KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – TALKING HEADS “TALKING HEADS: 77”

Artist: TALKING HEADS
Album: TALKING HEADS: 77

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

Way back in April 2011, as I was approaching the end of my inaugural blog series on Van Morrison, I posted my first poll which asked readers to select the next artist whose discography I would revisit & write about. By a slim margin over The Band, whose catalog I would soon take on, the winner was Talking Heads. The following month I began a 4-part series that covered their relatively brief but hugely influential recording career. After an introductory post where I discussed my history with their music (I had never been more than a casual fan but still owned all of their albums), I enthusiastically praised their 1977 debut album in Part 2 of that series. I haven’t played their music much since then, but after giving this record a fresh spin last week I’m happy to report that it still sounds as fresh & vital as it did six years ago, and remains timeless in spite of the fact that it was recorded 40 years ago. Following are the thoughts I shared on this wonderful record, which highlights 8 of the album’s 11 tracks. The other 3 (“Tentative Decisions,” “Happy Day” and “Don’t Worry About The Government”) are nearly as good as the others, and were only omitted in an effort to bring some brevity to my blog posts, something I was starting to struggle with at the time. It’s also worth noting their debut non-LP single, “Love → Building On Fire,” which preceded the album by 7 months. This horn-infused song was as quirky, catchy & unique as anything on Talking Heads: 77, and is a worthy bonus track on the expanded CD version.

Since I wasn’t a fan of Talking Heads from the beginning of their career, and I didn’t hear most of their individual albums until 2005 (even though I knew a lot of their songs), I have a different perspective on their output than someone who was a fan in 1977. To my ears, it seems like they came out of nowhere. There were obvious influences, like David Bowie, Roxy Music, The Velvet Underground, The Modern Lovers, etc., but right from the start they didn’t sound like anyone other than Talking Heads. As I’ve explored their albums recently, I’ve uncovered some other influences on individual tracks, but more often I’ve noticed how they influenced other artists, which makes their output over a relatively short period of time (just over a decade) that much more impressive.

Their debut album, Talking Heads: 77, is my favorite re-discovery, and I would now put it on the list of greatest debut albums of all time. Album opener “Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town,” has a loping Stax-like R&B rhythm, yet it’s not a soulful song (surprising, considering how they would embrace many groove-based styles in the future). “New Feeling” follows with its herky-jerky feel and a slightly dissonant guitar melody that clearly influenced future King Crimson member and Talking Heads collaborator, Adrian Belew. “Who Is it?” has a great nervous energy, and it quickly became a new favorite. I love the way the rhythm shifts dramatically a couple of times during “No Compassion,” almost like two different songs were glued together. I know I can’t be the only one who hears how the slower section of this song must have influenced David Bowie a couple of years later on his song “Ashes To Ashes.” The other section has a propulsive pseudo-disco beat that comes as a surprise the first time it’s introduced.

The intro guitar figure on “The Book I Read” has an African feel, something they would embrace more regularly a couple of years later. Then they adopt a Latin feel for “First Week/Last Week…Carefree” with the cabasa pushing the groove, but add a twist by introducing vibes and a horn section. “Psycho Killer” is the best-known song here, with the bass guitar intro bearing a similarity to Roxy Music’s “Love Is The Drug.” It’s hard to tell if lead singer David Byrne is singing in character or about a character, but the lyrics fit the melody perfectly, and it’s not surprising that this might be their most popular song. The album ends with “Pulled Up,” a straight 4/4 dance rhythm mixed with their most rocking, crunchy guitar sound; a perfect way to close out a near-perfect album.

 

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21 comments on “Forty Year Friday – TALKING HEADS “TALKING HEADS: 77”

  1. jcbradleyjr
    July 21, 2017

    I was not a big fan of the Talking Heads right off the bat. A friend of mine reviewed “More Songs About Buildings and Food” and gave me his copy (album back then) after he reviewed it because he did not like it all that much. I liked parts of it (I am a much bigger fan of it now) but really did not get into the band all that much until “Speaking in Tongues.” Something about that record really made me sit up and take notice.

    From that point I began working my way back through their catalogue and discovered this record. I would have to say if it isn’t my favorite Talking Heads record its probably my most listened to. And I totally agree with your assessment – it sounds just as fresh and timely today as it did the first time I heard it. Great, great record.

    Like

    • Hi JC. Although our initial exposure to their music was not the same, we took similar paths in going from not liking them that much to really appreciating how special they were. At the very least, there aren’t many bands who sounded like Talking Heads, before or since, and that alone makes them special. I’m glad you agree with me about how strong their debut is. Thanks for the feedback

      Like

  2. 80smetalman
    July 21, 2017

    Great take on such a classic album. “77” is my favourite Talking Heads album by far and your review is spot on!

    Like

  3. Jeff Kempin
    July 22, 2017

    I like a few Talking Heads songs….but I’ve always felt like I was supposed to like this band because they were critics darlings more than liking their actual music. Same thing with Lou Reed. Yeah, I can point to maybe a handful of songs that are just okay….but the majority of their music I just don’t care for. Maybe I’m not sophisticated enough to “get it” but I like a lot of jazz and prog and “challenging” music too. I dunno. My favorite TH song is the live version of Psycho Killer off of Stop Making Sense, you know, with the beatbox track backing Byrne’s vocals.
    Sorry, Rich, this week is a miss for me. But I still love ya and I’ll still keep reading.

