What a year it has been for me musically. 1380 different artists heard. Some 56,000 minutes of music (over 38 days), Fela, Kate Bush, Talking Heads. Talking Heads. Very few albums give me goosebumps at the mention of their name, this is one of them. The Name of this Band is Talking Heads was released in 1982, having been recorded between November 17, 1977 – February 27, 1981. This monumental album is filled with live versions of songs recorded on Talking Heads’ first four studio albums: 77, More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light. For me, this is a monumental, exciting and relentless work. I cannot wait to tell you all about it.
The first LP disk featured the original quartet in recordings from 1977 and 1979, and the second disk featured the expanded ten-piece lineup that toured in 1980 and 1981. Wikipedia
Added were two percussionists (Steven Stanley, Jose Rossy), two backup singers (Nona Hendryx, Dollette McDonald), Busta Cherry Jones on bass, Bernie Worrell (!) on keys, and a young Adrian Belew on lead guitar. Allmusic
Now this masterwork of live music consists of 33 tracks so I will not give you chapter and verse on each, rather selecting some of my highlights. The album begins with New Feeling, which is likely what you will experience by the end of the album. It certainly encapsulates how I feel about the album, with its novel frenzied approach. There is a certain nervousness in this track – likely being recorded in 1977 at the beginning of the band’s touring. The confidence they build by the end of this behemoth album is quite surprising.
Pulled Up is one of my favourite Talking Heads songs. The live version has some excellent variations on the studio version. There’s such a positivity and lightness to this, he is speaking to and for us – we have been pulled, pulled up by Byrne!
What album has the arrogance of including two versions of the same track, twice? This one of course. Psycho Killer and Stay Hungry are both gifted to us twice, one 1979 and 1981 versions. The first version of Psycho Killer is one of my highlights of the album. Great pace, great bass and a wonderful tense and nervous energy which defined the band’s earlier work.
Found a Job is another terrific live version, with a sensational jam session at the end during which one is floating away on the music, and indeed carried by it.
The Name of This Band‘s approach– collecting various live performances over a four-year period– is more revelatory and rewarding. It functions as both a timeline in which a listener can trace the band’s development and definitive proof that some of their supposed great departures– particularly an accomplished and complex rhythm section– were there from the onset. PItchfork
Air is a final highlights from the earlier recordings, before the full ten set piece joined. There is quietly competence in this track, the musicians are aware of their prodigious talent and showing it off on full display here. There is an excellent variation on the studio version ‘some people don’t know shit about the air’. Just superb.
The second disc borrows a page from Stop Making Sense‘s playbook and recreates the entire set from stops along the band’s Remain in Light tour, including a handful of tracks from the much-bootlegged February 1981 performance at Tokyo’s Nakano Sun Palace. Expanded to a 10-piece band that included Adrian Belew on guitar and Bernie Worrell on keyboards, the bulk of Disc 2’s material gives its studio versions a run for the money. Belew’s nuanced guitar work, more confident contributions from the core members, and the added rhythmic dimension and heft are frequently jawdropping, but the loose beats and a playful Byrne keep claims of muso nonsense at arm’s length. PItchfork
Heaven is one of the better highlights of the album, allowing us to basque in the glow of Byrne. The vocals are languishing, he is singing the track as felts. The arrangement is simple but the effect is quite beautiful.
The next songs are for me a continuous highlight, Psycho Killer, the second version, is even better than the first as the band gains confidence with touring experience. Cities is magnificent, great pace and relentless energy, even a mention of Birmingham. I Zimbra is from Fear of Music and based on a nonsense poem. The high pitched beeping in the background is excellent. The last half of the track with the pseudo-pizzicato, riff and guitar flourishes floors me.
With the exception of Animals, each song from Drugs to the Great Curve is magnificent. The album takes on an energy of its own and transports us headlong towards the magnificent final two tracks. These are some of the more famous Talking Heads songs such as Once in a Lifetime (vocal flourishes keyboard in the background, synth in the middle and the bass add up to something otherworldly).
The final few tracks are astonishing and I feel it is quite beyond my powers of description to do them justice. Listen to them, listen to the energy of them and the reaction from the crowd. We are there with them in many ways.
My final highlight will be Take Me to the River – this is a mix between gospel and Blues Brothers bass lines which is intoxicating. The riff is sharp, well honed, the pace is sustained and while the track is not lyrically dense, its simple plea works away at our resistance, pushing us with Byrne into the river. Having been pushed into the river water of Byrne’s mind, we emerge on the other side, a new person.
Overall, this album is an immense (33 tracks!) display of Talking Heads’ talent. They are absolutely an urgent and important group of excellent musicians who demand your attention. The tracks are consistently brilliant and relentless. Surprisingly, there are no dud tracks throughout the album. Talking Heads have become one of my musical idols and this album is them at their career best. I hope you enjoy it.