Talking Heads: 77

Talking Heads

Sire, 1977

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/23/2014

Now this is something different. The jaunty “Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town” starts the debut album of another CBGB discovery, the band that is known as Talking Heads. Lead singer David Byrne’s deadpan delivery, a half-spoken, half-sung style that’s all his own, is just quirky enough to put a big smile on your face. He breaks character on occasion when he amusingly reaches for the high notes, making this a rich and unpredictable listen. His backing band, consisting of Tina Weymouth on bass, Chris Frantz on drums and Jerry Harrison on keyboards, is a spare one to say the least. The melodies are simple, even somewhat sickly (especially on “Happy Day”).

The most recognizable and notable of these eleven tracks is “Psycho Killer,” though it’s a controversial title for a debut single. Then again, Sire as a label was always on the cutting edge and never played it safe. Label honcho Seymour Stein was the man who brought us not only Erasure and Depeche Mode, but also introduced Madonna to the world. Stein was also the first true believer in the New Wave genre, a style of music that was all the rage in the 1980s and helped to usher in the second British Invasion (including gender benders Annie Lennox and Boy George). Along with Blondie, Talking Heads was right there from the very beginning. They were warped and unsettling to more conventional listeners, but to the artsy college crowd, they could do no wrong.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Talking Heads never aspired to be mainstream. What with David Byrne’s oversized suits (remember those shoulder pads?) and a general glazed-over, druggy stage appearance, this was a musical outfit that may as well have landed from Mars, along with David Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Let’s just call a spade a spade here. These were four odd ducks. Critics tried to champion the band as the next big thing, but the fickle masses just didn’t know what to do with them, especially back in the disco-fueled year of 1977. It’s an argument that holds water: if you reek of anything counter-culture, you will be marginalized.

Talking Heads did succeed in satisfying a niche of fanatical record collectors like myself. With each successive album they would build on their trademark sound and surprise us by going dark (Fear Of Music), experimental (Remain In Light), filmic (True Stories), even Latin (on their swan song Naked). As for chart hits, they would only have three Top 40 entries, “Take Me To The River” – which would coincidentally be covered by Annie Lennox in 1995 – as well as “Burning Down The House” and “Wild, Wild Life.”

The standouts on Talking Heads: 77 are few and far between by comparison. The Heads just haven’t reached their full-bodied creative stride quite yet and the arrangements are too rough around the edges to truly register. They do push themselves on “First Week/Last Week…Carefree,” with the mariachi horns ironically predicting where they’ll ultimately end up a dozen years later, Naked and disbanded. And the over-the-top finale “Pulled Up” is terrific and more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Is it any wonder their last album would have a photo of one emblazoned on its sleeve?

Rating: B

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