Mesopotamia is an EP by new wave band the B-52's. It was produced by David Byrne of Talking Heads and was originally planned to be the band's third studio album. Due to conflicts with Byrne and record label pressure, recording sessions were aborted prematurely and only six of ten songs to be completed were released as a shorter than originally intended LP. The record was distributed as a 12" EP by Warner Bros. in the US and by Island Records on vinyl and cassette in the UK and other non-US markets.
Mesopotamia is considered a departure in style for the B-52's; Byrne and the band added plenty of additional instruments, vocal overdubs, horns, synthesizers, layered percussion and an altogether richer sound. A larger emphasis was placed on production after the raw sound of their debut album The B-52's and the slightly more polished sound of their second album, Wild Planet.
Mesopotamia was initially conceived by the B-52's in October 1981, following the release of their previous remix album, Party Mix! The band's first two albums were largely made up of songs which they had been performing live for a number of years. Thus, Mesopotamia required a new writing project for the band. They have stated that the fact that they were all living together in a house in upstate New York did not aid the writing process at this time.
Their management were of the opinion that the band should try something new and change their sound, so the band and their manager Gary Kurfirst agreed that David Byrne of Talking Heads would be a good choice for the album's producer, due to his previous musical experience and history of touring together with the B-52's. Despite constraints with recording The Catherine Wheel soundtrack, Byrne nevertheless agreed to produce Mesopotamia, producing the former during the day and the latter at night, with little sleep in between.
Originally, Mesopotamia was conceived as a full album. Due to extensive pressure on the band to release new material, the sessions were hurriedly brought to an end and the bulk of the material was released as an EP. This is also speculated to be because David Byrne had different ideas for the mixing of the album than the band had anticipated. Of the four abandoned tracks, three were re-recorded for the following album, Whammy!.
There are four known outtakes:
"Queen of Las Vegas" – The original version of this song recorded for the intended full Mesopotamia album was released on Nude on the Moon: The B-52's Anthology and features a vocal performance from Pierson and Wilson with Yogi Horton on drums. The song was modified and re-recorded in 1983 for the Whammy! album.
"Big Bird" – re-recorded for Whammy!, this original version has never been released. However, "Big Bird" was included in the band's live set on the Mesopotamia tour and was largely the same as the version made available on the Whammy! album. It has since emerged that the band had wanted "Big Bird" to be on the EP instead of "Deep Sleep" but the record company disagreed and omitted "Big Bird" in favour of "Deep Sleep." This explains why the band performed "Big Bird" at all the concerts on the 1982 tour but rarely if ever, performed "Deep Sleep."
"Adios Desconocida" – A ballad with an uncharacteristically soft and romantic tone, this song was never remade by the band.
"Butterbean" – Re-recorded for Whammy!, this original version has never been released.
Mesopotamia was a major departure in style for the B-52's. The band's two previous albums had been more or less true to the live sound that made them favorites of the '70s New York scene, with basic organ, guitar, a keyboard bass and a strong backbeat. Mesopotamia, with Byrne at the helm, showcased a new sound. This included multi-layered guitars, a horn section, atmospheric synths, complex percussion and various instruments including a bass guitar, marimba, piano and accordion.
Mesopotamia was also vocally unique for the band because many of the tracks do not feature the vocal interplay for which the band is known. With two Cindy Wilson solo performances, one solo from Kate Pierson, two duets between Pierson and Fred Schneider, and one Wilson/Pierson duet, the sound was more vocally varied than previous recordings. This did, however, showcase the individual talents of the members. The hiring in of numerous session musicians was also a first for the B-52's, although this would be repeated on subsequent albums.
In the UK, the EP was marketed as a mini-album, due to three songs “Loveland”, “Cake” and “Throw That Beat In The Garbage Can” mistakenly given rougher extended remixes from demo tapes. When the band learned of this, the error was quickly rectified, with the original mixes reinstated, though the extended “Loveland” remained in later UK pressings. Later CD releases reverted to the original mixes at the band’s request. A 1990 remix by Tom Durack under the band’s supervision was packaged alongside Party Mix! as a single CD and released in 1991, this being the version considered by the band to be more polished and closer to their original intent.
This was the last B-52's release where every track could be obtained on the A and B-side of a single (as had happened with The B-52's and Wild Planet).
In 1982, the B-52's returned to touring. Having been on the road for much of 1978, 1979 and 1980, the band had taken a break in 1981 and were struggling to create new material. With Mesopotamia, they had new material to showcase live. The dynamic of the live show changed slightly from previous tours. In 1981, the band released the remix album Party Mix!, and on the so-called "MesoAmerica" 1982 tour they used the opportunity to perform updated versions of some of the songs in their live set that they had been performing since 1977. Another change in 1982 was the keyboard setup. Kate Pierson no longer stood behind a bass synth perched atop a Farfisa Compact Organ. To achieve the new sound of Party Mix! and Mesopotamia, she used a more sophisticated synthesizer, recreating the organ sounds of their debut, the synth sounds of Mesopotamia and simultaneously providing the undulating synth bass lines behind the band's signature new wave sound.
During the "Meso-America" tour to support Mesopotamia, live versions of the songs were performed by: Cindy Wilson on guitar, bongos and vocals; Fred Schneider on vocals; Kate Pierson on keyboards, bass guitar and vocals; Ricky Wilson on guitars; and Keith Strickland on drums. Saxophones on tour were played by Ralph Carney and trumpet and duck calls by David Buck.
Opening for over thirty dates on the 1982 Mesopotamia tour were the Bongos who were supporting their debut album. A friendship was forged between the two bands which led to various collaborations, especially between Fred Schneider and the Bongos' Richard Barone.
The EP was a moderate success, and spawned three single releases: double A-sides "Deep Sleep"/"Nip it in the Bud," "Cake"/"Loveland" and "Mesopotamia"/"Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can."
Ricky Wilson – lead guitar, bass guitar
Keith Strickland – drums, keyboards, rhythm guitar, percussion
Kate Pierson – vocals, keyboards, bass guitar
Fred Schneider – vocals
Cindy Wilson – vocals, percussion
David Byrne – fretless bass, rhythm guitar, percussion, synthesizer
Steve Scales – percussion
Yogi Horton – drums
Charles Rocket – accordion
Ralph Carney – saxophone
David Buck – trumpet
Roberto Arron – saxophone
Butch Jones - engineer
Simon Levy - art direction, design
Desiree Rohr - illustration
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