Okay, we’ve wanted to do a post on Talking Heads and David Byrne for a bit. Why not now then, eh? But this is to focus on the innovative music and Byrne’s fancy dancing.
Well, okay, the music mainly. But it was seeing Byrne’s dancing to Life During Wartime that triggered off our interest in the band.
We were fans, kind of, during our teenage year rush of discovering all the best old bands. But not fanatics. Yet, recently, we’ve had a reappraisal of some of their work. As the American band was huge back in the early ’80s.
Talking Heads as the Once in a Lifetime Band
You’ve probably heard that song above, it’s arguably the band’s most famous. A bizarre, looping, prophetic mixture of preacher type proclamations. All based on African rhythms and Afrobeat.
The song was written by Talking Heads, but British composer Brian Eno also made contributions.
It launched in late 1980 off the band’s Remain in Light album. But didn’t both the top #10 in the US or UK and seemed to die a death.
However, with new technology and David Byrne’s direction (plus, weird dancing), the above video was put together for the MTV generation. It launched in November 1984 and immediately became a sensation. It’s now iconic to the ’80s.
The band formed in New York City back in 1975. The key members were David Byrne, keyboardist Jerry Jarrison, drummer Chris Franzt, and bassist Tina Weymouth.
Talking Heads: 77 was the band’s first album, with the single Psycho Killer charting as a single and bagging them early recognition.
That early post-punk stuff was followed by much experimentation, messing around with song structures, and trying to come up with all sorts of unusual sounds.
For a kind of avant-garde band, we find it surprising Talking Heads had as much commercial success the band did.
But in amongst the curiosities and oddities, there was more commercial fair. 1985’s Road to Nowhere, for example, which was a hit in the UK. And it features a unique video with stop-motion messing around with Byrne’s appearance.
Burning Down the House is another example of the band’s odd commercial appeal. It ended up being Talking Head’s biggest hit in the US, reaching #9 after its 1983 launch as a single.
It’s a great track, but we particularly love the 1983 live version below, performed for the band’s concert film Stop Making Sense.
Seriously, this lot were probably on something for the film (although you can’t fake that enthusiasm). And it sure makes for a fantastic live performance.
One of the notable things here? Switch the video to the 2:15 mark. Right, note that?
Either Irish actor Cillian Murphy has led a double life, or he and David Byrne are the same person (or, okay, they just look the same).
We’re not the first to note this online! Here’s the handsome SOB Cillian Murphy, dolled up for his role in Peaky Blinders.
Doppelgänger, eh? True story here, too, we were once in a Manchester city centre sushi joint and Murphy was in there in a Peaky Blinders (filmed in Liverpool) shooting break.
The whole restaurant empty… except for us, Cillian Murphy, and the girl he was with. See… Professional Moron—we’ve got A List credentials.
Anyway, it was the performance of Life During Wartime is from the concert film Stop Making Sense, which was recorded in December 1983, that got our attention back on Talking Heads.
The song is from 1979 and the album Fear of Music. In classic eccentric Talking Heads fashion, the full title of the single was Life During Wartime (This Ain’t No Party… This Ain’t No Disco… This Ain’t No Foolin’ Around).
That gives it the record for one of the world’s longest titled singles.
Believe it or not, this was directed by Jonathan Demme. That guy who made some film called The Silence of the Lambs in 1991. And Philadelphia in 1993.
Talking Heads actually had over $1 million dollars for the film’s budget, with it going on to make over $5 million at the box office.
That highlights how popular the band members were at their peak.
And the band remained active until 1991, when they agreed to call it a day as they’d explored every creative possibility available to the group.
Although they briefly reformed for a few shows back in 2002.
Revisiting their music over the last few weeks? Well, we’re a bit annoyed we didn’t take to the band more back during our foray into their music 20 years back.
But! Better late than never.
As one of the things we love about Talking Heads? It’s kind of like Queen. It’s a band of quirky misfits, for quirky misfits.
Some Notes on David Byrne’s Dancing
Byrne’s unusual dancing from has been doing the round on Instagram. It’s bloody hypnotic!
Kind of reminds us of Mick Jagger throwing shapes.
It’s the type of thing some people will mock as it’s not “cool” or whatever bollocks issue they have with it. But, for the record, Byrne has explained why he does his own thing than heavily choreographed stuff.
Basically, he’s aware he’s not much of a dancer. Result? He came up with his own stuff. And why the hell not?
David Byrne These Days
Byrne turned 70 earlier this year. And he’s still very dapper, insightful, and active with his creative pursuits.
He considers himself autistic (or borderline to it), although he’s decided against getting an official diagnosis. He provided an interview in 2020 on comedian Amy Schumer’s podcast: Performance.
There’s a lot of preamble here—Byrne turns up at the 7:20 mark.
If you don’t want to listen to that, basically he explains his approach to creativity and how he’s able to hyperfocus due to being on the spectrum.
But it’s an fascinating life he’s had. Born in Scotland back in May 1952, his family moved to America when he was two. He’s lived there ever since, so identifies as American.
He’s directed films (True Stories in 1986), worked as a visual artist, and written music theory. He’s even won an Oscar for Best Original Score to 1987’s epic The Last Emperor. We’ve noted that film before in our book review of Shen Fu’s Six Records of a Floating Life (1877).
It’s not the best film of its era. But what did stick with us is the quality of the soundtrack, such as with this intro piece.
Add to that, Byrne has written and produced the 2020 Broadway hit American Utopia.
Spike Lee then adapted it into the 2020 film, which is apparently very good indeed! And we’ll get that reviewed at some point soon.
Well… not that we’re jealous or anything but we think Byrne sounds like a TALENTLESS HACK with no discernible skills whatsoever!
As, we’re sure you’ll agree, we’ve amply demonstrated in this feature.