Category Archives: David Byrne

Women’s History Month: Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love”

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This month on my own blog, Dystopian Dance Party, we’re highlighting our favorite women artists to celebrate Women’s History Month. So I thought I would take the opportunity to cross-post a few pieces that Andre’s readers might be interested in, starting with today’s post on Tina Weymouth and the Tom Tom Club.

New York’s Talking Heads were many things, but as far as I’m concerned, they were most importantly the greatest white funk group of all time–and a lot of the credit belongs to their stoic, diminutive bassist, Tina Weymouth. Her unique style married P-Funk-inspired elasticity to the jerky rhythms of art-punk groups like Pere Ubu; she was also largely responsible, along with her husband and Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz, for introducing the rest of the band to the emergent sounds of hip-hop in the early ’80s. Basically, if you liked watching David Byrne dance in that big gray suit in Stop Making Sense, you can thank Tina Weymouth: without her influence, the beat he was dancing to would have been a lot less funky.

You can also thank Weymouth, and Frantz, for making Stop Making Sense happen in the first place. The story goes that they made their own 1981 album as Tom Tom Club when Byrne indicated he was quitting Talking Heads; it was only after he heard their lead single, “Genius of Love,” that he decided to reunite with the group and record 1983’s Speaking in Tongues. It’s easy to see why: “Genius” is one of the funkiest, most minimalist grooves ever set to wax, pairing Adrian Belew’s deconstructed Jimmy Nolen chicken-scratch with some heavily phased, dub-style percussion by Uziah “Sticky” Thompson, and a whole heap of New Wave quirk courtesy of the Tom Tom Club themselves. There’s a reason why the main riff has been sampled by everyone from Diddy and Mariah Carey to Grandmaster Flash (pictured above with Weymouth in 1982).

But there’s another reason why I’m highlighting “Genius of Love” for Women’s History Month, and that’s because it’s, well, unabashedly girly. We often fall into the trap of praising women artists for transcending feminine stereotypes, which can become its own kind of aesthetic cage: in order to be taken seriously, Women in Rock (or whatever) have to be rawer, tougher, and ballsier than their male counterparts. “Genius of Love” isn’t raw, tough, or ballsy; the vocals, by Tina and her sisters Laura and Lani, are sweet and feminine, and the lyrics are all about how much she loves her boyfriend. Even the music video, by future Max Headroom creators Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, looks like the kind of thing an especially talented girl might doodle in her notebook during middle school. It’s a celebration of an oft-scorned “feminine” aesthetic, years before Taylor Swift and the “poptimism” movement made perceived girliness into a critical badge of honor, and it’s detectable as an influence in everyone from Swift to Sleigh Bells to our own Women’s History honoree, Grimes.

If you liked this post, remember to check in with Dystopian Dance Party for the rest of March–there’s a lot more where it came from! Thanks for reading!

 

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Filed under Adrian Belew, Chris Frantz, David Byrne, Talking Heads, Tina Weymouth, Women

Talking Heads Celebrated on Andresmusictalk: ‘Remain In Light’ (1980)-2006 Remastered DualDisc Edition from Andre’s Amazon Archive

Remain-in-light duel disc

In the history of recorded music there are a long series of recordings that simply forever stand the test of time for one reason or another.Sometimes they’re referred to as a bands “Sgt.Pepper”,in reference to the famous Beatles album but if it influences and inspires the entire creative scene in music for decades to come…….it goes beyond that cliched “classic” status.This would be one of those albums that fits easily into the latter. Throughout the 70’s the genres of funk and disco had embraced the concept of African inspired percussion was used in different ways in music.

But with the exception of a handful great funk bands such as Earth Wind & Fire and Mandrill not all of them completely realized the potential of this element in their music. During the late 70’s Fear of Music sessions the Talking Heads and Eno began integrating the concepts of polymeter and the musical concept of “communalism” into their music. It had always been boiling over since the beginning of their work with Eno. On this one the door broke all the way open.The addition of new musicians actually helped out:especially Adrian Belew and Jon Hassell.

Adrian’s “zoo guitar” style,using  his axe to crow,growl and snarl in a number of different ways created the impression of this great musical…safari.This is one of the first Talking Heads albums where the whole is more important then the parts:the cycle of songs (running in no particular order) from “Born Under Punches”,”The Great Curve” and “Houses In Motion” in particular are this glossy,echoed,almost beyond modern electronic mix of percussive funk,avant garde new wave sounds and…..some things you just have to hear to believe.

