Tag Archives: David Byrne

Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings & Food As It Approaches 40

Physically speaking, More Songs About Buildings And Food was made by the same band that had thrown down Talking Heads: 77. Yet in terms of the music the flavor, style and attitude bare only the slightest resemblance. Of course, this is the beginning of the bands highly fruitful partnership with Brain Eno, a person even David Byrne (unique as he was) could never fully comprehend mentally. Along with Eno’s love of…well the best word would be painting abstract sound art the band themselves were fully indulging themselves in an all out rhythmic assault here.

The entire album is not percussive, but the whole concept is different; whereas the debut found a mildly quirky band really more or less exploring it’s “pop legs” this one is the birth of the Talking Heads classic sound in full form-top heavy, polyrhythmic,funky and as a result very spare underneath the clutter. The first six tunes on the album pretty much don’t let up-you have classics building a melody within the rhythm attack on “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel”, “Warning Sign” and my favorite “Found A Job”.

There are plenty of just out and out jamming on the one happening on “The Girls Want To Be With The Girls”,”With Our Love” and “The Good Thing”. Rick James may not have coined the phrase “punk-funk” yet but the world of…well funky rhythm rock would never be the same after this stuff! Once you get into tunes such as “Artists Only”,”I’m Not In Love” and “Stay Hungry” your in for music finding the Heads trying to make sense,if they truly ever can of all the rhythms around them to come up with some jerky new-wavish tunes-like the rest of it they’re not structured  “pop” per se but are  very singable.

Technically speaking, “Take Me To The River” is the slower tune here..it creeps up on you like a soulful monster but never attacks,just keeps creeping away until the end and it’s a nice little change.”The Big Country”….well if I read it right I can sort of relate; when I moved where we live now I found myself thinking some of the things Byrne speaks about in the lyrics. And even now I often think “you couldn’t pay me to live here”. I LOVE the blunt, freaky humor without any of the cynicism.

In terms of writing and melodicism, More Songs About Buildings And Food isn’t quite as strong as the debut. And that really isn’t the point. The songs here are built from the rhythms & beats Eno and the Heads create here. And they add up to a lot when all’s said and done. But again the remaster/re-recording really brings this music a whole new life! This will not be everyone’s favorite Heads album but considering how well they started, the masterpieces to come and the historical place this holds in their career, this is just what the doctor ordered.

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Taking Heads Naked- The Bands Grand Finale At 30

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.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Jezebel Spirit” by Brian Eno & David Byrne

Brian Eno came out of Roxy Music in the early 70’s with a strong degree of musical and stylistic flair. With that bands variety of glam rock being highly jazz and soul informed,Eno left the band and turned his attention to a solo career. These included frequent collaborations with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. During the late 70’s,he began a musical relationship with Talking Heads front man David Byrne. Both men were fascinated with the idea of African polyrhythm-and the possibilities arising from it in terms of their mutual interest in funk and electronic music.

The idea of two European men totally embracing the idea of Afro Futurism was something that surprised me when my father first introduced me to Brian Eno and David Byrne’s 1981 collaborative album My Life In A Bush Of Ghosts well over a decade ago. This was around the same time I was exposed to Miles Davis’s On The Corner. This put funk rhythms into a very Afrocentric context for me. And made it the music that had the deep connection for me that jazz did with my father. One song from it really stood out personally as a superb example of this pan African funk ethic. It’s called “The Jezebel Spirit”.

The song itself is based on a vamp with a very phat body to it. It starts out with the bouncing polyrhythmic percussion -held together by an equally percussive guitar and melodic 60’s funky soul style slap bass. A variety of found objects clicking and clacking i rhythm and Eno’s high pitched synthesizer textures permeate this mix. A higher pitched rhythm guitar comes in along with sound samples of a gentleman performing an exorcism.  As this found dialog becomes more intense,the mix of bass/guitar,percussion and Eno’s bleeping, electronic melodic whistling synth fades out the song.

