AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #115 : TALKING HEADS

A GUEST CONTRIBUTION FROM ECHORICH

TALKING HEADS ICA – OR THE BAND THAT FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE POP SEA….

Talking Heads are a true foundation of my musical experience.

Growing up in the late 70s NYC, Talking Heads held a certain aura and mystique and offered a true alternative to what was then mainstream Pop and Rock.

David Byrne sang of real dislocation from the expected and “normal” emotions and feelings of society. The band, from the outset was made up of musicians that, to this day, can inspire awe. Byrne’s guitar work is masterful and new, Tina Weymouth’s bass is strong and expansive in its range. Jerry Harrison’s keyboards were often subtle, giving Byrne’s sharp angles some rounder edges and the Chris Frantz percussion was far more than just a metronome to pace their songs.

Their debut, 77 was one of the albums that developed my appreciation for music in ways I find it hard to describe. It opened popular music’s possibilities for me, showing me a band didn’t just have to have one sound, or make records that flowed with a concept cobbled from another art form to be relevant and moving.

Their first 4 albums are very different and equally important in the development of “alternative” pop and rock music entering into the 8os. But then something happened to Talking Heads for me.

By 1980 they were at risk of becoming too big an entity – both in the size of the recording and touring band and in their search for the next sound. Heavy touring from 1979 to 1982 left a band in need of a rethink. What came next, Speaking In Tongues, sounded too much to me like an attempt to be popular. Burning Down The House, while no chart burner, became a radio friendly song that overexposed the band in my eyes. Some of this can certainly be described as sour grapes from a fan who wasn’t ready to share such a closely loved band with the masses, but I think there were also obvious tensions building in the band that would play out over their last four albums. I would find songs on these records I liked, but none mattered in the way the songs on the first four albums did.

Here is my TALKING HEADS ICA built around those first four albums:

Side A:

The Good ThingMore Songs About Buildings And Food

Many have written of David Byrne’s dissociative tendencies. Some have said it was likely Asperger’s Syndrome, some just say he’s just “a prick.” I think it more a case of his wanting to express his fears, concerns, dreams in the most real way he knew. The Good Thing begins benignly and builds into a defiant growler of a song, laying out a path of life and success that will not be deviated from.

New Feeling77

Here we have Byrne in “out of step with everyone and everything” mode. The warped guitar work and wobbly bass are perfect foils to this bit of pop mania.

PaperFear Of Music

With each album, the sound of Talking Heads grew and grew. Lots of people want to credit the influence of Brian Eno in these leaps forward, but I think Eno was a real fan and had a lighter touch than many give him credit for. Paper is a monster of political and social paranoia. The musical unit is so tight, it feels like it might break before the first verse of the song is even complete.

Artists OnlyMore Songs About Buildings And Food

Jerry Harrison is the star of this track, building it out with psychedelic organ that is dark and trippy. Byrne sings as if the mescaline he took has given his entire body an uncontrollable, nervous tick. Tina’s bass and Chris’ drums provide the high speed velocity.

Psycho Killer77

The bass line of God. Psycho Killer is a song that I hold close to my heart. It was less than a year since the killing spree of the Son of Sam killer, David Berkowitz when Psycho Killer came out. I lived not 4 blocks from the next to last of his killing scenes at local discoteque, Elephas, in Bayside, Queens. The events of that killing changed my neighborhood for years. Psycho Killer was the darkest song I had ever heard. The motorik influence of the song brings out the detached nature of the song. Its darkness is still powerful 40 years on.

Side B:

Life During WartimeFear Of Music

Fear Of Music deals with many dystopian issues of society and politics. No song more so than Life During Wartime. It’s a song with lyrics from the margins, underground and clandestine. The urgency of the newly presented Punk/Funk was what got people up on their feet and moving to it. The jam session origins of the song are translated on record into a cohesive, massive sound with the early hints of things to come in one year’s time.

Born Under PunchesRemain In Light

If life was lived in a carnival funhouse maze, then Born Under Punches would be the soundtrack playing over and over as we spent our lives walking into walls and mirrors while we dreamt of our own perfect world. Much of the beauty and complexity to this song and Remain In Light as a whole comes from the likemindedness of Chris and Tina and Brian Eno. They all agreed that the band should make a more democratically structured album and they were all interested in other rhythms and sounds. What came from this and the sessions that followed was a real attempt to fuse Western African Music, Funk and Post Punk – World Music. To this day Born Under Punches manages to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.

