Sunday, September 7, 2014

Album Listening Club - 77 discussion post



Popular music in the USA in the mid-late 70's was a study in contrasts. If we look at the Billboard top ten singles of 1977 (and pretty much the top 100), it's…bland.
  1. Rod Stewart - Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)
  2. Andy Gibb - I Just Want to Be Your Everything
  3. Emotions - Best of My Love
  4. Barbra Streisand - Evergreen (Love Theme From "A Star Is Born")
  5. Hot - Angel in Your Arms
  6. Kenny Nolan - I Like Dreamin'
  7. Thelma Houston - Don't Leave Me This Way
  8. Rita Coolidge - (Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher
  9. Alan O'Day - Undercover Angel
  10. Mary MacGregor - Torn Between Two Lovers
However, 1977 also saw the debut releases by the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Motörhead, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Elvis Costello, Wire, and The Jam. Also released in '77 were Leave Home & Rocket to Russia by Ramones, Pink Floyd's Animals, Love Gun by Kiss, Low by David Bowie, and Iggy Pop's Lust For Life. The point being, that when set next to the top 10 singles of the year, Talking Heads 77 may seem angular and out of place, but in full context, there was a burgeoning underground that the music-listening public was starting to discover.

So let's get to it, psychos. Tell me about your relationship with Talking Heads 77 in the comments below.

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16 comments:

  1. Great debut album. Talking Heads were one of the original regulars at CBGB, although sonically they couldn’t have been move different from the likes of The Ramones, Patti Smith, or Television. While CBGB was the epicenter of the burgeoning New York punk scene, and Talking Heads didn’t have a “punk” sound, they still managed to fit right in. 77 was a great example of what was to come from the band. What I really love about this album is it’s difficult to place it in a time period. Play it for someone who’s never heard it (or never heard any Talking Heads) and they’d be hard pressed to peg it as late 70’s.

    I like the first two songs (Uh Oh, Love Comes to Town, and New Feeling), as they both sound like quintessential Talking Heads songs. They’re certainly not the best tracks on the album, but both are fun.

    No Compassion is the first track that seems like it fits better at CBGB along with their contemporaries. Definitely one of the “punkier” tracks on the album.

    The Book I Read is another song that just sounds like a quintessential Talking Heads song…and that’s a good thing.

    Psycho Killer needs no introduction. It’s one of the best songs ever written/recorded, IMO. I love this version every bit as much as the live version on Stop Making Sense. Looking at the list of what songs were “popular” in 1977, this song stands as the antithesis to them all. A welcome antidote.

    Pulled Up is another standout that closes out the album in a strong way. Energetic, quirky, fun.

    Tangentially related: I visited the site of the old CBGB last week when I was in NYC. If you’re not aware, CBGB closed in 2006 after a protracted rent dispute with the landlord. In 2008, John Varvatos opened a retail store at the location. Luckily, he decided to pay homage to CBGB, keeping the original toilets, most of the original graffiti, and an entire wall of playbills. He also has a stage set up with a drum kit, amps, and guitars. The front of the store sells vintage audio gear (old Marantz, Sansui, and other receivers from the 70’s, vintage speakers from Advent, JBL, and others, turntables both old and new, etc…), while the back of the store is a sparsely filled retail store. I like what they’ve done with the space. And I’m sure it smells a lot better than it used to. ;)

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    1. I forgot that CBGB still survived in that store! I was in NY in April but never made it downtown. Went to Brooklyn once, but…

      Interesting that you set them apart from Television sonically. I think they both have a similar feel. Not identical, but enough musical oddities (stop/stars, time signatures) and high-register warble singing that I would (and do) connect them in time & place. Television is more traditional rock, though, where Talking Heads even now seem out there.

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  2. By nature, when it comes to record collecting, I am not a completist. That is, with a few exceptions there are very few artists I devote myself to so completely that I feel I must own everything they’ve done. The Talking Heads are one of those exceptions. Recently I thought I might revisit some of those artists’ first works, whether or not those first works where the ones I first heard.