Much as with Miles Davis’s aforementioned On The Corner, this song functions as a funky soundscape as opposed to a structured pop song. It’s rhythmic and often melodic vamp serve to hold up the then highly innovative use of vocal sampling,which is now a standard for electronic music of all sorts. While the song and it’s accompanying album had more music lowers in awe at the time,it does surprise me a Rolling Stone article accused Eno and Byrne of trivializing exorcism with their sound sample. Considering the music’s overall embrace of tribalism, the nature of what is present on it goes right with the whole groove.

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Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Brian Eno, My Life In A Bush Of Ghosts, percussion, polyrhythm, rhythm guitar, Sampling, slap bass, synthesizer

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

The Inspiration Information of Shuggie at the Turning of the Millennium: Andre’s Outlook

Shuggie

Looking back on when the century and also the millennium turned,the year 2000 was felt very much like a huge temporal pain reliever for me. No Y2K,could buy anything in a record store without being constantly questioned as to the “credibility of my musical tastes and overall? The futurist mentality that most science fiction/Star Trek admirers such as myself had been pining for seemed to at last be on the horizon. One memory was on a dark,snowy January first playing the O’Jay’s song “The Year 2000” in my room and having similar thoughts as to what Eddie Levert was singing about-all that wonder and promise. It would be sometime towards the middle of this year that another millennial milestones of my musical development occurred: my own introduction to Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information.

First of all I wanted to say that during the 2000/2001 period? I wouldn’t have sought out Shuggie Otis on my own because I still couldn’t stand the blues. It had nothing to do with tuning into any cliches of self pitying lyrics or anything. It was more a cultural misunderstanding of intent. Growing up in 1990’s central/Northern Maine? All any music lover would hear was how much the blues was part of every popular music. Outside the Top 10 radio? Most non commercial radio at the time was obsessed with the blues. And with such a sense of seriousness. From what I saw? No one ever danced or clapped their hands to chase their blues away. Just listened,frowned and sometimes even drank a lot. Because those were not qualities I felt boded well with music,itself a motivating factor in life? I did flatly reject any connection that the music (which I loved with my heart and soul) and it’s connection with the blues.

So on one warm and welcoming day in the summer of 2001? My father and I were about to go for a cruise to take in the beauty of nature. As well as some always vital father/son bonding time. On our way we stopped at Bull Moose records,the local music store chain in the state of Maine,and my father came out very excited. He had a CD in his hand with this bright orange 70’s art deco style about it. He told me that Talking Heads’ David Byrne had declared this album the big unsung 70’s masterpiece and re-released it on his Luaka Bop record label. The album of course was Inspiration Information by this man I vaguely knew about named Shuggie Otis. When I asked my father who he was,he told me Shuggie was the son of the blues icon Johnny Otis.

What was I hearing here? Johnny Otis? The BLUES? Well I actually recalling rolling my eyes and tisking lightly to myself. Had a feeling of “here we go-someone trying to up-sell me on the blues again. Like it’s the only music in the world”. It was likely I wanted to hear a Stevie Wonder,Curtis Mayfield or Miles Davis record I’d bought with me at that time. It was my dad’s car of course,and I wanted to understand why he’d be so gleeful about this music. So my father put the record in the CD player of our used 1992 Toyota Corolla. The first thing that came out of the speaker was this beautiful swell of male falsetto vocal parts-harmonizing with each other over an upbeat wah wah bass/guitar and a sunny organ solo.

By the time the sweetly monotone voice of Shuggie himself came in with the lyrics “we had a rainy day/I’m in a sneak back situation/Here’s a pencil pad/I’m gonna spread some information/You, making me happier/Now I am snappier, while I’m with you”?How was this music blues? The only blues I’d heard thus far related mainly to unemployment,romantic distress and death. I wasn’t hearing any of that with Shuggie Otis. There was this realization I was indeed hearing that meaningful,bright funk/soul music I loved. But it was a totally different sound on that level. Through “Island Letter”,”Aht Uh Mi Hed”,”Happy House” and this amazing percussive instrumental called “XL-30” that I asked my father to repeat over and over again that afternoon? There was a hollow,dreamy sound about this album that I’d really never heard before.

