More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking Heads

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More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking HeadsThe second album by Talking Heads, 1978’s More Songs About Buildings and Food got its sarcastic title by addressing the cliche of the “sophomore jinx” where songs not used on the debut are combined with inferior and underdeveloped new compositions. However, that “jinx” was obliterated here as the quirky new wave quartet found decent commercial success and widespread critical acclaim for their fine combination of standard motifs and inventive techniques, perfect for that era of popular music.

Composer, guitarist and vocalist David Byrne, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz were all alumni of the Rhode Island School of Design and formed their first band in 1973 before migrating to New York City in 1975. Getting their name from a TV Guide article, Talking Heads were signed to Sire Records in November 1976 and added keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison early in 1977. The group’s debut album, Talking Heads 77 found decent success in part due to the single “Psycho Killer”, which hit the airwaves around the same time as New York City was embroiled in the “summer of Sam”.

More Songs About Buildings and Food was the first of a trilogy collaboration between the group and producer Brian Eno, who took their raw sound and emphasized on more danceable rhythms to fuse a unique vibe for Byrne’s art/rock compositions. On this album the group also started their long tradition of recording in the Bahamas at Compass Studios.


More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking Heads
Released: July 14, 1978 (Sire)
Produced by: Brian Eno & Talking Heads
Recorded: Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas, March–April 1978
Side One Side Two
Thank You for Sending Me an Angel
With Our Love
The Good Thing
Warning Sign
The Girls Want to Be with the Girls
Found a Job
Artists Only
I’m Not in Love
Stay Hungry
Take Me to the River
The Big Country
Group Musicians
David Byrne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Percussion
Jerry Harrison – Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Tina Weymouth – Bass, Vocals
Chris Frantz – Drums, Percussion

 

A rapid shuffle above a pointed hard rock riff defines the sound of “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel”, with extra percussion between the verses. This opening track acts as sort of a bridge between the debut album’s tension and the bigger rhythmic sound of this album. “With Our Love” follows with a rather spazzy funk feel in the verses, while “The Good Thing” is the most accessible song thus far with an upbeat yet smooth, rounded sound led by Weymouth’s bass and odd but catchy harmonized refrains. Co-written by Frantz, “Warning Sign” features a drum beat with exaggerated reverb joined by catchy bass and guitar riff in long intro before the song proper develops into choppy new wave track.

“The Girls Want to Be with the Girls” may be the first track where the group seems to try too hard to force a quirkly style and it ends up feeling disjointed, while the side one closer “Found a Job” features pure funk verses and new wave rock choruses. Side two begins with “Artists Only”, a song which explores several pleasant styles in rapid fashion, while “I’m Not in Love” moves back to funk but with driving, rapid rhythms as it makes its way through many odd sections before completing with an entertaining quasi-guitar lead jam. “Stay Hungry” is a shorter funk/jam featuring much synth influence by Eno.

Talking Heads

By far, the album’s commercial anchor is its only cover song, a distinct version of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” featuring a sound that defines an eighties hit while still in the late 1970s. The deliberative rhythm method and fine production technique brought the group a worldwide Top 40 crossover hit. The album ends with the pleasant sonics of “The Big Country” with a fine mixture of acoustic and electric and a slide/country vibe topped by a steady drum beat.

More Songs About Buildings and Food peaked in the Top 30 of the Pop Albums charts and eventually reached gold record status. Eno and the Talking Heads continued this successful formula with 1979’s Fear of Music and the hit album Remain in Light in 1980.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

 

Remain In Light
by Talking Heads

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Remain In Light by Talking HeadsRemain In Light is far from your typical rock album. In fact, a case might be made that it is not really a rock album at all. However, this widely acclaimed fourth studio album by Talking Heads is important in its creative approach and originality as well as a firm statement by the group that they were much more than a simple, New York, post-punk band. Remain In Light is filled with experimental African polyrhythms along with a series of samples and loops, all performed by the four group members and additional session musicians.