    Take care,

    Jeff

    Like

    • Hi Jeff. No worries. We can’t connect on every artist. I completely understand what’s holding you back from liking Talking Heads (and Lou Reed). I know there are critics’ darlings I feel the same way about. It has nothing to do with us not being sophisticated enough. We just like what we like and don’t analyze it too much. Oh, and yep…that live version of “Psycho Killer” is wonderful, as is pretty much everything on Stop Making Sense.

      Thanks for the feedback, which I especially appreciate considering you’re not a TH fan. Have a great week.

      Rich

      Like

  4. 1537
    July 25, 2017

    Great choice Rich, this was a real game changer.

    Like

  5. Alyson
    July 27, 2017

    Late this week but had a wee holiday by the sea which blew the cobwebs away (literally as it was very windy) and gave me the impetus to take up blogging again!

    Again like last time, I think of Talking Heads as an ’80s band as they had never appeared in our Singles Chart until that decade and as you know, that is pretty much how I discovered music back then. The True Stories album is one I own however as I went through a stage in 1986 of buying all the albums recommended in a very “cool” magazine I used to subscribe to – Turns out I should have gone back to 1977 and bought this one instead! Of course we all know that there should be no such thing as “cool” and “uncool” just music we enjoy but to be fair all those 1986 albums have stood the test of time so critcal acclaim does stand for something.

    Like

    • Hi Alyson. So happy to hear about the cobwebs being blown away. Based on your most recent post I can tell that you’re clear-headed and enthusiastic, which is wonderful. I hope to comment there soon but it’s been one of those weeks. I barely had time to write my weekly post, which was completed shortly before I posted it today. I usually try to be a few days ahead so I don’t feel any self-imposed pressure, but that wasn’t possible this week.

      I agree that Talking Heads now seem like more of an ’80s band. That was probably always the case, since they were ahead of their time when they first appeared, and the music world finally caught up with them at the dawn of the new decade.

      As for “cool” vs. “uncool,” I probably cared a little about that when I was younger, but eventually I realized that it didn’t matter. I find that those publications will determine that a particular album is cool, and then two years later when the artist releases their next album that same publication will say that the previous album was disappointing and the new album is cool. It’s more about the writer than the music. Who needs it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        July 28, 2017

        Sorry to hear you were under pressure today as it’s never as enjoyable posting under those circumstances. No-one would have noticed however!

        The whole cool/uncool thing comes up so often that I’m afraid for many people it is very much still “a thing” – Very freeing when you get past it however and yes those magazines often change their minds down the line so very fickle indeed.

        Like

      • The pressure was more of a cumulative thing that hasn’t really gone away for quite some time. Some weeks are easier than others and last week, unfortunately, was a particularly tough one. I agree that cool/uncool is still a thing, which I think is a waste of time. I will certainly never get a job writing for a hipster music publication. I would be way too uncool for them…and I have no problem with that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        July 31, 2017

        It’s not any fun when the pressure mounts up and I have noticed a lot of bloggers mention the same thing of late. A follower left a comment on my site reminding me that it is “my space”, where I can write what I want, when I want. Wise words and I am trying to take them on board. If you want a week or two off, not a problem, your followers will still be around when and if you come back. The real world is ultimately the most important one!

        Like

      • I saw that comment at your blog and I feel exactly the same way. Other than in the early days of my blog, when I felt like I needed to generate content to keep people coming back, I’ve posted at a pace that works for me. The only pressure I occasionally feel is completely self-imposed. My goal this year was to write one post a week on a single album from ’77, and at times it’s been the only enjoyable thing I can accomplish each week. I just get frustrated when other things get in the way of that goal, and that’s been happening way too frequently. In the grand scheme of things it’s hard to complain about this minor frustration. I’ve managed to write 29 posts in this series so far and the conversations about them have been really enjoyable.

        Hope your week has gotten off to a nice start, in both the real & virtual worlds.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        July 31, 2017

        In the real world I actually handed in my notice at work today – Turns out there isn’t enough time for paid work and blogging, so one had to go and it wasn’t going to be the blogging! Been building up to it for a while now but spending so much time in this fine virtual place has definitely made me less that enthusiastic about the dazzling world of public sector finance – I will now concentrate on helping my other half promote his business (and make more World Cups for Mr Stewart perhaps!).

        Like

      • Congratulations on taking this leap. I hope it leads to lots of wonderful things for you & your other half. May I live vicariously through you for a while? 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        July 31, 2017

        I have yet to hear from anyone who thinks I have been rash and stupid although that’s what I fully expected – Interesting times!

        Like

      • Even if you had been rash & stupid, that’s probably better than well-considered & stupid. That’s just plain…stupid. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Talking Heads – Talking Heads: 77 (1977) | 1001albumsin10years

  7. stephen1001
    August 2, 2017

    I too didn’t grow up with the group – it’s interesting hearing these groups from that perspective.
    And I’d agree, if you’re going to have a debut album, this is a good model to use, with the freshness intact 40 years later!

    Like

    • It seems like Talking Heads are one of those bands that, once you get into them you really like them, whether you heard them at the time or discovered them years later. I’m sure all fans agree regarding the freshness of their debut all these years later.

      Liked by 1 person

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