Album: The Name of This Band is Talking Heads
. . .
So let’s talk about The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, the comprehensive double-live album that came out in early 1982. While people tend to underrate it because it’s not a snapshot of a single moment in time, I think it might be the greatest live album ever issued. With the first side from a radio broadcast in 1977, the second side side recorded in concert in 1979, and the whole second disc featuring the “exploded” band from 1980, it covers an astonishing amount of territory. In all incarnations, Talking Heads were an utterly tremendous live band, and The Name of This Band is Talking Heads shows that off wayyy better than the album (as opposed to the film) of Stop Making Sense, which we’ll get to in a couple of weeks.
My plan for Certain Songs is to sprinkle in the performances in after the albums that they were touring at the time, starting with this great performance of one of of the top tracks from Talking Heads: 77. Opening with a guitar fanfare from David Byrne, and dominated by an electric piano from Jerry Harrison, “Don’t Worry About The Government” is peak early David Byrne, lyrically.
I see the clouds that move across the sky
I see the wind that moves the clouds away
It moves the clouds over by the building
I pick the building that I want to live in
And why is that, you might ask? Well as Chris Franz drives the song up and down, Byrne explains, as if he’s a character in a George Saunders short story. The early part of a George Saunders short story.
It’s over there, it’s over there
My building has every convenience
It’s gonna make life easy for me
It’s gonna be easy to get things done
I will relax along with my loved ones
Loved ones, loved ones visit the building
Take the highway, park and come up and see me
I’ll be working, working but if you come visit
I’ll put down what I’m doing, my friends are important
Is Byrne serious here? Or is it all tongue-in-cheek? The answer of course, is “yes.” His vocals are utterly sincere, and his phrasing of “loved ones loved ones”, as is his second yelp of “it’s over there, it’s over therrrreeeeeee”, which is so strong that if he pointed his finger at the same time, the entire audience would turn to look.
This is all topped by the third & fourth verses, which are fucking hilarious.
I see the states across this big nation
I see the laws made in Washington, D.C
I think of the ones I consider my favorites
I think of the people that are working for me
Some civil servants are just like my loved ones
They work so hard and they try to be strong
I’m a lucky guy to live in my building
They own the buildings to help them along
Of course, just focusing on what David Byrne is singing is missing half of the fun: because they way that Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth navigate the rhythms are amazing: somehow “Don’t Worry About The Government” falls into a nether region between disco and ska, and the more you listen the more you pick out Weymouth’s on-the-spot bass runs and the way that Franz alternates driving the song forward with rolls and laying back with hi-hat work.
And at the end, Byrne sums everything up:
I wouldn’t worry about me
Don’t you worry about me
I wouldn’t worry about me
Don’t you worry about meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
The way that Byrne holds out that final “meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” long after the rest of the band has come to a crashing halt is utterly fantastic, and you can tell it from the crowd’s reaction.
“Don’t Worry About The Government (WCOZ, 11-17-1977)”
“Don’t Worry About The Government” Live on the Old Grey Whistle Test, 1978
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