My father told me Shuggie played almost all the instruments on the album the way Prince did. Later on as I listened and read the liner notes? It came to me where I’d seen Shuggie’s name before. During that era I was deeply into the music of the Brothers Johnson. Even more so when I fully realized their involvement with two musical icons in my life: Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. One of their biggest songs “Strawberry Letter#23” was originally written and recorded by Shuggie Otis in 1971 for his Freedom Flight album. After hearing the album itself and the bonus songs on that CD? I was truly shocked. By no definition I’d ever dealt with was this the blues that I had been hearing. Shuggie’s music helped me see the depth and complexity of the blues. This music was reflective,thoughtful,poetic and very tender.

Recently I debated with myself whether to bring this up here. But about seven years later? I was playing a beat up CD of this album I’d gotten later from the Bull Moose free bin with my fiancee while driving through town during a visit to see his family. Upon hearing “Aht Uh Mi Hed”? He remarked how much he enjoyed the way Shuggie used organ in his music. Such an instrumentally inclined remark from a fellow Generation X’er was very much unknown to me even by that time. It was only a year ago that I ended up with the album again-released with Shuggie’s newest set of unreleased material called Wings Of Love. After playing it in the car? Even my musically persnickety mother fell under the spell Shuggie Otis set with Inspiration Information. Although he absent mindedly remarked just last week that she thought “XL-30” sounded like something from the score of the film Napoleon Dynamite? Even her respect for Shuggie’s musicality remains undiminished.

Part of my overall respect for Shuggie Otis also came from how his music helped me to better appreciate session musicians and the vital role they play in many a musical masterpiece. I was aware of his session playing for his father Johnny. But not necessarily in how his playing helped to revitalize the careers of Etta James,Louis Jordan and Bobby Blue Bland and “Louie Louie” composer Richard Berry. Growing up I’d tended to view musicians who played out front in bands as being the most musically important-either as soloists or as members of bands. Though already very aware and involved with listening to The Crusaders by this time? My admiration for the non session/solo music of people such as Greg Phillinganes, Paulinho Da Costa, Bernard Wright,Weldon Irvine and bands such as Stuff began to grow and increase follwing my exposure to Shuggie.

As for my father,the man who originally introduced me to Shuggie Otis? He is still broadening my appreciation of the man to this very day. Only earlier today,when discussing this blog with him,did he discuss Shuggie’s involvement with Frank Zappa. Shuggie in fact played electric bass on Zappa’s iconic instrumental “Peaches en Regalia” from his 1969 album Hot Rats. My dad is a long time admirer of Zappa,who was an individual who often elevated musicians considered to be sidemen into positions of prominence. One such musician was the violinist Don Sugarcane Harris. It was mentioned by my father this afternoon that he first heard about Shuggie Otis via his session playing on Harris’s 1970 LP release Sugarcane. So when Luaka Pop reissued the Inspiration Information album on CD? My father,being unfamiliar with Shuggie’s solo music,was very eager to hear it. So as I was writing my own story about this man and his album? My father was telling me about the first time he heard of Shuggie Otis.

One of the reasons I still find this album to be some of the most beautiful funk ever recorded is association. When I first heard it? That magical 21’st century had arrived. The future that everyone had been dreaming about in the century before had at last arrived. And considering the dark days of the post 9/11 world would arrive in only a seasons time? This introduction to Shuggie Otis to my life always reminds me of the importance of maintaining dreamy optimism. Especially in the hardest of times. Also,with some later help from Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary? Hearing Shuggie Otis completely altered my perception of the blues. He really put a sunshine funk filter inside of his musicality. And it helped me realize that broadness of the soul/funk/jazz/blues musical spectrum-outside of any locally based misconceptions. As Branford Marsalis said of blues music itself? To this very day,whenever I hear Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information,it makes me smile.

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Funk, Local Radio, Maine, Psychedelia, Radio, Shuggie Otis, Soul