Time does strange things to pop history.
There are many instances where the debut single has proven to be the defining moment of a band or singer’s career but more often than not it simply lays down a marker for bigger and better things further down the line. Many years later, said band or singer, having enjoyed an extended career, undergoes an extensive critical reassessment, part of which usually involves a fresh consideration of that crucial debut. I think Talking Heads are a great illustration of what I am getting at.
It was away back in February 1977 that the then trio released Love → Building on Fire as a single. It predated their debut album by more than six months and indeed was already considered such an ‘old’ song that it was left off said debut, albeit it seemed to be part of the regular set list for many years thereafter. The debut LP was the piece of plastic that took a by now four-piece Talking Heads to an audience well beyond the confines of NYC, with songs like Uh-Oh Love Comes To Town, The Book I Read, Don’t Worry About The Government and, above all else, Psycho Killer, making a huge and immediate impact. Most polls which look back at, and list, great debut albums usually have Talking Heads : 77 mentioned somewhere in the piece.
All of which somehow makes Love → Building on Fire (or Love Goes to Building on Fire which has always been easier to type) something of an afterthought when looking back at the band’s career. I first noticed increasing mentions of the debut 45 once it became clear that the band, having broken up, had no intention of ever reforming. It was almost as if those who were penning the valedictory pieces wanted their readers to think or believe that the writer had been ahead of the curve back in 1977 and had predicted or expected greatness and longevity on the back of the first few minutes of music that Talking Heads had ever released. And yes, there were some who argued that the debut was the watershed for the band on the basis that they lost something once they moved out of CBGBs.
It’s all, of course, utter nonsense.
Yes, Love → Building on Fire is a wonderful way to announce your arrival; it’s an entertaining and cracking three minutes of music, which is why I’m featuring it in this series; but Talking Heads would deliver so many better moments over the ensuing years.