Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ultimate Playlists 11: Talking Heads

Have you ever been to a concert and wished the band had played certain songs? I know I have. The reality is, you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you are free to build any playlist you like. I have decided to write a series showcasing the Top 20 songs from some of my favorite bands.

For those of you who are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you'll know the terrible anguish of trying to fit the songs together. How annoying when the last song you picked was still playing as the tape ran out! Those days are over and it's now a simple task to throw together a playlist using your computer, iPod or a USB. I know that having USB capability has enhanced my driving pleasure because it's so easy to update a list of songs.

But there's also more to creating a playlist than simply deciding which songs to include. Like an actual concert, or even a single song, a good playlist features changes in mood and tempo. If a band opens with the three songs that the audience most wants to hear, the rest of the performance might fall flat. My own particular method of creating a playlist has a number of considerations:

  • Mix up the duration of the songs
  • Put space between songs from the same album, unless the two are better when played in sequence
  • Build to a natural high, slow it down again, and finish with a real flourish
  • Put in some newer songs close to the start, assuming there are newer songs worthy of inclusion
  • For bands with more than one vocalist, mix up the sequence depending on who is singing
  • Speed and style matters, so mix it up unless there is a good reason not to
  • Albums often have a great choice of opening and closing song that work best in that particular spot 
  • The final three or four songs might resemble an encore if it was a real concert
  • Leave the listener satisfied and wanting more

Talking Heads are one of the bands associated with playing New York's CBGBs, along with Television, Blondie, The Ramones and a long list of other notable musicians. David Byrne's (lead vocals, guitar) reedy vocals somehow blended with the overall sound created by Jerry Harrison (guitar, keyboards), Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums).

Music is always evolving, but the seventies will always be special to me because it marked the point where my own tastes started to evolve in their own way. Talking Heads are one of the bands that really caught my attention when punk and alternative music emerged as a genuine musical force. Unlike many of the bands lumped into that category, Talking Heads could really play.

So, what defines Talking Heads' sound? That's an incredibly difficult question to answer because their sound was always changing. Early albums consisted largely of short, punchy songs, with spiky guitar. But Talking Heads were not a punk band. With the release of Fear of Music in 1979, it was clear that this was no ordinary band. The rhythm section was becoming increasingly dense and more complicated with every release, and some of the songs on Fear of Music, such as Cities, had a funky guitar sound that became even more prominent on later releases. The sound is raw, polished, funky, layered, sinister, poppy, progressive, meandering, simple and catchy. I don't want to label it, but whatever it is, the blend works for me.

Remain in Light is often regarded as the band's best album; Rolling Stone ranked it the fourth-best album of the eighties, while Pitchfork ranked it as high as second. Personally, I prefer Fear of Music, which fused together African music with the existing sound. But Talking Heads were so much more than a studio band. I would argue that their live shows added an extra dimension to the overall sound. The lineup often included extra musicians to create that layered rhythm section, as well as additional singers for the backing vocals. It was like an indie version of a Pink Floyd concert, but with a much more complicated sound.

For the purposes of this playlist, I will include plenty of examples of the band playing live. One of the best concert movies ever made - Stop Making Sense - is a great way to introduce someone to the band. It has the advantage of drawing from most of the band's catalogue. Although Fear of Music is my favorite studio album from the band, I would choose The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads as the best listening experience due to the expanded lineup and the incredible quality of the recording. I'm very happy with my limited edition from Newbury Comics:

It's time to reveal the 20 songs I have chosen for the playlist. As with all of the entries in this series, choosing the final 20 was far from easy. A lot of excellent songs did not make the final cut. I imagine Once In a Lifetime as the first song of the encore. Here is a YouTube playlist if you want to enjoy the full experience:

Artists Only
Don't Worry About the Government
Life During Wartime
And She Was
Pulled Up
Take Me to the River
Warning Sign
Stay Up Late
Crosseyed and Painless
The Book I Read
Making Flippy Floppy
The Big Country
No Compassion
Road to Nowhere

Once in a Lifetime
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)
Psycho Killer

Return to index of every review on the site.

No comments:

Post a Comment