“That’s the one for my tombstone. Here lies David Byrne. Why the big suit?” – David Byrne
In 1980, the Talking Heads continued pushing the new frontier of New Wave/avant-garde/world music with the release of Remain in Light, the last of their collaborations with Brian Eno. A great album and a boundary-pusher, The Library of Congress deemed the album “culturally, historically, or artistically significant”, and selected it for preservation in their National Recording Registry in 2017.
The song “Crosseyed and Painless” would seem to be the mantra of our current president. “Facts don’t do what I want them to do / Facts just twist the truth around.” That aside, this is some tremendously funky shit, bro:
The rhythms on this album were in part inspired by Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti about whom we saw a lively musical in Boston a year or two ago. For the first time, all songs are credited to the entire band (plus Eno.)
According to Eno, the song “Once In a Lifetime” has a “funny balance, with two centers of gravity – their funk groove, and my dubby, reggae-ish understanding of it; a bit like the way Fela Kuti songs will have multiple rhythms going on at the same time, warping in and out of each other.”
And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?
David Byrne, seeking other outlets, did not want to do another Talking Heads record just yet. So the band took an unheard of three-year hiatus. During this time, Bryne worked with Eno on the experimental My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I did a post on “The Jezebel Spirit” from this album a while back. It features music set to a real exorcism and man it’s weird.
Around the same time, the now-married Frantz and Weymouth (along with Adrian Belew) formed a band called Tom Tom Club. They were actually quite a bit more commercially successful than Byrne with singles “Wordy Rappinghood” and “Genius of Love.” These were disco-y, funk tunes that while not to my taste, were very popular and have been sampled quite a bit by the hip-hop crowd. (Jerry Harrison did a solo album as well but I don’t recall much about it.)
The band came back strong in 1983 with the self-produced Speaking in Tongues. This was in the middle of the MTV era and so the song “Burning Down the House,” became a big hit. (The title came from a crowd chant at a Parliament-Funkadelic concert.)
But you know, as much as I like that song, I’m going to save it for the inevitable Spotify list. Because I once asked a friend of mine what his favorite Heads song was and he said, “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody.)” I said in the previous post that the band didn’t do many love songs. This is a flat-out love song. And it’s a good one:
Home is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from the other
I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be oh!
The band toured behind this album, director Jonathan Demme filmed it and Stop Making Sense is absolutely one of the best fucking music movies I’ve seen. I can say this with some confidence because I saw it for the first time maybe six months ago at a local repertory theater.
What a blast! I totally felt like getting up and dancing. They were joined on this tour by several musicians including keyboardist Bernie Worrell of Parliament/Funkadelic. Here’s “Girlfriend is Better.” (Warning – big suit alert):
Talking Heads came out with three more studio albums – Little Creatures, True Stories (also a David Byrne film) and Naked. (True Stories has a song called “Radio Head” from which a certain band of our acquaintance got their name.)
I had a couple of songs I could post here but I’ll leave you with “(Nothing But) Flowers” from Naked. Johnny Marr plays guitar on this and the late Kirsty McColl provides backup vocals.
This used to be real estate
Now it’s only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it’s nothing but flowers
The highways and cars
Were sacrificed for agriculture
I thought that we’d start over
But I guess I was wrong
Naked, their final studio album, was released in 1988 but the band didn’t announce their breakup until 1991. By then, New Wave had pretty much played itself out.
From that day to this, although all members are alive and, one assumes, well, Byrne has disavowed any idea of a reunion. “We did have a lot of bad blood go down,” says Byrne. “That’s one reason, and another is that musically we’re just miles apart.”
Weymouth, however, has been critical of Byrne, describing him as “a man incapable of returning friendship” and saying that he doesn’t “love” her, Frantz, and Harrison. (Byrne, FWIW, says he’s on the autism spectrum.)
From that day to this, although all members are alive and, one assumes, well, Byrne has disavowed any thought of a reunion. In 1996, the three other members put out a not-well-received album called No Talking, Just Head. They used guest vocalists such as Michael Hutchence and Debbie Harry but I don’t recall the album having any impact at all.
And alas, even though they called themselves the Heads, Byrne sued them for having a sound and style too reminiscent of Talking Heads. That effectively put an end to any further plans.
In 2002, the Talking Heads were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers and actually got over their shit long enough to perform a couple of songs.
Wikipedia: Four of the band’s albums appeared on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and three of their songs (“Psycho Killer”, “Life During Wartime”, and “Once in a Lifetime”) were included among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
Talking Heads was also number 64 on VH1’s list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. In the 2011 update of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”, the band was ranked at number 100. (Way too fucking low in my opinion but ok.)
–David Byrne stays active in all sorts of musical and other artistic pursuits and is on tour as of this writing.
–Chris Frantz is working on a memoir called Remain in Love for 2020.
–Tina Weymouth last contributed a track to a project for a band called Chicks on Speed. I say her bass playing is the propulsive engine of this band. Listen to her on any of these tunes and tell me I’m wrong.
–Jerry Harrison has produced a bunch of other people and is a big shot over at garageband.com
Here’s yer Spotify list. Qu’est-ce que c’est?