The Album List: #51 Talking Heads “Talking Heads ’77”

It is very, very red.

I was two and a half months old when this album was released.

A lot of great music stuff happened in 1977 that had nothing to do with John Travolta in a white suit. No, 1977 is the year of Rumours came to us, and it was the number one album the week I was born. The B-52’s played their first gig. The Stones played El Mocambo. Elvis died. So did Marc Bolan. Elvis Costello pissed of Lorne Michaels in 1977, and Lynyrd Skynyrd lost half its bands in one of music’s great tragedies.

Then there were the records themselves. Look at the list under the cut!

Rumours, Marquee Moon, The Idiot, The Clash, Little Queen, Trans-Europe Express, Exodus, My Aim Is True, Lust For Life, No More Heroes, Blank Generation, “Heroes”, Little Criminals, Never Mind the Bollocks, Bat Out of Hell, Chic, Rocket To Russia, Suicide, Pink Flag.

Many of these albums are on the list. Suicide’s already been on. Another one is coming up next on this very list.

But this one is special somehow.

It was the bass. This low thump, which was joined by this chiming guitar, then a steady beat supports these weird vocals sung by a Scottish-born art student who can’t really sing per se, but with these weird quatrains and hiccups, and a simple chorus with a memorable “Fa fa fa” hook matched with a question asked en francais…

“Psycho Killer” is one of the greatest songs of all time. David Byrne’s bridge is entirely in French, its primal and basic rhythmically, there are no soaring harmonies. The music is angular and stripped down. Nothing fancy, but well constructed, until it descends at the end into a cacophony of feedback squeals and keyboards. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before when I first listened to Talking Heads: ’77 in high school.

David Byrne is one of the oddest people in music. He’s gifted, but he avoids the traps of popular music. His band’s biggest hits are some of the strangest hits in pop history. As far as début albums go, ’77 is up there with The Clash and Ten as the best ones ever recorded.

Byrne’s unique vocal delivery was oxymoronic. It was jumpy and monotonous all at one. He didn’t have great range, and he spoke-sang his oblique lyrics about weird shit over the propulsive rhythms of Tina Weymouth’s bass and Chris Frantz’s drumming. This incredibly talented rhythm section would also be the brains behind legendary dance act the Tom Tom Club, who gave us “Genius of Love”, one of the most recognizable underground dance hits of the early ’80s that Mariah liked so much, she sampled it at least twice.

This bizarrely compelling voice, strong backing section, and Jerry Harrison’s chiming guitars and simple but lovely keyboard lines end up cat CBGBs and creates what is one of the most sonically diverse but oddest albums in history. Byrne, Weymouth, Frantz, and Harrison take influences from Motown, disco, punk, and pop, and create the most amazingly complex sounding and lyrically confusing albums I have ever had the pleasure to hear. Even when Byrne is straining to hit notes he really shouldn’t attempt, he compels you to listen by being so charming and off beat. I know I seemed underwhelmed by Byrne, and the truth is, I am. In the capsule that is Talking Heads, the musicality of his band and the quality of their playing boosted him and made him incredible. I have never liked his solo work, while preferring the Tom Tom Club and Harrison’s production of their post-band years.

But Byrne is the face and the star of the band, an interesting man with vast interests and a devotion to world music. He is the type of man who I would love to talk with, but as much as I love this record, and this band, I cannot seem to understand how this strange person ended up being so central to one of the definitive albums of my life. Clearly Talking Heads is one of the most influential bands to pop out of the post-punk era, and their influence can be heard from bands like Arcade Fire and MGMT.  I not only love this album, but I even own the notoriously difficult Fear of Music and I love that album as well. THe band wasn’t so bizarre not to have hit singles- “Psycho Killer” probably remains one of the strangest songs to ever crack the Billboard Pop Singles Top 100.  But they seem out of time and place while being completely representative  of both that time and that place.

That being said, it’s one of the few albums ever in history that I recommend to future bassists. Tina Weymouth is one of the greatest bassists in the history of rock.  The mixes of these songs actually put her front and centre, and she more than holds her own. Bassists never get enough credit. Women never get enough credit when they’re in the band, either. But Weymouth is just good as a woman bassist. She’s just fucking good, full stop. She’s easily in my top ten bassists of all time.

Also, I have to say that “Psycho Killer”, one of the few songs that actually benefits from Byrne’s unique vocalisation, is easily one of the greatest songs of all time. Songs about serial killers are rarely so much fun to listen to.

The music from the year I was born has always been compelling to me, and this album is up there with the best of them. Thank God 1977 is much more interesting than what the official numbers tell us.



2 thoughts on “The Album List: #51 Talking Heads “Talking Heads ’77”

  1. In 1977 some of us were listening to The Talking Heads, Supertramp’s masterpiece ‘Even in the Quietest Moments’, ‘Slowhand’, ‘Time Loves a Hero’, and yes, Rumours. Sadly, others were not. 1977 will always mean “Psycho Killer” to me though. It’s a once in a lifetime song.

    Speaking of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the plane crash, I have a friend who has the original cover of ‘Street Survivors’ with the band standing in flames. It’s eerie, and disturbing and she will never part with it.

    That was some tangent I got off on, wasn’t it?


  2. I have never seen the original cover in real life. I’m not even a Skynyrd fan, but I want it. Must have it…

    I’d never listen to it, it’ll just be one of those “Hey, look what rare thing I have” conversation pieces.


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