this amazing, precious thing that was each other still. So we figured let’s get together and try this again. And the vibe of being at Dreamland in Ulster County to record this album was magic.” –Pierson
The B’s are still together and currently on a European tour and headed to the states later. Ticket info here.
Cosmic Thing was released 30 years ago on June 27, 1989. Let’s go to the Love Shack again and hear it for the 3000th time.
God bless Ricky Wilson.