    A couple of things come to mind while giving 77 another listen. First, this record is much more melodic then I had remembered. Some very lovely melodies are constructed in between those sort of spastic jarring transitions. Another aspect to this record I’ve always enjoyed are the lyrics. Many are strange and silly and outright funny (“what are you in love with your problems?” “It’s not cool to have so many problems” “I have to sing about the book I read” “Stockbroker make a bad decision” “Some civil servants are just like my my loved ones” are a few of the gems that stood out on this listen) A few songs like First Week/ Last Week...Carefree give a strong hint of the Latin and World rhythms and arrangements that would appear with more frequency in their later records. Overall I’d say the most of these songs are concerned with the joy of a young person establishing an independent post-school life for themselves, balancing work, love, family and basically trying to get life right.

    As Sam’s introduction indicates music styles were changing in the late seventies. The Talking Heads were establishing themselves as an art pop band. Like Jonathan Richman, who played with with Jerry Harrison in the Modern Lovers, they rejected the notion that punk/art/underground music had to be dark and destructive. I have always appreciated the life-affirming aspects of both these artists.

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    1. Byrne's lyrics are always fun to listen to. He's got a way of crafting a compelling narrative…even if I don't know what that narrative is! :D

      Also funny that my connection with "First Week/Last Week…Carefree" is Madness & the 2 Tone era, which, of course, is picking up the world rhythms that you speak of. Perspective is such a personal thing. :)

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  3. I'm a huge fan of TH but their debut is my least favorite of their albums due to it's very bright & simple poppy nature to it, although I still enjoy it from time to time. My introduction to them was in '81 in college and a fellow student friend of mine gave me their '80 album 'Fear Of Music' since he couldn't listen to it due to it reminding him of his earlier high school drug days. I soon fell in love & it remains my favorite album of theirs.

    Having said that I find there are still lots of great songs on this. It's been a very long time since I've heard this though. I think this was probably the last TH album I bought back in the day since I went back into their back catalogue after their concert film 'Stop Making Sense' came out (classic if you've not seen it). I'm finding that I enjoy the darker more dissonant/minor key songs on this such as New Feeling, Tentative Decisions, No Compassion, The Book I Read & Psycho Killer. I do however really like 'Don't Worry About The Gov't' for it's optimistic absurdist white boy funk. Also No Compassion I love for it's time changes from mid tempo to hyperactive stomp with periodic bursts of noise.

    After listening to this again several times, it seems to be an album that everyone could really enjoy, with a great mix of major/minor key songs and delightful quirky/funny lyrics that lead to them becoming one of the most popular underground bands of the '80s.

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    1. Your friend couldn't listen to it because it reminded him of drugs? Like, was the album giving him flashbacks or something? I hope he's ok now. :)

      I still haven't seen Stop Making Sense, even after all these years. I was on a music doc/performance film jag in the mid-2000s but never got around to SMS. I mean, I know a lot about it (the Big Suit, naturally) and I know the soundtrack well, but never got to the movie.

      I only really know "Life During Wartime" off Fear Of Music, but I'm sampling others now. I need to give this record a good listen. :) I like what I hear so far!

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    2. Haven't seen Stop Making Sense? Get on it, man! One of the all-time best concert movies, hands down.

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    3. I know, I know. I suppose this isn't the place for me to mention that I also haven't seen any of the Godfather movies. ;)

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    4. Haha WOW! Such a sheltered life you've led Sam. Stop Making Sense is always on top of any greatest concert film lists that I've seen, if not #1. It's directed by Jonathan Demme too who's made some pretty amazing films. I own it on VHS & then finally replaced it on DVD. I have to watch it every so often. It's just so cool & fun too. No Godfather films either? They are also worthy of your time. I finally saw them all w/in the last decade so I was late to them as well.

      And yea my college friend said the Fear Of Music album brought back memories of his drug days & he didn't want to be tempted since it was a Baptist college we were at after all! FOM is just so excellent. It's the trippiest of their albums and there's even a song called 'Drugs' on it too. You may very well not like it as much as I do but it's worth a listen w/lots of funny lyrics.