The Book I Read77

Back to the beginning. I feel side two of 77 is a perfect album side, one of the two best perfect album sides in my mind (ok, side two of Ocean Rain by The Bunnymen is the other). The song that anchor’s that special quintet of songs is The Book I Read. It’s a song about the euphoria of love or the realization of love’s affect. Byrne breaks free of his self imposed emotional boundaries and proclaims to the world, or is it all just in his own mind, what love has done for him.

Found A Job More Songs About Buildings And Food

Where Talking Heads record their own take on a kitchen sink drama. It may be a commentary on modern culture, modern artists or just a narrative about the creative process, but Found A Job is a massive song. Byrne’s frantic guitar is a thing of beauty, Harrison’s electronic marimba is soothing and Chris and Tina bash out a rhythm to keep up perfectly with Byrnes guitar.

The Great CurveRemain In Light

Sure, I could have given this ICA a real ender of a song – maybe The Overload, where Talking Heads show their appreciation of A Certain Ratio and Joy Division (no one will ever dissuade me of this opinion), or Pulled Up where 77 ends with a feeling of promise and ecstasy, or maybe Heaven – a song that puts Byrnes lyrics on a par with Leonard Cohen. But I’ve chose to end my picks with some New Wave Gospel. The Great Curve has the energy and trance-like abandon of a Gospel Church service. The expanded Talking Heads is taken full advantage here. Adrian Belew’s treated guitar is stand out and Nona Hendryx adds body to the choral portions of the song. Jon Hassell’s horns are tortured and twisted. The song relies on the different lyrical codas being sung as a round and this vocal layering along with the polyrhythms of the music.

ECHORICH

INITIATIVE TEST (Part 2)…aka the 202nd musical posting on the blog

greatescapeattenborough

Grim and pale with (heavy) head in hands, I sat in Dan Van Samaritan’s apartment in Utrecht, central Holland on the Monday morning. It was 08.30 and I was due at work in south west England … hundreds of miles away.

Before I’d been shooed away at midnight by the be-whiskered Amsterdam Police; through a fug of tasty smoke, they’d given me the phone number of the British Consulate in The Hague. I pulled the scrap of paper from my pocket. “Right” thought I. “These Union Flag-flying fuckers will sort me out. No problem. That’s what they do, isn’t it?”

I called their number on Dan’s phone. No answer. The Consulate staff weren’t there. My life was already a Dutch Breakfast so I could well do without those lazy sods still nibbling on Gouda and pumpernickel reading their morning Expatica Express.

“Get thyselves sat beneath a portrait of The Queen and help this beleaguered countryman, you work-shy mandarin bastards” I chuntered to myself. I lit a Peter Stuyvesant and tried the number again. Still nothing. Perhaps they were out last night dressed in orange celebrating the first herring of the year, or something?

Half an hour later, I finally extracted a gruff ‘Hullo’ from a she-male voice at the other end.

‘Geertruyd here’.

It was the cleaner!

It transpired that Her Majesty’s Ambassador and all his merry civil service men were not in the office that morning due to what she called ‘a Training Day’. I vented my spleen toward the damduster-wielding dutchwoman. I was beside myself. (In-cand-escent and in-de-shit). She sympathised with my plight; understanding my acute frustration and desperation, but unable to offer any advice other than, ‘Continue to the port sir, and hope that your passport is there waiting’.

OK. South I go to bloody Belgium then. It can’t be that far from here can it?

By the way, the coach I had missed in Amsterdam had long since arrived in England. Unbeknownst to me however, my friend had been given a hard time by UK Customs at Passport Control. “And which one are we today then sir?” he’d been asked as he wielded 2 passports and a likely story.

Anyway, I got on a local bus full of Holland’s finest old cloggy women and headed towards the nearest motorway junction.

mp3 : Talking Heads – Road To Nowhere

Back on the main Highway, out came my map, anorak, thumb, and my metaphorical Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Benelux Blues. The drizzle lowered in the Lowlands. After half an hour, a car pulled over. It was clearly an ‘Ok ya, company car’. An unwashed black Audi with 4 tell-tale ironed shirts hanging in the back.