Talking Heads began as “The Artistics” in 1974 at the Rhode Island School of Design where three of its permanent members attended, including the couple Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, who played bass and drums respectively. Eventually the group migrated to New York City and played their first proper gig as “Talking Heads” at the famed CBGB in 1975. Over the next two years, the group gained a following which led to their signing with Sire Records. During each of the final three years of the 1970s, the group recorded and released Talking Heads 77, More Songs About Buildings and Food, and Fear of Music, each achieving higher acclaim and popularity. The most recent of these albums was produced by Brian Eno, who stayed on board for this fourth album.

Remain In Light was conceived when the members of Talking Heads wanted to make a more music and rhythm oriented album, in part to dispel notions of that the group was just a backing for frontman and chief lyricist David Byrne. Initial recordings were made in Nassau, the Bahamas, with instrumental sessions that experimented with the communal African recording methods. For his part, Byrne provided inspired lyrics from literature on Africa and re-invented his vocal style to match the free-associative feel of the compositions.


Remain In Light by Talking Heads
Released: October 8, 1980 (Sire)
Produced by: Brian Eno
Recorded: Compass Point Studios, Nassau & Sigma Sound Studios, New York, July–August 1980
Side One Side Two
Born Under Punches (Heat Goes On)
Crosseyed and Painless
The Great Curve
Once in a Lifetime
Houses in Motion
Seen and Not Seen
Listening Wind
The Overload
Group Musicians
David Byrne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion
Jerry Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Tina Weymouth – Bass, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Chris Frantz – Drums, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals

While none of the compositions include chord changes and instead rely on the use of different harmonics and notes, the first side contains the more rhythmic songs with good sound loops, albeit excessively repetitive. The opener “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” is pure techno funk and never deviates from a 10-second sequence acting as a canvas for the vocals. “Crosseyed and Painless” is more dance-oriented than the opener and, although the chorus vocals are very melodic, this track is built predominantly as a club track. Lyrically this track discusses the paranoia and alienation of urban life. “The Great Curve” features layered, multi-part vocals over hyper rhythms and a rich horn section. The song and side ends with an interesting, droning, synthesiser-treated guitar solo by Adrian Belew.

The second side of Remain In Light features more introspective songs, commencing with most popular on this album and one of the most popular in the band’s career catalog. “Once In a Lifetime” has a refreshing refrain and is the most musically interesting thus far. While Weymouth’s basic bass pattern never changes, the other musicians play brilliantly, with Frantz adding good drum fills and guitarist Jerry Harrison laying down brilliant funk and rock guitar licks. For his part, Eno composed the vocal melody for the chorus after originally expressing reservations about the song. Released as the first single from the album, the song peaked at #14 on the UK Singles Chart in 1981.

“Houses in Motion” contains a spoken introduction and later fine chorus vocals, with the music a bit more interesting than similar tracks on the first side. Conversely, “Seen and Not Seen” is almost psychedelic, as Byrne speaks seemingly declarative statements above a clapping rhythm motif with many synth interjections. “Listening Wind” is almost a new wave pop song, features some Arabic music elements, while the closing track “The Overload” is a doomy rock track with haunting sound effects and somber, chanting verse vocals. This last track almost has a Pink Floyd quality to it, taking a different approach than any previous track on this album, but is also similar in its repetition as it slowly fades away into oblivion.

Remain In Light peaked in the Top 20 in the the US and was nearly as successful in the UK, eventually selling over a million copies worldwide. In order to replicate its thick rhythms, Talking Heads expanded to 9 stage members for the subsequent tour. Following this, the group went into an extended hiatus before returning for several more successful albums through the eighties.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Naked by Talking Heads

Naked by Talking HeadsTalking Heads eighth and final album was Naked , released in 1988. The album was an attempt at a quasi-concept album which brings the listener to an ironically serene world following an (apparently) man-made apocalypse. This may not have been the original intent, as the complex musical arrangements were composed and recorded before any of the lyrics which made up this theme were recorded. The four member group employed an additional twenty or so musicians of vastly different genres in order to achieve a world music sound through most of the album, making Naked the most musically diverse album by the band.

