Album: Talking Heads: 77
. . .
There were probably two bands that widened my musical horizons the most in my late teens/early 20s. One, of course, was The Clash, whose embrace of every single style of the sun — sometimes all at once! — alternately freaked me out and intrigued me at the same time. The other, and this was far more subtle, was Talking Heads.
Why was Talking Heads more subtle? Because The Clash drew me in with the greatest hard rock — which was my comfort zone — I’d ever heard in my life, and then abandoned it, daring me to join them. Talking Heads were as weird as shit from the start; they were never in my comfort zone so I had to come to them from the very start, meaning as they quite literally expanded their music, it was easier for me to expand along with them, because I’d already done just to grok them in the first place.
In fact, I resisted them so hard — despite enjoying the various songs I heard on the radio — that I didn’t buy any Talking Heads albums until I got Talking Heads: 77 in early 1980, followed by More Songs About Buildings and Food in early 1981, Fear of Music in 1982 and Remain in Light in early 1983. In between that was the amazing The Name of The Band is Talking Heads, and after that I got their albums when they came out, except for True Stories, which felt like a dud, even though I loved loved loved the film.
(Here’s the weird thing about that narrative: at some point in the past four decades, it got into my head that my first Talking Heads album was More Songs About Buildings and Food, and that I bought it in 1979, a year I didn’t keep any record of what I bought, but I clearly wrote down that I bought it in early 1981, so unless it was a cassette (maybe) to play in my car, I guess it was the first Talking Heads record I loved as opposed to bought. Memories are weird. Also, they can’t wait.)
Anyways, Talking Heads: 77 opens with a bit of a fanfare, but almost drops into the groove of “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town,” featuring the instantly impeccable rhythm section of Chris Franz & Tina Weymouth. Franz is playing a deceptively simple beat while Weymouth is bringing a funky bassline. Meanwhile, guitarists David Byrne & Jerry Harrison — the later having just joined the band — are playing soulish chickenscratch over which Byrne starts singing.
Wait, wait for the moment to come
Stand up, stand up and take my hand
Believe, believe in mystery
Love, love is simple as 1-2-3
I’m a know-it-all, I’m the smartest man around
You learn real fast through the smartest girl in town
Working with producer Tony Bongiovi — who had previously worked with both the Ramones and Gloria Gaynor, in case you need some triangulation — there’s not a lot of extraneous instrumentation on Talking Heads: 77, meaning that you really notice things like the accordion-sounding keyboard that helps power the choruses, not to mention the steel drums, which are so out of left-field they actually make sense.
And then, there’s David Byrne’s lyrics, which are somehow completely sincere while also seeming totally ironic.
Here come a riddle
Here come a clue
If you were really smart
You’d know what to do when I say
Why am I going out of my head
Whenever you’re around?
The answer is obvious
Love has come to town
By the time we get to that last chorus, Byrne has amped up the intensity of his singing, so when he yells that last “love has come to town!” he projects equal parts terror and thrill, not the last time he would do this. As an album opener, “Uh-Oh, Love Has Come To Town” is near-perfect: your initial response is a combination of “what the fuck is this?” and “please give me more.”
Talking Heads: 77 was neither the first nor the best debut to come from the CBGBs scene, but like all of the other debuts — Horses, Ramones, Blondie, Marquee Moon, Blank Generation, etc — it showcased a band that didn’t sound like anything else on the planet, and seemed to have limitless potential.
“Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town”
“Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town” Live in NYC, 1978
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