Talking Heads spent a good deal of the 1980’s concentrating on different aspects of what was basically guitar oriented pop. It was done in a purposefully simplistic manner. By the time the decade approached, it was apparent Talking Heads would soon be no more. David Byrne’s musical fascination had always remained in African type polyrhythms and funk. And in basic terms that is the approach he returned to with this album. On the other hand it was a combination of changes in the pop music world in the late 80’s and the maturity of the band that made the big difference here.
Production was no longer considered the be all and end all of crafting a good pop record. This resulted in a surge of creative energy that lasted the final few years of the decade. And decamping to Paris to bring this sound to life, Talking Heads made much use of this. Boiling it down to basics this album is a loose follow up to Remain in Light. The difference is the sound isn’t so penetrating and aggressive. This album is defined by rather spare and very live musical productionalmost devoid of the electronic sounds of that 1980 release.
“Blind” is a perfect example. It’s a great opener and some of the best funk the band made. But it’s out of the horn based James Brown school- with some great bass/guitar interaction. On “Mr.Jones”, “Totally Nude” and “(Nothing But) Flowers” there is a strong taste of South African pop mixed with the Afro Brazilian sounds Paul Simon dealt with at this time. “Ruby Dear” is a potent reminder how deeply the Bo Diddly’s “hand jive” beat was from old African dances. “The Democratic Circus”, “Mommy Daddy You and I”, “Big Daddy” and “Bill” all add more depth to these musical textures and darker melodies.
“The Facts Of Life” and “Cool Water” are the only songs that use any electronic effects. And it’s uses sparingly and more texturally. Conceptually, Naked is lyrically rather delightful. It finds a livable and reasonable alternative to the faux middle American nightmare presented in that metaphorical way on Remain in Light. In this case,that alternative would seem to be the African based music and their very way of life.
It offered a type of wisdom and knowledge that could enhance, rather than detract from Western society. This is told here in different type stories which ask questions about everything from materialism to organized religion. And it’s all done up in that distinct ‘Talking Heads’ way. So if this is the way in which the David Byrne led lineup of the band would have to go out,there was nothing to disappoint.
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.
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