Brian Eno & David Byrne – “Qu’ran” (1981)

December 2, 2012 at 12:03 am (Brian Eno, Music, Talking Heads)

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Michael Aron – “Talking Heads: Beyond Safety Pins” (1977)

November 15, 2009 at 6:54 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles, Talking Heads)

An early article on Talking Heads by Michael Aron from the Nov. 17, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone

 

After touring Europe with the Ramones, opening at the Bottom Line for Bryan Ferry and selling out CBGB’s regularly for two years, it should be a bit of a bringdown for a group to be here in suburban White Plains on a rainy Saturday to play a club that is essentially an annex of Beefsteak Charlie’s restaurant – but Talking Heads don’t seem to mind. While guitarist and lead singer David Byrne walks around in a London Fog raincoat, clutching a copy of a book entitled Musical Cultures of the Pacific, the Near East, and Asia and wondering aloud whether the rain outside is carrying “fallout from the recent Chinese A-test,” bass player Tina Weymouth is disarming a table of women friends with candid talk about David’s penchant for farting.

“He did it during a photo session for our album. That’s why he’s looking away in this shot on the sleeve,” Weymouth says. “Maybe men do it more than women.”

“He really does shovel his food down, you know,” adds an English woman.
“Yes, and he’s still eating junk food,” says Tina.

At a nearby table, Tina’s husband Chris Frantz (the group’s drummer) and ex-Modern Lover Jerry Harrison (keyboards and guitar) are explaining for the nth time why Talking Heads are not a punk band.

“The big difference between us and punk groups is that we like K.C. and the Sunshine Band and Funkadelic/Parliament,” says Frantz. “You ask Johnny Rotten if he likes K.C. and the Sunshine Band and he’ll blow snot in your face.”

“What I thought was healthy about punk rock was that it was a reaction to over-professionalization and technique replacing meaningfulness in music,” says Harrison, who went to Harvard. “I think in a way what punk rock means is intensity of expression, intensity of meaning, and I think that’s what we share…although we convey emotions not exactly limited to anger and aggression.”

A few minutes later, Talking Heads take the stage for a sound check. With the possible exception of Harrison, they look too straight to be rock & roll musicians. But, of course, they look this way on purpose. “Normalcy” is part of their pose – a way of saying hipness is passé and safety pins are irresponsible. As soon as they begin to play, you realize you’re in the presence of a stunningly original rock ensemble whose roots go back to such classicists of abnormality as the Velvet Underground, David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars and Harrison’s old group, the Modern Lovers.

Byrne, 25, writes all the material: a kind of syncopated hard rock, richer in texture than most New Wave music and lightened by riffs that seem to come from pop and disco. The lyrics are deceptively simple and utterly cracked. Like Randy Newman, whose songwriting he admires, Byrne is putting across a sensibility as much as a song. Consider these lines from “Don’t Worry About the Government”:

My building has every convenience
It’s going to make life easy for me
It’s going to be easy to get things done
I will relax, along with my loved ones…
Some civil servants are just like my loved ones

And these lines from “Psycho Killer” (written, by the way, two years before anyone had heard of David Berkowitz):

We are vain and we are blind
I hate people when they’re not polite
Psycho killer, q’est-ce que c’est?

Talking Heads may be the only rock band around whose members could all have had legitimate careers as painters. Byrne, Frantz and Weymouth were classmates at the Rhode Island School of Design, a prestigious asylum for the artistic that also spawned Martin Mull. Weymouth and Frantz painted; Frantz played in a rock band with Byrne, and Byrne flitted between painting, photography, video and poetry before settling on the writing of
questionnaires as an art form. (“I tried to design a Nielson ratings system for the arts, but it never worked out.”) Harrison, a latecomer to the band, painted as an undergraduate and had returned to Harvard for graduate studies in architecture a few months before Talking Heads lured him back to music.

