Welcome to the new year. And with a new year, we make some new beginnings. But, let’s look back to tradition, with a Tracklist on the band Talking Heads.
This has been a playlist in the works since this website was started in September, and we’re going to try out a new format for the tracklist reviews. In addition to the Spotify playlist, all the album artwork featured links to all the albums on Spotify, where possible. Please give me your feedback on the new format.
Uh Oh, Love Comes To Town- Talking Heads ’77
Talking Heads ’77 laid a lot of the groundwork for the sound that Talking Heads would become known for in their later works, though I must confess, this album is my favourite of all of them. This is not common for myself, as I tend to prefer later albums by a particular band. I think I love the roughness of it the most. Its quite a frantic album in its production, and I love it more than some of the more polished works.
Uh oh, love comes to Town is the first track on the album, and it doesn’t mess around. This is the most down to earth and relateable love songs ever written. Its not iambic pentameter, Shakespeare verses on how a rose of any other name, it is a song about how the experience of love stops life dead in its track. Its a great song, and worth a listen.
Take Me to the River- More Songs About Buildings and Food
More Songs About Buildings and Food is the first of three albums produced by Brian Eno, who worked on the Berlin Trilogy with David Bowie during the 70’s. This was Eno’s next project after having worked on Lodger, and his influence really begins to permeate in this album. Musically, this album is a more refined Talking Heads ’77.
Take me to the river is indicative of this. This cover song took the original soul sound of Al Green’s 1974 masterpiece, and blended it with the distinct, appropriated sound. And appropriated is certainly appropriate in discussing Talking Heads. Musically, the poly rhythmic beats, inspired by African music, appears throughout the discography of Talking Heads in one form or another.
Heaven- Fear of Music
More Songs about Buildings and Food was a successful album. Take me to the river was a popular song, and had some good commercial exposure. Interestingly, for their third album, Talking Heads went for a back to basics approach. Fear of Music was recorded in Tina Weymouth’s loft, where the band used to practice, and the Africana increased in their sonic compositions. Many of the songs on that album have a frantic, and aggressive element, built on dark emotions. Except for Heaven.
Heaven has a more chilled out sound and is a rare piece of calm from this often schizophrenic album, with its themes of dystopic anarchy. Its the one bit of peace that makes this song great.
Once in a Lifetime- Remain in light
The last in Talking Heads’ Brian Eno triptych, and the most collaborative efforts from the band. After almost breaking up due to the ego of David Byrne, they reconvened in The Bahamas with Eno, after a break, to record their critically and commercially acclaimed 4th album. Lots of people like this one, but I am not really a fan. ’77 is my favourite.
I’ve really nothing to say about my choice on this one. Once in a Lifetime is one of those songs most people know from Talking Heads. If one looks on spotify, it is definitely in the top 5 most listened to songs by the band, and for good reason. You know it, and I know it.
Girlfriend is Better- Speaking in Tounges
Speaking in Tounges, as an album, could be considered the peak of Talking Heads. It garnered their first and only top 10 single in the US Charts. The album produced not one, but two, of their big hits. And that doesn’t include Girlfriend is Better. It also was the first album the band produced themselves, after the last three albums with Brian Eno. Musically, the band are at their best on this album. That can be seen in the number of hits they had that come from this album. The whole album is worth a listen.
‘As we get older, and stop making sense, you won’t find her waiting long’. Girlfriend is better is a very ironic song. According to Genius, the song is about the interpersonal struggle of a man during a night of dancing and sexual intercourse with a woman of which he is not dating.
And She Was- Little Creatures
Little Creatures could also be considered peak Talking Heads, because it has their biggest hit on there; Road to Nowhere. On one hand, yes. Every band has their ‘big, well known song’, if they’re lucky. If they’re very lucky, they have more than one. Little Creatures has Talking Heads ‘big song’, but I would argue they have bigger songs on other albums. Little Creatures is a fine album, but it is musically weaker than their previous outings. I think it sounds more conventional, and much more American. I say that in comparison to their appropriated sound of previous albums
And She Was is the only other song of note on this album, at least for me. The song is about a boy who loves a girl…who can fly. Thematically, it’s a very good song based on the lyrics. Musically, it is quite conventional. But I still quite like it. If you’re getting into Talking Heads, I would suggest that you start off with this album, to at least get acclimated with their music. Though more confident music fans should go for something else.
Hey Now -True Stories
I’ve never watched the film ‘True Stories’, so I cannot comment on the quality of that film. I have also never listened to the soundtrack album; which is made up Talking Heads doing the songs featured on the album rather than the actors. Musically, this album resembles Little Creatures, in that it is a more conventionally produced album, though this album is quite a bit weaker than its predecessor. This album was made at a time that the band were beginning to break up, and was really released as a tie-in. David Byrne has stated his regret at releasing it.
That said, Hey Now is one of the solid songs produced by this album with a sort of Carribean sound to it, reminiscent of the appropriated Africana beats and rhythms the band is known for using. The lyrics start off somewhat annoying, but they get better, and the music is top notch. It feels like one of the more consistent songs, which the whole band are behind. As an album, though, it isn’t great. I would recommend skipping it.
The last Talking Heads album, and while not the biggest high note, it is an improvement over True Stories. True Stories was more of a David Byrne solo piece, compared to Naked; which features a sound more like that featured on Speaking in Tongues. It is nowhere near as good as that, but it’s something.
The music was produced in Paris, based on jams with other musicians, and I think that the communal nature of making the music worked in this album’s favour, as there are songs like (Nothing but) Flowers, Blind, and Cool Water. This song features The Smiths’ guitarist, Johnny Marr, who does a decent job on this track. I may not like his band’s work, but he is a solid guitarist in his own right. The lyrics are basically an attack against racism and are good at delivering their message. This whole album is very politically
After Naked, Talking Heads disbanded, with very little likelihood of a reunion over 30 years later. This largely seems down to a lot of bad blood between the four members, and personal differences. Byrne, in many interviews, seems to compare reuniting the band to ‘going back into a bad marriage’. It seems a lot of the issues have to do with David Byrne and Tina Weymouth not getting on.
That being said, bad blood shouldn’t affect the legacy of a band. The Beatles hated each other’s guts in 1969, but Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr still speak fondly about it all as they are well into their 70’s. While the bad blood is there, the music is also there and is remembered fondly. And when I think of Talking Heads, I think of the music.