The greatest thing about this album is it isn’t some self indulgence that alienates the listener;it is based on musical communalism and it invites you to join right in.The fact that most of the lyrics have to do with body parts,movement,conformity or just the sounds of life in general you cannot help but feeling welcomed by this album.”Crosseyed And Painless” is,flat out one of the funkiest thing the Heads’ ever recorded,not to mention the fact it’s funk/rock combination worked far better then I am sure even they expected.”Once In A Lifetime” is one place where everything that makes this album great comes together all in one.

It was David’s self proclaimed “preacher song” questioning without resolution the things in life we value.The pure liquid thump of the song itself is really appropriate when the lyrical focus shifts to water.The most captivating song here is “Seen And Not Seen”-it reminds the funk fan listening to this record that one of the elements that made the best and most genuine funk recordings were the sound of being more like a ritual then a mere R&B/pop song with rhythm out front.To a thumping beat David chants a lyric that speaks of all the false values people often put into their surface features (hello Michael Jackson?).

“Listening Wind” keeps up a similar concept but there is more of a “techno drone” to that one,which of course goes in perfectly with the closing “The Overload”,somewhat dirge-like in a way compared to the heavy rhythms of the rest of the album.On to the bonus cuts well….it’s nothing BUT rhythm,from the NASTAY electronics on “Fela’s Riff” to the heavy Afro-Funk of “Double Groove” these keep kicking out the jams,where “Unison” and “Right Start” contain the embryo of some of the regular albums most important songs.

The most important thing about this album is that everything from the sound to the approach is completely ageless;to the point where,if you were to put this album on for me today and I didn’t know who made it and when it was I would actually think it was brand new.When I first heard this album…some eight years ago in fact I have to admit it felt very…familiar to me to hear this music.I am sure many others will have the same experience with this. Everyone today from Franz Ferdinand and every polyrhythmic,funk based rock outing one can think of owes itself to this album in some way. But the intermixing of ancient communal musical polyrhythm and modern electro funk still finds it’s true flower on this thoroughly excellent collection of music.

Originally posted on May 27th,2009

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE*

 

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Filed under 1980's, Adrian Belew, Afro Funk, Brian Eno, David Byrne, elecro funk, guitar, Jon Hassell, polyrhythm, Remain In Light, Talking Heads, zoo guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Uh-Oh,Love Comes To Town” by Talking Heads

David Byrne,Tina Weymouth,Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison had been honing their performance persona and songwriting skills at NYC’s CBGB’s for a few years before. They started as an opening act for The Ramones in the very late spring of 1975. Looking back at their early performances,the bands stripped down and precise grooves must have been very strange amidst the noisy atmospherics of mid/late 70’s CBGB’s. Their early recorded demos didn’t make of an impact until later the next year-when Seymour Stein of Sire Records signed them up and they began recording their debut album.

This first album entitled Talking Heads 77 has a very different vibe than most albums that came out of NYC’s original punk scene. The main inspiration for it’s sound wasn’t as much raggedy 60’s garage rock as it was the cleaner instrumental sounds of early 70’s soul and funk music. My personal experience with the bands music started more with their early/mid 80’s album and worked backward to this one. Not being the loud guitar thrasher type album I half expected,it’s opening song gives a good idea of the grooves that lie within. The name of this song is “Uh-Oh,Love Comes To Town”.

Byrne and Weymouth begin the song with a bass/guitar that scales up and down with each other until Chris Frantz hi hats turns over to a slow,shuffling funky drum with bouncy percussion fills. Weymouth turns out a late 60’s James Jamerson style bass line throughout in the spirit of “I Was Made To Lover Her” while Harrison deals with a sustained chicken scratch rhythm guitar line. Harrison’s organ like keyboards play a horn-like roll on the choruses which take the melody up a key. The bridge adds a shuffling steel drums solo before another refrain/choral pattern brings the song to a slowed stop.

One of the key elements of much late 60’s/early 70’s pop/rock was an imitation of the early/mid 60’s Motown sound. Now Motown has an effect on this song too. But Talking Heads were somewhat unique among funk inspired rock groups in that they were inspired by the present and the future of the music-not the recent past. So this song has the funkier melodic vibe of early 70’s Jackson 5ive style Motown-with the use of more James Brown inspired bass/guitar interaction and a light Caribbean flavor. In that way,it’s an excellent template for what Talking Heads groove would evolve into.

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Filed under 1970's, CBGB's, chicken scratch guitar, Chris Frantz, David Byrne, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, James Jamerson, Jerry Harrison, keyboards, Motown Sound, New Wave, New York, pop funk, steel drums, Talking Heads, Tina Weymouth