Herman the Sales Rep listened to my tale of woe. He was heading to Eindhoven for a Plastics Convention. A city I knew only as the home of a football team called PSV and the Philips Lighting Company. Herman seemed friendly enough. (But then, Jack The Ripper was probably a right charmer on first meeting). We chatted over the next hour or so and I told him my tale. He shook his head in disbelief.

I mentioned the beer, and the cold, the lack of ID and money, Amsterdam, and the missed coach home. I told him that I was serving in the Air Force and that my bollocks would be lightly poached as I was late back on duty.

mp3 : XTC – The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead

Then, in a truly bizarre coincidence, as we passed Eindhoven, he had the most wonderful lightbulb moment!

The nearest RAF Station was not far across the Dutch/West German border.

“That’s it. That’s where we can go!” declared Herman.

In 1984, RAF Brüggen was a major NATO base in a Cold War world – where a certain apocalyptic Nuclear War was just around the next bunker. Two Tribes, Greenham Common, Threads, Reagan, Thatcher, CND, Protect and Survive, Cruise and Pershing missiles. Why, even painting the windows white and sitting under the kitchen table wouldn’t save you.

This Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) meant we were doomed – the lot of us. In fact, the only undecided thing was how you were gonna spend your final 4 minutes; prior to kissing your ass goodbye.

Aaah, happy days!

Anyway, I digress. Herman agreed to take me across the border into Germany and onto the RAF base. As a Sales Executive, he knew the way like the back of his leather-bound filofax.

‘If you don’t get home safely, I’m a Dutchman’ he vehemently declared.

“Aren’t you the funny fucker?” says I.

We crossed the manned National Border, with him flashing Fritz a Buisiness card and me a crazed inane grin – with thumbs up like Selwyn Froggitt.  On a road through a forest, we approached the sprawling air base, negotiating speed-calming barbed wire chicanes flanked by armed guards. We could see the Hardened Aircraft Shelters. Fierce German Shepherds prowled the perimeter fence. How ridiculous they looked with their crooks, dressed in their woolly waistcoats and leather shorts. (Only joking, I mean Alsatian-type dogs really).

At the RAF Brüggen main gate, Herman came into his own with sales waffle a-gogo. Thankfully, the airman on guard duty wasn’t the pointiest bullet in the magazine. His tin hat was on the wrong way round. (‘Must be a chef in his day job’ I thought). For all he knew, I could have been a Yorkshire-based Soviet Stasi SuperSpy. (I had no ID and he had no idea). With a salute from him and a weary wave from me, we were in. A high security top-secret base with the largest Tornado aircraft force in NATO had been infiltrated by a Dutchman saying, “I have come to check the vending machines in the NAAFI” and me – a scruffy youth in a borrowed lime green anorak.

By the way, This ‘oops’ moment had happened at RAF Brüggen earlier that year.

And so, now on the Camp, and en route to Station HQ, it was then very strangely that my ears began to bleed. Herman pointed it out to me as he parked up.  It had bever happened before (or since). Dan Van Samaratin’s rain jacket would never be the same again and my white ‘Tube Station’ T-shirt sported fresh claret blobs.  Herman passed me a wet wipe with ‘Currywurst’ printed on it.  With ears dribbling, I tried to compose myself and rehearsed my story in my fat head.

I introduced myself to a clot of a Corporal in Personnel Services. Seeing the blood, he quickly realised it was above his pay level and found me a Warrant Officer. And, if Rottweillers had hats then he’d be one. At this point, Herman motioned that it was time for him to leave. I thanked him – woefully insufficiently – and he was gone. Rotty with a blue beret took me to a room where I regaled him with bumbling tales of lager and London and Leeds United. Throughout my desperate report, I remember how he took phone calls about bonfires and sausages and fireworks. (It was the 5th of November). Here I was, at my tether’s end, whilst he considered the merits of a good Catherine Wheel.

So here’s the plan: Issued with a Temporary ID card and an Advance of Pay to cover costs home, I take a lift to Mönchengladbach in a mini-bus full of bonfire-going kids. There I catch a train through what’s left of Germany and across The Netherlands to the Hook of Holland. Overnight Ferry to Harwich. Train to Waterloo. Train to Salisbury. Taxi home. Bollocking from work. Re-union shag with girlfriend. Phone call to relieved mother. Two-way tales with passport-holding mate. Food. Sleep.

