As I sit here attempting to write this entry, my mind’s eye goes back to all the “great” advice for getting my writing mojo. Thanks should go out to my long-time chemistry back row buddy Mark Kline for his advice to “breathe through your eyelids.” I was not ready to play Bull Durham quotes, but MLB Opening Day is a National Holiday in Cincinnati, so I should have been ready. Usually, the baseball quotes come from Major League, and they fly fast and furious between my boys and me (“Are you telling me Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?”). As I dug through my music collection, there were 7″ singles everywhere in my music room, along with albums strewn about along with CDs, both purchased and burned. I was even digging through my rock magazines just attempting to find a morsel of inspiration.
My iTunes collection? Worthless! My iPods? Archaic! So, let’s take a shower.
As I stood there with conditioner in my hair, letting the water run over me, suddenly it hit me like a bolt of lightning! Speaking in Tongues by Talking Heads! That little masterpiece of new wave, art rock, and left-field white man Parliament-influenced funk rock that was part of the soundtrack of the Summer of 1983 in Wisconsin. This ended up being the cure for my temporary condition. So, instead of plopping the vinyl on the turntable, I instead went for the CD version. When I do this, it is usually for lazy reasons: I don’t want to get up to flip the album. That’s right! This former long distance track star is too damn lazy to get out of his back-up La-Z-Boy to flip an album on his turntable. That’s totally true. But, I also did not want to break any momentum I might be building as I hunt-and-peck away at my laptop. No, I never make entries using my phone. I can’t see the small screen so well, and I am a much slower typist on that stupid thing. So, I do this thang old skool! At least I’m not handwriting this thing and scanning in the work.
As far as this album, Speaking in Tongues, is concerned, it is the band’s fifth studio album, coming after a run of four studio albums, each which pushed the band’s talents and chemistry beyond the previous LP milestone. First, in 1977, the Heads debuted on Sire Records with their Talking Heads: 77 album, a collection of pared down funk and bubblegum songs each sung and played with an emotional detachment never before scene by a band. The following year, 1978, the band took the sound of their debut and added more instrumentation as well as making forays into soul music, via their cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” which peaked at #26 in Billboard‘s Hot 100 Singles Chart.
And, just when you thought you had this band pegged, they dropped Fear of Music on us in 1979. Nothing prepared us for the band bringing the funk more clearly than they had on this album. Still, there was one song which stuck out against all others on this album. The song was the first one you heard when you dropped the needle on Side One, “I Zimbra.” It was funky, yet it definitely had African rhythms that were not of the Burundi-type being popularized in the UK at the time by Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow. No, these rhythms had not be Anglo-ized like those aforementioned bands’ sounds had.
Then, building upon the success of “I Zimba” the band hunkered down one more time with producer Brian Eno to create the whole African-funk-new wave workout called Remain in Light. Never before had popular music moved so blatantly in that direction, that the Talking Heads were being portrayed as musical geniuses. But, what followed was a short hiatus, with the members doing their own solo projects. Married rhythm section of bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz grabbed many of the members of the Remain in Light touring band to create their own side band called Tom Tom Club. That band’s debut was more successful than any previous Talking Heads album in sales, plus the duo created a single that has been massively influential over the past nearly 40 years, “Genius of Love.” Additionally, guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison released his own new wave classic album, The Red and The Black. Finally, Brian Eno and lead singer David Byrne collaborated on their highly influential album of samples, loops and out-and-out strangeness entitled My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, on which the pair used recorded vocals of late night talk radio, exorcism, reading of religious material and the like set to actual loops of African rhythms recorded during their visits to the continent.
Finally, the band members regrouped to create a masterpiece that was the culmination of all their previous work that somehow was made palatable to the whole world, especially Middle America. Speaking in Tongues broke no new ground. There was no where else to go with their lessons other than to create their most accessible sound possible. And, on this album, Talking Heads succeeded. Finally, they had learnt to bring all of their ideas and distill them down to the most concentrated forms. Now, you have the funkiest white art band in the whole, one who totally opened the doors for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More to walk through. And, although, “Burning Down the House” was the big hit from the album, the dance clubs were full of the sounds of “Making Flippy Flop” and “I Get Wild/Gravity.” Plus, the band threw in a blues-ish, Howling Wolf-like song called “Swamp,” whose funkiness evokes the spirits of New Orleans’ sounds-past. And, then the band wraps up the whole album with their most mature statement ever with the sentimental “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” Unfortunately, too many people missed out on a fantastically romantic song for their first dance at their weddings by over-looking this song, as well as flying over the heads of high school kids in need of a Prom theme (Fear not youngsters! My theme got rejected, as I suggested “A Touch of Southern Comfort.” I guess the product placement was too obvious.).
Little did I realize that my writing mojo would be so entwined with Talking Heads. I thought the band and me were too cool for any type of emotional attachment with each other. Au contraire! Live and learn. You never know, one day I might rediscover the brilliance of Dire Straits. Wait a sec! Foreshadowing? Who knows? I sure don’t.