The B-52’s are currently in the midst of their first farewell tour. It seems like a good time to revisit this blog post from the summer of 2018:
A couple of months ago, the internet burst into flames when Bunny Wailer, songwriter of “The Electric Slide”, confirmed rumors that the song is indeed about a vibrator. (It’s electric!).
An article on the Aazios site quoted him as saying that he wrote the song after a girlfriend told him she didn’t need him because she had a toy she nicknamed the “electric slide”. The story went viral.
Singer Marcia Griffiths was not happy about it. “I don’t sing about vibrators,” she said. “I sing to teach, educate and uplift.”
“Why not both?” I say.
Huffpost, which initially reposted the Aazios story, then printed an update that it was not true… noting, apropos of nothing, that Aazios is “an online source of LGBTQ news and entertainment” – as if that had anything to do with Bunny Wailer, the vibrator, or the validity of the story.
Snopes has labeled the story FALSE with a quote from Bunny Wailer that reads like a statement prepared by a lawyer to protect a client from litigation: “At no time have I ever lent credence to a rumor that the song was inspired by anything other than Eddie Grant’s “Electric Avenue“. To state otherwise is a falsehood and offends my legacy, the legacy of singer Marcia Griffiths, and tarnishes the reputation of a song beloved by millions of fans the world over.”
The problem is… Wailer wrote the song in the 1970’s, years before Eddie Grant’s 1982 hit. The song was dusted off and reworked to ride the “Electric” coattails of that hit record. Thirty-five years later, it is still a dance floor staple at a certain caliber of venue. It is understandable that someone who still makes money off of this record does not want to suddenly admit that their cash cow is about a dildo.
Bottom line: It is or it isn’t. Either way, you now have a topic of conversation to slur loudly over your 9th cocktail while your mom and Karen from finance are knocking into each other on the dance floor.
So… now can we talk about The B-52’s 1989 hit song “Roam“? You know it’s about butt sex, right?
Of course, nobody is going to step up and confirm this now. The B-52’s still make a nice living touring the world performing “Roam” along with party classics like “Rock Lobster“ and “Love Shack“. One song they haven’t performed in years is “Dirty Back Road,” a track from their 1980 Wild Planet LP. Co-written by a guy named Robert Waldrop with band member Ricky Wilson, it’s not that much of a stretch to figure out what this little ditty is about:
Wreckless driving / Like a sports car / God I want you / Like a fuel engine / Energized line / Like a road / You ride me / Like a road / You ride me / Foot on the peddle / Feet in the air / Sand in my hair / Don’t look back / Don’t look behind you / Reckless drivin’ on / Dirty back road
Pretty obvious, right? Well… of course not, according to YouTube comments. People will argue about anything. I know, I know. Never read the comments.
Now lets move on to “Roam“: The song’s lyrics are credited again to Robert Waldrop, with music written by the surviving members of the band. Ricky Wilson had passed away from AIDS complications in 1985 during the recording of the Bouncing Off The Satellites LP. After taking a few years off, the band came back in 1989 with the LP Cosmic Thing, which would be the biggest commercial success of their career. The singles “Love Shack” and “Roam” topped the charts around the world, garnered the band their first two Grammy nominations and still get regular airplay today.
When did I realize that “Roam” was about butt sex? I couldn’t say. I just always knew. I saw Robert Waldrop’s name in the cassette booklet, read the lyrics to “Roam“ and thought “Look at that. He cleaned up his ‘Dirty Back Road‘.” Well, not completely – the second line has them “dancing down those dirty and dusty trails.” It may not be as blatant, but it’s there.
The phrase “Take it hip to hip rock it through the wilderness” is repeated about a dozen times throughout the song.
The chorus: Roam if you want to / Roam around the world / Without wings without wheels / Roam around the world / Without anything but the love we feel…
And then there’s this verse:
Hit the air-strip to the sunset / Ride the arrow to the target / Take it hip to hip rock it through the wilderness / Around the world the trip begins with a kiss
(at this point in the video, a banana goes through a hole in a bagel)
I would like to make it clear that I do not make these pronouncements as some sort of slander. Believe me, I am a big fan of butt sex and partake as often as possible.
In posting this piece, I realize that there are people who will get annoyed or upset that their favorite B-52’s hit is all about taking a ride on the Hershey highway, but really… if you think this is shocking or not possibly true then you never really understood the band and/or their sense of humor in the first place. People who only know them from Top 40 radio might not remember that they were/are a predominantly gay party band. They were messy, subversive and more than just a little punk. Fun punk.
If a clueless fan does not know that, it is akin to saying that you love John Waters because of the films Hairspray and Cry Baby, but have never seen Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble.
Like many other bands before or since, the B-52’s started out edgy and moved towards mainstream pop as their career progressed. While their current tour does pull heavily from their first two LPs, their bread and butter is still playing the hit songs. They are a business – not so much a band as a corporation like their contemporaries the Go-Go’s and Blondie.
Even if the B-52’s issued a statement today that “Roam” never was or is about getting popped in the pooper, the motivation would not be to tell the truth, but rather to protect their own livelihood. Case in point: The Village People, Inc. When faced with anti-gay protests for a gig in Jamaica back in 1998, their representative had the balls to issue a statement declaring that there was nothing gay about them. The fucking Village People, people. I would like to think that the B-52’s are still way too cool to ever do such a thing.
So… I just thought you ought to know. “Roam” is about takin’ it up the ass. Something to think about when you hear it wafting over the airwaves at the supermarket or when you are in line at the bank. I am not going to debate the evidence. It is what it is. I think it’s a hoot – it makes me chuckle whenever I hear it. But if you feel a strong opposition to the theory… may I invite you to hit the airstrip… and teach yourself the Electric Slide. Boogie woogie woogie.
UPDATE: Since this was piece was first posted in August, 2018, an expanded 30th Anniversary edition of the Cosmic Thing LP was released. The band did a considerable amount of press, reflecting on the songs and recording process. Not surprisingly, nobody mentioned that “Roam” is about butt sex.
“‘Roam‘ has many meanings, but it’s a beautiful song about death,” Cindy Wilson told Classic Pop magazine in 2019. “It’s about when your spirit leaves your body and you can just roam.”
Well, yes. Some would describe it like that.