I first saw Talking Heads two years ago when they were breaking in as a trio at CBGB’s. The music was more raw then, more hard-edged, and the lyrics more pessimistic.

Talking Heads usually played on the same bill with Television (a coincidence in that “talking heads” is a name lifted from TV terminology), and those were special nights. Each band had a cult following: Television drew the punks and rowdies, Talking Heads the young professionals, college students, and the critics – in particular, John Rockwell of the New York Times, who used the term “art rock” to distinguish Talking Heads from New York’s 8000 other punk bands, and James Wolcott of the Village Voice, who raved about a band still a year and a half away from cutting its first record.

Byrne, Frantz and Weymouth are so serious about their music and so careful about controlling their careers that for the next year they rebuffed half a dozen management offers and resisted the temptation to deliver themselves up to a large record company.

Instead, they worked on their musicianship, built their repertoire beyond fourteen songs and began searching for a fourth musician who would, in Weymouth’s words, “make us sound more like a band and take some of the pressure off of David.” After finding Harrison, they signed a deal with Sire – “a small, independent company that’ll always take your calls,” says Byrne – and in mid-September released an album, Talking Heads ’77.

Although the album has been received with excitement, it can’t possibly be as rousing as what 150 people witnessed at Beefsteak Charlie’s on a rainy night the week of the Chinese A-test. Having not seen the band in more than a year, I had almost forgotten how incredible David Byrne is onstage.

Everything about him is uncool: his socks and shoes, his body language, his self-conscious announcements of song titles, the way he wiggles his hips when he’s carried away onstage (imagine an out-of-it kid practicing Buddy Holly moves in front of a mirror). But it only makes you love him as you laugh at him – or at the concept he presents.

Byrne is aware of his effect but has, he says, “really no idea what I look like onstage. I know people talk about me as being a gone cat, wacko, and I guess in the context of rock & roll bands that’s valid. But if I cultivate it, I’m completely unaware. My only effort is to play well, sing the lyrics with conviction, on pitch and so they can be understood.”

Still, sitting in the audience you’re never sure whether Byrne’s persona is real or if it’s brilliant satire. Eventually, you stop wondering, because all the while he’s blasting extraordinary music at you, playing and singing with an intensity rarely seen this side of drag-queen cabaret bars and having more fun than anyone else in the room.

As I heard one suburban kid say to another between sets, “Wait’ll you see this guy.”

Michael Aron

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Talking Heads – Talking Heads: 77″ (1977)

September 23, 2008 at 1:05 pm (Reviews & Articles, Talking Heads)

Rolling Stone review from Issue #251 – 1977 – written by Stephen Demorest…

 

Talking Heads are the last of CBGB’s original Big Four to record (following Patti Smith, the Ramones and Television), and their debut is an absolute triumph. Dressing like a quartet of Young Republicans, playing courteously toned-down music and singing lyrics lauding civil servants, parents and college, Talking Heads are not even remotely punks. Rather, they are the great Ivy League hope of pop music. I can’t recall when I last heard such a vital, imaginatively tuneful album.

David Byrne’s music is refreshing, abundantly varied and fun to listen to. He takes the buoyant, post-Beatles singles format of the Sixties—brisk pacing, great hooks, crisp playing, bright production—and impulsively veers off on unexpected tangents that are challenging without becoming inaccessible.

This is the band that had its early critics talking about minimalism and, like Jonathan Richman, Talking Heads do indeed triumph by the economy of their sound. But where the ingenuous Richman is dangerously precious, there is no nonsense about Talking Heads. Byrne’s spare guitar patterns, Jerry Harrison’s modest keyboard fills, Martina Weymouth’s understated bass and Chris Frantz’ efficiently Spartan drumming convey a taut earnestness that’s bursting with energy.

“The Book I Read,” like so many of their songs, burbles with excitement, a feeling of expansion overcoming restraint. “Pulled Up” is the real champ, though, a fiercely exhilarating rush of aural amyl nitrate.

