Everybody, get in line! The best of Talking Heads

It’s a testament to how well Talking Heads sold Robert Rauschenberg, two bassists, Fela Kuti, Jonathan Demme, big suits, loving the heartland, and condescending to the heartland that by the time I became a fan in the era of David Byrne’s Rei Momo and 1992’s double disc Sand in the Vaseline listeners treated them like split pea soup. The hip quotient? Enough to short a Commodore 64. R.E.M. got the top five hits and sold out stadiums; Talking Heads got Blockbuster rentals of Stop Making Sense. I overestimated Byrne’s Uh Oh because it’s all I had — the same way I would replay David Bowie’s Black Tie White Noise and Bryan Ferry’s Taxi a year later.

I can remember the moment when the Heads became hip again: at the dawn of 2002 when the DFA reminded listeners in frosted tips and baggy jeans that bands had fused rock and dance culture with more finesse than the Chemical Brothers. Singles like The Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers” started a conversation they couldn’t even finish, culminating in the eventual re-release of the essential and long out of print double live album The Name of This Band is...in 2004. By then it was odd remembering that obits like this got published not long before; it was like the GOP in 1968 remembering the LBJ slaughter of Goldwaterism four years earlier.

Someone buying music during the Reagan era should explain what happened to the band after the release of Naked in late spring of 1988 — memories can’t wait! Triggering the requisite positive reviews and top twenty placement, it withered on the chart and in esteem as soon as MTV stopped playing “(Nothing But) Flowers.” Was it a case of loving one Graceland too many? Did True Stories and the TIME cover story create a collective sense of “enough already”? The fine but slight Little Creatures (the first Heads album I owned) topping Pazz and Jop? A phenomenon not often reckoned with: fans assumed the Heads sold more records than they did while retrospective analysis concludes that, keeping the fate of Husker Du and the Replacements in mind, the Heads were shipping platinum in 1985 and 1986. They were the biggest college act in America until That Athens Band with an even more gnomic lead singer was hungrier about filling stadiums.

Maybe that was it. Exhausted by touring, dominating Manhattan boho generalism such that even Pete Townshend felt suffocated in 1982, chattering loudly about band unity during promotion while their leader was ogling Twyla Tharp and Robert Wilson, the Heads basked in their rather huge cult and no more; they had gotten this huge white cult to dance in the aisles, what more could they want? No wonder that by 1992 fans were like Qu’est-ce que c’est?

No matter. The fusion of Fela and paranoia that produced Remain in Light; the syncopation of rhythm guitar and staccato vocals on those early recordings; their sheer appetite — Talking Heads survives in my canon for this and other things. And I’m relieved I wasn’t around at the time.

1. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)
2. Thank You For Sending Me an Angel
3. Pulled Up
4. Mind
5. I’m Not in Love
6. Don’t Worry About the Government
7. The Book I Read
8. The Great Curve
9. Slippery People
10. Road to Nowhere
11. Making Flippy Floppy
12. Creatures of Love
13. Crosseyed and Painless
14. Burning Down the House
15. Paper
16. Psycho Killer
17. Memories Can’t Wait
18. Take Me to the River
19. Television Man
20. Artists Only
21. Found a Job
22. (Nothing But) Flowers
23. Lifetime Piling Up
24. Uh-Oh, Love Has Come to Town
25. And She Was
26. Wild Wild Life
27. The Girls Want to Be with the Girls
28. Heaven
29. Girlfriend is Better
30. This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)

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2 Responses to Everybody, get in line! The best of Talking Heads

  1. Patrick says:

    That’s a fine list. Some wonderful grooves there!

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