By the Summer of 1982, my musical tastes were turning away from the Journey/REO/Styx/Foreigner stage of my life toward something that seemed a little more visceral and, for a lack of a better word, “arty” for my expanding tastes. That summer happened to be the last one I spent at home, although I was working as a supervisor for a corn detasseling crew. If you’re not from the Midwest, teens used to be hired by various agricultural companies to traipse through cornfields removing the tassels from fields of cornstalks in order to ensure a pure corn seed being produced. Unknowingly to many of us, we were actually following in the steps of Gregor Mendel, the father of Genetics, even though he worked with peas. It was that kind of thinking that separated me from the rest of the crew.
So, with an influx of some cash and no girlfriend to waste it on, I was free to indulge my obsession of buying albums. I distinctly remember looking through my Rolling Stone magazines for their reviews and making my purchases based upon a couple of their critics. That summer, I decided to buy a double live album set entitled The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads by, of course, Talking Heads. Although I had loved their last two albums, I still had not made a commitment of the heart to the band. What intrigued me about this album was that it was a chronological travelogue of the band’s growth as a live entity. What I mean is that Side 1 takes you through live performances from 1977 and 1978 that were recorded as parts of live radio broadcasts from the studios. Then, you flip the album over to hear the band playing live in a small club in 1979. Record Two contained live performances of the expanded band from the larger venues on their tours that lasted from 1980 to 1981. The whole album is a journey through the growth of a band from an art school trio to CBGBs heroes to a large band able to take on Afro-beats and make it their own. And, by the end of the album, Talking Heads have become rock gods.
If you don’t know by know, Talking Heads were a quartet of musicians: lead singer/guitarist David Byrne, bassist Tina Weymouth, keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison and drummer Chris Franz. Byrne has released a series of solo albums to dwindling sales and critical acclaim. Byrne’s most acclaimed solo venture occurred in 1981 when he teamed up with their producer Brian Eno to create an influential album of loops and sampled voices from various sources in a world music setting called My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Harrison has released a few pretty strong albums. The rhythm section of Franz and Weymouth are a married couple who are the basis of a great group called Tom Tom Club that released a classic self-titled debut album that contains a song of increasing popularity called “Genius of Love”. Once the band reconvened in 1983, they were ready to take over the world. In the meantime, they released today’s album, The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads.
Now, the whole album is an exhilarating journey through the growth of one of punk’s most beloved bands. I remember making a cassette tape of record two and cruising through my hometown, in which I never really felt accepted, and trying to blast “Crosseyed and Painless” out to the townspeople. Of course, no one really heard it, but I swore I felt better about it. Where my friends were listening to Randy Rhodes guitar solos on “Crazy Train”, I was turning up the volume on my Technics stereo whenever listening to the guitar blasts from Adrian Belew’s hired guitar sounds from the expanded band’s version of “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” or “Houses in Motion”.
Now, many people will point to Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, their soundtrack to their brilliant concert film of the same name, as the band’s finest live album. That album is fantastic, no doubt about it. But, the whole thing works better while watching the film. With The Name of This Band…, you get to hear a band grow from formation, through its awkward years into a full-blown force to be reckoned with.
Throughout the whole album, you can hear the band’s core influences of funk and bubblegum music, even though they go in many different tangents. Don’t worry, if you don’t know much about Talking Heads, all of their important tracks are on this album. This album gives us two terrific versions of “Psycho Killer”, in addition to “Don’t Worry About the Government”, “Artists Only” (with a great minimalist guitar solo), “Heaven”, “I Zimbra”, “Life During Wartime”, “Once in a Lifetime” and “Take Me to the River”. Every song has life and intensity injected into them that they all seem to transcend their studio counterparts.
No other band can make to want to dance in a constraint manner as Talking Heads will. On their next studio album in 1983, they will finally find the formula where you can mess with the listener’s head while making him or her shake their booty while listening to Top 40 radio. But, this album still shows the bands trying to get to that promised land, knowing it is just at their fingertips. And, to me, that’s what makes this album so much fun.
By the way, this is not an album that will get you girls. As a matter of fact, it might prove that you really are a nerd. And, that in and of itself is just dandy.