Talking Heads previous two albums, Little Creatures in 1985 and True Stories in 1986, were both very pop oriented, and the band wanted to try something completely different. They decided to record their next album in Paris, based on scores of improvisational tracks they recorded as the foundation for the new material. Steve Lillywhite was brought in to co-produce and he conducted day-long, improvised musical sessions with the group and several other musicians with one take selected for each particular track.

The lyrics and melodies were left until later when the band returned to New York. Lead vocalist and chief songwriter David Byrne added themes to the prerecorded tracks. The album’s title and cover were loosely based on a Chinese proverb; “If there is no tiger in the mountains, the monkey will be king”, which was also printed on the LP jacket of Naked. Although the musical approach works for most of the album, the apocalyptic lyrics laced with late-eighties fatalism tend to sound dated. Of course, the band was in the midst of slowly breaking up at the time, so that may have had an influence on the lyrical content.

 


Naked by Talking Heads
Released: March 15, 1988 (EMI)
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite & Talking Heads
Recorded: Studio Davout, Paris, 1987
Side One Side Two
Blind
Mr. Jones
Totally Nude
Ruby Dear
(Nothing But) Flowers”
The Democratic Circus
The Facts of Life
Mommy Daddy You and I
Big Daddy
Bill
Cool Water
Band Musicians
David Byrne – Lead Vocals, Guitars  |  Jerry Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Tina Weymouth – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals  |  Chris Frantz – Drums, Percussion

 

The first side is a collection of upbeat, well syncopated tunes. “Blind” is a funk track with an Afro-flavored groove and a full horn section which includes three saxophones, two trumpets, and a trombone. If not for the violent lyrical themes, the song may almost be considered a spoof on James Brown. “Mr. Jones” also includes a rich horn section, although this song is more swing than funk. Still upbeat and fun, it is a great musical blend and the closest to soulful vocals as you’ll get from Byrne. Drummer Chris Frantz
decided to use brushes and softer percussive techniques in order to give room to the various other percussionists.

“Totally Nude” contains a fine slide guitar by Yves N’Djock, along with Caribbean rhythms. However, this track does get a bit too crowded as the ensemble seems to be trying to do too many things at once. On his album Graceland a few years earlier, Paul Simon had much better success at making these diverse styles mesh together. “Ruby Dear” begins with blues-like drum beat before breaking into some odd yet intriguing verses, which employ a bit of sixties pyschedelia. This is the first of many tracks on which Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr appears.

Marr provides the sharply plucked leads on “(Nothing But) Flowers”, which was the most popular song on the album and the album’s best musically. Bass guitarist Tina Weymouth provides an overall fantastic groove to back up Byrne’s melodic vocals. The songs lyrics describe a world where modern conveniences has ceased and the world has reverted to a more natural state, which the protagonist originally favored but now longs the conveniences and culture of the modern world.

 
The original LP’s second side takes a bit of a dark turn, both musically and philosophically. “The Democratic Circus” starts as the closest to the 1980s new wave sound that you’ll find on the album, before later breaking out into rougher, riff-driven sections. “The Facts of Life” uses machine-like synth effects by Jerry Harrison, which is somewhat cool for about a minute or so, but after six and a half minutes gets quite mundane. “Mommy Daddy You and I” includes some bluesy squeeze notes above a deep synth bass and a rapid accordion by James Fearnley during the verses.

“Big Daddy” is a nice fusion song with a pure soul intro and blues elements led by the harmonica of Don Brooks. Lyrically it is analogous to the “big brother” figure in George Orwell’s 1984. “Bill” features Eric Weissberg, who found previous famous for his arrangement of “Dueling Banjos” in 1973. This song is really quite subdued and mellow, with the exception of the apoplectic lyrics. The closer “Cool Water” features dramatic, movie scene-like atmosphere with Byres singing monotone in the fashion of Nico from years passed. Marr adds to the intensity of the song with his guitar as Byrnes offers pleas for human fellowship through his lyric.

Talking Heads achieved a fitting swan song with their stylistically fruitful Naked, which reached the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic, becoming only the second album by the group to accomplish that feat. The band dissolved shortly after the album’s release, officially announcing their breakup in 1991.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

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