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  4. 77 was one of the most original debut albums of that era.Truly the music of its times. On 77, David Byrne utilizes his performance and genius to create simple melodic music that was edgy and made you wanna shake your ass….. The sound is bright, crisp, dynamic, and clear….Truly enjoyable!

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    1. Agreed, very original! I think part of the Heads' appeal has always been that they're left of centre, unapologetically. I still find it fascinating that they got as big as they did (are?), but I do think that the commercial nature of Little Creatures had a lot to do with that there in the mid-80's.

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  5. Thanks for the great comments so far, everyone! My review is a little song-by-song, a little analysis, so here we go:

    "Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town" - Early, quirky, loping Talking Heads. David isn't trying to sing here (he can carry a tune, though), but that's irrelevant.

    "New Feeling" - Proto new wave. Something.

    "Tentative decisions" - That familiar DB yelp.

    "Who Is it?" - Funky with DB's quirk up top. You can tell how Tom Tom Club evolved from tunes like this.

    "No Compassion" - art-house slide guitar. Eh.

    "The Book I Read" - Decent song, but the last 2 1/2 minutes kind of grated on me. I would say that Byrne wouldn't take much issue with that. I wonder what record execs of the time thought of a song like this. "You're singing about writing about a book you read?"

    "Don't Worry About The Government" - A jaunty ditty

    "First Week/Last Week…Carefree" - Sax & the beat remind me of Madness, kind of, a little ska-ish feel, and some toasting.

    "Psycho Killer" - The first version I recall hearing of this song was the live Stop Making Sense version, but the two are so different, it's entirely possible that I heard this version before that. I do prefer the Stop Making Sense version. Heretical? Dunno, I just like the feel of it.

    "Pulled Up" - I agree with Tony, that this song is a great way to end the album. In fact, I'm surprised that it wasn't released as a single. It would have fit much better into the pop landscape at the time.

    My first experience with Talking Heads was likely "Life During Wartime", but I most recall the video for "Once In A Lifetime" on FM-TV or Teletunes here in Denver, and possibly on Showtime, both would have been after we got cable in my little mountain town. And "Life During Wartime" is also on the Times Square soundtrack.

    All of which to say, I don't know that I would have been able to place most of these songs as early Talking Heads. I only really got into the band in earnest after Speaking in Tongues ("Burning Down The House" was everywhere!) with the release of the Little Creatures album. Certainly the songs on that album are more pop-focused and polished and have a few more levels of production than the ones here, but no less quirky. And I think that's where the Talking Heads fit - in that world of being able to discern the progression of the band by production value. Their later songs are still just as odd and quirky as anything off 77.

    And this music seems uniquely New York for the time. Perhaps London as well, but I don't recall hearing any of this type of music out of L.A. This is art-rock through and through. Personally, I associate punk with fast music and more of a DIY spirit. This is certainly DIY, but throughout the playfulness there's also a current of seriousness. Not just in the subject matter of songs like "Psycho Killer," but the songs don't sound to me like anyone's just fucking around. The rest of the band gets groovy, almost the antithesis of Byrne's angularity freaky deaky.

    I do like their later material better, but that's purely because I have such a sweet tooth for well crafted pop. But as mentioned in my intro, if you're looking for what was happening underneath the boring top 40 of the year, this is a great place to start.

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  6. I tried, I really did, but this album just does not resonate with me. The songs rolled into one continuous loop of sameness. Blah.
    I may try to listen again when I have a quiet night at work.

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    1. Have you ever liked Talking Heads, Sparky? That may have something to do with it. :)

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  7. Hey guys, sorry for the late comment.

    I'm afraid I had a similar reaction to this album to what Sparky had - I recognised it as the early stages of Talking heads, but nothing really grabbed me. *shrug*

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    1. No such thing as "late." :) Are you a fan of Talking Heads? Do you ever try to consider the historical placement of the album? Or do you just listen for you, now?

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