Through the damp suib of a German Bonfire Night, I hurries to the train station for the 19.30 Deutsche Bahn (that’s German for ‘a big train’), relieved that I had escaped the jaunty jabberings of a dozen excited under-10s eating sausages. (Bratwursts/Worstbrats).

I’d been given an advance of pay in cash. Exactly 138 Deutsche Mark – to cover the whole fare from Monchengladbach to Salisbury.

I asked for a ticket and the frau behind the counter told me the price …

“That is 143 Marks please”.

“Surely some mistake?” I argued.

“Nein. The price it has risen last veek”.

“Shit. Bollocks. Fuck”. A queue built up behind me.

“Can I leave you my name and address? I twitched. Can you take my watch instead?”

Sensing my desperation (along with the fact that if I were to throw myself under the train there would be an interminable delay – even by über-efficient German suicide-mopping-up standards), the woman behind me in the queue stepped forward and offered to pay the 5 DM difference.

“Oh, thank you. Danke, muchos” I babbled, as I went to hug her … but as she recoiled, I thought better of it!

I made it onto the train and felt like Richard Attenborough in The Great Escape. All I needed was the Trilby hat and a pair of specs made from old German milk bottles. The ‘funny look’ from the Guard as he checked my ticket added to the ‘squeeky bum’ moment. We shake, rattle and rolled all the way to the west coast port of Hoek van Holland

(Cue ‘Homeward Bound’ by Paul Simon you may be thinking? Too obvious, dear reader. We don’t just throw this blog together you know).

Unsurprisingly, I puked all the way across The Channel. So much so that I expected any chewy bit to be my own anus. The sea was as rough as an unkempt bear’s arse. (Is there anything worse than not having a cabin and clutching a pissy public porcelain pot for hours and hours?)

Anyway, I can see you glazing over at the back dear reader. Suffice to say, I continued across Britain in shabby vagrant style and arrived home to my accommodation block on the Tuesday afternoon in one piece.

Many were relieved to see me. (‘Cept the bloke next door who’d had his eye on my portable TV). Why,  I even went on to marry the girl waiting for me.  Aaaah!

mp3 : Paul Weller – In Amsterdam (By a strange twist of fate, this is from his new album!)

Dick Van Dyke, 16 May 2010

JC adds…

Almost four years on and I still can’t believe nobody has snapped up the film-rights to this tale.

Over the years I’ve asked DvD to consider becoming a regular contributor to the blog(s).  Hopefully one day….

 

STOP MAKING SENSE

Stopmakingsenseposter

David comes out on bare stage with acoustic guitar and portable cassette player which provides rhythm. During ending, David does spastic dance which uses the whole empty stage. Tina’s bass rider is wheeled out. Stage crew are all black overalls. Drum riser is wheeled out…

Chris joins at drums. Jerry joins playing guitar. A keyboard riser is wheeled out. Ednah and Lynn sing backing vocals. Steve comes out….plays bongos. David does a ‘duck’ dance. Percussion riser wheels out. Alex joins playing guitar. Rear projection screen comes down very slowly. Bernie comes out. David does knock-knee dance at end.

Second keyboard riser has been wheeled out. Bernie begins song. ‘Jogging’ dance and #Indian-snake’ dance. David runs around the stage at the end of this song. Red slides with words…..

That’s the description to the opening sections of the movie Stop Making Sense provided within the booklet which accompanied the 1999 CD re-release.  It remains the only concert-movie that I’ve ever made an effort to go and see at the time of release, doing so at the Edinburgh Film Theatre in 1984….why I chose to see it in Edinburgh rather than Glasgow I can’t remember.  What I do know is that I was so mesmerised by it that I went back to see it again the next night in my home city.

It was a concert film unlike any other.  No close-up shots of the audience nor of  the musicians playing solos. No attempt to hide the fact that the road crew were an important an integral part of the show.  The band re-arranged a number of the songs and in doing so turned them into what many Talking Heads fans consider to be the derivative versions.

One unforseen outcome however, was the attention focussed on the parts played by David Byrne at the expense of those other long-standing members, a situation that was to lead to ever-increasing friction and the effective break up of the band within five years.

Thirty years on from its filming in Los Angeles in December 1983, Stop Making Sense remains a highly impressive piece of work.  And some of soundtrack still hold up well today:-

mp3 : Talking Heads – Psycho Killer

mp3 : Talking Heads – Slippery People

mp3 : Talking Heads – Girlfriend Is Better

Enjoy!!