I was always aware of Talking Heads when I was young. Road to Nowhere, released in 1985, was on constant radio play and is one of the first music videos I enjoyed, along with Peter Gabriel’s Sledge Hammer. In those days you couldn’t stream and absorb an entire band’s back catalog on a whim, and for some reason I never engaged with them deeply, leaning towards The Police and The Stranglers. Perhaps if they’d been ‘The’ Talking Heads I would have been more intrigued.
Spin forward to the present day and Talking Heads are a constant feature of my playlists, in particular their sublime album Remain in Light. I’m not sure when this transition to liking them happened but I wish it had been sooner so I might have had the chance to see their amazing stage shows live – luckily we have the standout concert movie Stop Making Sense to show how they were live at their peak.
In looking back how I came to a deep love of Talking Heads I realised there are many points where I’ve been exposed to them, outside of the obvious top ten hits. I used to be deeply into Living Colour who covered a Talking Heads’ song ‘Memories Can’t Wait’. When I lived in New York Talking Heads songs were a constant background staple of jukeboxes and regularly on the decks of all East Village DJs. I was lucky enough to go to CBGBs before it closed, where the band had their first major gig supporting The Ramones, though long after they’d played. Plus David Byrne – the band’s lead singer- used to live in a duplex on the ground floor of my first New York girlfriend’s building – though I never saw him there only around town (side note: she did go for a drink with him once and described him as ‘interestingly dull’).
And here we come to a core reason as to why I like Talking Heads, Mr David Byrne himself. I suspect my awareness of him and Talking Heads really kicked up a notch from his collaboration with X-Press 2 – Lazy. I refer to this song back in April 2002 when I’d just moved back to London and would dance to it regularly in the top floor flat I shared with Stephen. The mix of dry, almost conceptual lyrics combined with strong beats was pushed further towards the danceable in this song – and from there I’ve come to enjoy how much Talking Heads songs make your body move with their repetitive rhythms, while keeping your mind entertained in other ways.
Though I never got to see Talking Heads live, I’ve been lucky enough to see David Byrne perform a few times now – playing both newer material and Talking Heads numbers. He has continued to collaborate and create new directions, most recently with American Utopia where we last saw him tour. The stage production for that show was absolutely amazing, with the whole band carrying their instruments so they could move around the stage. He also performed in a couple of shows for his Meltdown at the Southbank – Atomic Bomb and We’re gonna die – both of which were sublime. Once I even got to dance next to the man himself when he opened Here Lies Love, a musical about Imelda Marcos created with Fatboy Slim.
Aside from his musical creations Byrne has also written a book – How Music Works – which is a mix of his life in music, his theories on how music effects us all and hints and tips om how to make it. This is another aspect of Byrne that is well worth digging into, when not creating musical experiences, he blogs relentlessly and shares playlists to explore new music he’s found. He also created Reasons to be Cheerful as an antidote to some of the negative energy floating around the world these days – and toured sharing his tips. He is also an advocate of cycling in all towns (and even wrote a book on this too). It’s this kind of constant creation and sharing that makes him such a fascinating person.
If you’re not yet a fan of Talking Heads, a good place to start is any ‘best of’ compilation – then follow the songs you like onto their respective albums. Personally I’d recommend Remain in Light as their standout album, but all of them are well worth a listen. Enjoy!