Friday, May 21, 2021

Head: Talking Heads


purchase [ Talking Heads:77 ]

It hasn't been easy finding a Talking Heads song that has not appeared on SMM before. A veritable Who's Who of SMM contributors over the years have brought them into play for topics from "Shadows", "Government", "Nonsense", "Tricky Beats", "Civics Lessons" and "Speak/Talk". There's more, but this kind of encapsulates a lot of what Talking Heads embodies: songs about tricky, shadowy government nonsense.

Figuring it's been too long since we visited them here, I took off from a comment that Jordan Becker raised not too long ago about one of his greatest musicial regrets: opting for a campus Springsteen concert in place of the Talking Heads back in '78. I might have done the same.

Jordan and I were both campus radio DJs (myself a few years earlier/older, at a time when the Talking Heads were not well-known but might have been found on campus radios across the US)

Drummer Chris Frantz (husband of bassist Tina Weymouth) notes in a bio that David Bryne was not easy to work with in a number of ways- often taking credit for work that wasn't exactly his to claim. I think you would have to agree that to many people he comes across as ...quirky. But that is part of the enduring value. Among Byrne's criticisms (of bandmates, the world, the way things are ...) was the fact that Weymouth, who had taken up the bass only a year before their first album  was developing too slowly/holding them back. Several critics note that it is her experimenting as she develops a personal style that adds to the quirkiness of their songs. 

I recently brought up the importance of lyrics (yes: Townshend; no: Fleetwood Mac), an area where Talking Heads shines. Check 'em out again for this one. Come to your own conclusions about the true meaning:

Incidentally, I mentioned this not too long back, but repeat: Byrne produces a provocative monthly music file that you can subscribe to:

David Byrne Radio  informative and eclectic every month

Oh! And of course:

Sunday, May 16, 2021


Teenage Head (1971)

Simpler days, simpler days; back in the 1970s chart music was still largely the domain of youngsters, largely, give or take the odd svengali, music by and for youngsters. Had anyone told either the public or the performers that those self same performers would still, forty years later, be at it and flogging their wares at a stage near you, ridicule would be the result. No way, those in then know knew perfectly well that the the Rolling Stones, old men by then, in their 30s, were past it and ready to be put out to grass. And I dare say the Stones may even have thought that themselves, when Jagger said, of this 1971 album, by San Fran pre-punk post garage band hoodlums, the Flamin' Groovies, that they had done a better job (with it) than Sticky Fingers.

High Flyin' Baby (1971)

Back in 1971 there was still something desirable about teenagers. Ever since this transitional phase between being a kid and being a parent had been invented, roughly around 1956, the importance of snot-nosed braggarts and bum-fluff revolutionaries had become ever more elevated. Teenagers were for far more than just falling in love, they held the keys to the future, and many an anthem of the day recognised that, as band after band rallied their troops, a blind eye on their own disappearing youth. At least the Groovies, back then, were still in sight of their teens, the lynchpins, Cyril Jordan and Ray Loney being only part way and halfway into their 20s. The lyrics are a bizarre mix of bratty braggadoccio and pawnshop philosophy, all jammed into three short verses. I love it, even if it took me until now to actually decipher the words. Even if you take the Jagger comments as hype, by Teenage Head, their third release, they were certainly brewing up a potent mix, and it well deserves a listen for when cobwebs need blowing away. I hear more of the Pretty Things, mind, than the Stones.

Yesterdays Numbers (1971)

The Groovies were all over the UK rock press of the day, especially that most counter culture of the inkies, the NME, who embraced the fact that the band seemed stranded in the UK for reasons never quite revealed, the suggestion clear that they were just to bad to be allowed home. Bad as in bad, maan, and therefore to be revered. Their thrashy trashy three minute songs were the antithesis of the fading meritocracy of prog, whose concept album crowns were beginning to tarnish. Much of that was mythology, of course, the rather more prosaic truth being that they didn't have a deal in the US, and that the UK arm of United Artists had brought them over to make a record under the helm of Dave Edmunds, himself no stranger to retro stylings. But Ray Loney had already jumped ship, and the band were moving more into a power pop direction. If Loney was the Stones, Jordan was more the Beatles. 

Shake Some Action (1976)

The band hung together, sometimes barely, over the passing years, their flame never quite extinguishing, always available to become god-fathers of whatsoever movement was currently in vogue. If punks they weren't, certainly punky they were, and it is to that movement they became most closely aligned, if to the ever so slightly more cerebral US wing thereof. It should be no surprise that it was to the Groovies that the Ramones acted as support, on their maiden trip to the UK. Edmunds was still producing the band when their high water mark was reached, with the still vibrant Shake Some Action, the song the band are mainly known for. Not a hit at the time, regular later outings on film soundtracks, notably 1995's Clueless, have ensured its place in the pantheon, a go to song for evoking high energy good rockin' tonite. Various short-lived reunions of various band members ensued in that wake, it taking until 2009 before Loney and Jordan took to the stage together, if airbrushing out post 1972 content. Time repeated itself and he again left to be replaced, again, by Chris Wilson, who had taken his place first time around. Musical chairs continued to be the order of the day, 2017 seeing a new album and another new launch. 2019 had Chris Wilson being depped by Loney, now acting as special guest in the band. Entitled the Teenage Head tour, the now septuagenarian Loney was hospitalised after a fall and missed the European dates, dying a few months later. (Below has them shaking some action, sans Loney, on the Paris leg, Jordan still the dapper frontman.)

Head for it!