Vocally, Byrne’s live-wired personality vibrates his precise musical framework like a caged tiger rattling its bars. (That he sings in a stiff, reedy, “bad” voice, grasping for higher notes like a drowning man lunging for air, only heightens the drama.) Exploring the logic and disorientation of love, decision making, ambition and the need for selfishness, he gropes for articulation like a metaphysician having difficulty computing emotions.

Given his relatively unlyrical nature, Byrne’s burgeoning persona is not in the least tentative. “No Compassion” asserts all the impatience of Lou Reed in a bad mood, while “Psycho Killer” pulses with vehemence.

For me, the direct, crisp, jaunty Talking Heads and the abstracted, unrestrained, fiery Television stand as the Beatles and Rolling Stones of the restless, displaced Seventies. Not only is this a great album, it’s also one of the definitive records of the decade.  

Stephen Demorest

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Talking Heads – “I Zimbra” (Live – 1980)

September 20, 2008 at 2:09 am (Music, Talking Heads)

This was shown on the German TV show “Rockpop” in 1980…this was during their Remain in Light Tour when they expanded to a larger band for the stage show and went in a much more rhythmic direction with their music. 
“I Zimbra” was originally from the 1979 Fear of Music album and used nonsense lyrics taken from an old Hugo Ball sound poem.   

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Tom Tom Club – “Genius of Love” (Video – 1982)

September 20, 2008 at 1:53 am (Music, Talking Heads)

The animated video to this classic from the side band by Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz of Talking Heads…

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Talking Heads – “Psycho Killer” (TV – 1978)

September 20, 2008 at 12:58 am (Music, Talking Heads)

Taken from a 1978 appearance on the British TV show “The Old Grey Whistle Test”

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David Byrne – “I Get Wild/Wild Gravity” (1983)

August 30, 2008 at 8:27 pm (Poetry & Literature, Talking Heads)

Fooled around enough with numbers
Let’s not be ourselves today
Is it just my imagination?
Is it just someone’s fave?
Pleasantly out of proportion
It’s hard to hold on to the ground
Now I didn’t come to run
And this is everything
And gravity lets you down

I get wild, wizing up
I just can’t let go
I get wild when I get ready
I can hardly talk
Living lights
Special lights
Yellow turns blue
I get wild
It’s automatic
I can hardly move

Go ahead and pull the curtains
Check to see if I’m still here
Let me lose my perspective
Something worth waiting for
Somewhere in South Carolina
And gravity don’t mean a thing
And all around the world
Each and ev’ryone
Playing with a heart of steel

I get up climbing out
How did I get home?
I’ll survive the situation
Somebody shut the door
Beautiful
Beautiful
Climbing up the wall
I get by on automatic
No surprise at all

No one here can recognize you
Here is ev’rything that you like
Feelings without explanations
Somethings are hard to describe
The sound of a cigarette burning
A place there where ev’rything spins
And the sounds inside your mind
Is playing all the time
Playing with a heart of steel

I get wild, wizing up
I just can’t let go
I get wild when I get ready
I can hardly talk
Red ‘n’ white black to gold
Yellow turns blue
I get wild It’s automatic
I can hardly move

I get up pushing up
How did I get home?
I’ll survive the situation
Somebody shut the door
Shut the door
Shut the door
Climbing up the wall
I get by on automatic
No surprise at all.

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Talking Heads – “Burning Down the House” (Live – 1984)

August 23, 2008 at 10:53 pm (Music, Talking Heads)

Another track taken from the concert film Stop Making Sense

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Talking Heads – “Psycho Killer” (TV – 1978)

August 23, 2008 at 10:35 pm (Music, Talking Heads)

Taken from “The Old Grey Whistle Test” – 1978

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Talking Heads – “Girlfriend is Better” (Live – 1984)

August 23, 2008 at 9:30 pm (Music, Talking Heads)

Taken from the Jonathan Demme-directed concert film Stop Making Sense.

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