Certain Songs #131: Brian Eno – “The True Wheel”


Album: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy).

Year: 1974.

With Eno’s synths buzzing all around some serious John Cale-style (though not John Cale) piano, the opening section of “The True Wheel” sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday, instead of over 40 years ago. When the eerie Randi & The Pyramids group vocals come in to announce “We are the 801, we are the central shaft,” it sounds like it could have been recorded 40 years from now. By aliens.

(We are the 801, we are the central shaft)
And thus throughout two years
We’ve crossed the ocean in our little craft, (row, row, row!)
Now we’re on the telephone
Making final arrangements, ding ding!

This is followed by a crunchy guitar fueled call-and-response “chorus,” which has my favorite Eno lyric ever (not a large category, I know, but still):

(Looking for a certain ratio)
Someone must have left it underneath the carpet
(Looking up and down the radio)
Uh oh, nothing there this time

You guys, Brian Eno is having so much fun on this song!  Sure, he lets Randi & The Pyramids sing “row row row,” but the “ding! ding!” is all his. And his singing on “Uh oh, nothing there this time” is hilariously knowing. And, of course, still true.

Nevertheless, as fun as the opening section of “The True Wheel” is, it’s all just set up.

Suddenly, as Eno gleefully cackles “Oh oh oh oh, oh oh, oh oh, here we go!" Phil Manzanera swoops in with his guitar sounding just like that ratio they’ve been looking for, and we suddenly know what that true wheel really sounds like. It sounds like forever.

After a while – guessing that both Eno and Manaznera figured that they needed to let that guitar part angle towards the infinity that it suggested – Eno starts singing again, and doubles down obliquely on the John Cale connection:

We saw the lovers The Modern Lovers
And they looked very good
They looked as if they could

Cale, of course, had already produced the majority the still unreleased Modern Lovers debut album, and Eno and Manzanera were playing on Cale’s mid-1970s records as well, so this just seems like a huge inside joke that has only gotten funnier over the years.

Video for "The True Wheel”

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

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