In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking our songs that highlight some of our favorite guitar riffs.
“I’ve just written the stupidest guitar line you’ve ever heard.” That’s how B-52s guitarist Ricky Wilson introduced the backbone of the group’s signature song, “Rock Lobster,” a seaside rave-up that reportedly inspired John Lennon to get back in the recording studio. For many listeners, the flash and flamboyance of The Bs’ three-headed vocal unit—Fred Schneider’s Sprechgesang come-ons, Cindy Wilson’s cool-girl aloofness, Kate Pierson’s unhinged nature calls—defines the band’s sound. But that sound simply wouldn’t hold together without Cindy’s older brother’s guitar. (For tragic proof of this, see the increasingly wackier material the band recorded after Ricky’s 1985 death.)
Played in open tuning on a modified Mosrite—the guitar manufacturer made famous by surf-rock icons The Ventures—the “Rock Lobster” riff encompasses the appeal of The B-52s’ early recordings: It’s a “dance it all out” catharsis that untethers the body from the mind, sweaty punk transgression in an image-conscious new-wave package. If Googie architecture had a sound, it’d be the “Rock Lobster” riff; if one of James Bond’s love children went through an exotica phase in their early 20s, “Rock Lobster” would be their theme music. To use a piece of nautical terminology not appropriated by the song, it’s an ideal hook, instantly memorable and attributable only to Wilson’s idiosyncratic tunings. It is, as Pierson later recalled, “some kind of stupid genius”—as good an epigram as you can find for Wilson’s contributions to The B-52s.