Talking Heads '77
Sire SR 6036
Released: September 1977
Chart Peak: #97
Weeks Charted: 29
Talking Heads are the last of CBGB's original Big Four to record (following Patti Smith, the Ramones and Television), and their debut is an absolute triumph. Dressing like a quartet of Young Republicans, playing courteously toned-down music and singing lyrics lauding civil servants, parents and college, Talking Heads are not even remotely punks. Rather, they are the great Ivy League hope of pop music. I can't recall when I last heard such a vital, imaginatively tuneful album.
David Byrne's music is refreshing, abundantly varied and fun to listen to. He takes the buoyant, post-Beatles singles format of the Sixties -- brisk pacing, great hooks, crisp playing, bright production -- and impulsively veers off on unexpected tangents that are challenging without becoming inaccessible.
This is the band that had its early critics talking about minimalism and like Jonathan Richman. Talking Heads do indeed triumph by the economy of their sound. But where the ingenuous Richman is dangerously precious there is no nonsense about Talking Heads. Byrne's spare guitar patterns, Jerry Harrison's modest keyboard fills, Martina Weymouth's understated bass and Chris Frantz' efficiently Spartan drumming convey a taut earnestness that's bursting with energy.
"The Book I Read," like so many of their songs, burbles with excitement, a feeling of expansion overcoming restraint. "Pulled Up" is the real champ, though, a fiercely exhilarating rush of aural amyl nitrate.
Vocally, Byrne's live-wired personality vibrates his precise musical framework like a caged tiger rattling its bars. (That he sings in a stiff, reedy, "bad" voice, grasping or higher notes like a drowning man lunging for air, only heightens the drama.) Exploring the logic and disorientation of love, decision making, ambition and the need for selfishness, he gropes for articulation like a metaphysician having difficulty computing emotions.
Given his relatively unlyrical nature, Byrne's burgeoning persona is not in the least tentative. "No Compassion" asserts all the impatience of Lou Reed in a band mood, while "Psycho Killer" pulses with vehemence.
- Stephen Demorest, Rolling Stone, 11-1-77.
There's been a lot of babble lately about punk rock, more euphemistically known (at least in some circles) as "New Wave" music. It has been extensively (and expensively) promoted by major media as the Next Big Thing in rock. Yet, despite all the coverage (which tends to focus on the zany costumes and weird life styles of the bands and their audiences), it has still to be demonstrated that punk/New Wave is either musically or commercially important.
Artistically, the point of punk/New Wave music seems to be intensity rather than content. It tends to be blitheringly simple technically, played by bands where musicianship is not at a premium but is, rather, suspect; the more amateurish the band, the closer it seems to be what punk rock is supposed to be about.
Still, the media push has convinced a few commercial labels that a vast audience his waiting to be tapped. Sire Records, a medium-size independent in New York that has a distribution agreement with Warner Bros., is heavily into punk/New Wave, and one of their most highly touted bands is Talking Heads. To some extent, Talking Heads is atypical, since the quartet -- composed of three former art students and a recently added keyboardist -- is not deliberately sloppy or offensive and prefers to eschew the "punk" label. Nevertheless, they sound as amateurish as the rest and their material is just as vapid and clumpy; the songs are in the Bob Dylan tradition of all words and no tune. Worse, the lead singer has at best a mediocre voice and keeps trying to hit notes that he can't Talking Heads is apparently sincere, but though they try hard it is doubtful that his album would ever have been released without the punk hype.
- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 3/78.
A debut LP will often seem overrefined to habitués of a band's scene, so it's not surprising that many of CBGBites felt betrayed when bits of this came out sounding like Sparks or Yes. Personally, I was even more put off by lyrics that fleshed out the Heads' post-Jonathan Richman, so-hip-we're-straight image; when David Byrne says "don't worry about the government," the irony is that he's not being ironic. But the more I listen the more I believe the Heads set themselves the task of hurdling such limitations, and succeed. Like Sparks, these are spoiled kids, but without the callowness or adolescent misogyny; like Yes, they are wimps, but without vagueness or cheap romanticism. Every tinkling harmony is righted with a screech, every self-help homily contextualized dramatically, so that in the end the record proves not only that the detachment of craft can coexist with a frightening intensity of feeling -- something most artists know -- but that the most inarticulate rage can be rationalized. Which means they're punks after all. A-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
One of the most original debut albums of the decade, if not in the history of rock & roll. Providing civilized techno-tension that is palpably real, the Heads firmly affix themselves to the classic traditions of the form while giving it a contemporary vernacular. Truly the music of its times. On Talking Heads 77, David Byrne utilizes his performance and conceptual genius to create simple melodic underpinnings that reverberate with the tension of his petrified, edgy vocals. The sound is bright, crisp, dynamic, and clear; nicely enhancing Byrne's quavering vocal inflections. A
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
This edgy set of weird, funk-like rockers introduced David Byrne's skewed world outlook. "Pull Me Up" and "New Feeling" are the standouts. * * * * *
- John Floyd, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Formed as The Artistics in New York City by Scottish-born David Byrne alongside Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, Talking Heads' live reputation made them one of the most highly touted bands of the CBGB's scene. After being signed by Seymour Stein to his Sire label, they recruited ex-Modern Lovers guitarist Jerry Harrison and commenced work on their classic debut album with Tony Bongiovi, cousin of Jon Bon Jovi.
Preceding single "Love Goes To Building On Fire" aroused concern that the band were compromising their sound to gain commercial acceptance, but Talking Heads: 77 proved their integrity remained intact. The blistering opener "Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town," influenced by Byrne's affection for Sixties groups, saw his trademark straining voice set against Frantz and Waymouth's jerky funk rhythms. Bongiovi initially added psychedelic strings to the twisted monologue "Psycho Killer," but the band complained he had made it sound like a novelty record. However tracks such as "New Feeling" and "Don't Worry About the Government," with their distinctive guitar work, sudden tempo changes, and Byrne's intelligent, disconnected, lyrical stanzas, showed Talking Heads had taken elements of punk, funk, and disco and convincingly created a unique sound of their own.
Talking Heads: 77 initially found Top 40 success in Europe. They were awarded alongside Peter Gabriel Rolling Stone's most promising new act of 1977, and this excellent album has continued to influence bands such as Radio 4 and The Rapture, who have kept alive much of Talking Heads' initial creative spirit.
- Chris Shade, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
"It's not yesterday/Anymore," David Byrne sang, and indeed, the band's debut (produced by Jon Bon Jovi's cousin Tony Bongiovi) cleared the air for a whole new musical vision. Where other punk bands in 1977 shouted about urban angst, the Heads sounded uncannily at ease -- even charmed -- by modern life on pert art-pop tunes like "Don't Worry About the Government" and "The Book I Read." Then on "Psycho Killer," all that optimism collapses, with Tina Weymouth's stabbing bass pushing Byrne beyond the breaking point.
- Jon Dolan, Rolling Stone, 6/20.
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