Talking Heads seem like one of those bands where it’s legally required that we all like them. And whenever I hear a Talking Heads song, I do like it. But I’ve never really listened to them in earnest, to find out why they’re so revered. And I think it’s thatr universal reverence that has always kept me from diving righting. I have a copy of Talking Heads: 77 on CD that I bought sometime around the turn of the millennium. I bought it kind of out of obligation as a music fan, but I don’t remember ever actually putting it in a CD player. I guess I never wanted to feel like a clueless idiot if I listened to it and didn’t immediately love it. But to paraphrase Alan Partridge, it’s time to go balls out of the bath on this one, and 15 years after that purchase, I finally gave Talking Heads: 77 a spin.
What was I so worried about? Uh-oh, Love Comes to Town and New Feeling are the perfect encapsulation of everything that was great about the nerdy, post punk sound of the late 70s. Straight out of a weird musical, Tentative Decisions is bizarre, but kind of brilliantly so. I can’t say I like it, but I also couldn’t stop listening to it intently.
Not to take anything away from the other band members, but David Byrne’s voice is a major part of the Talking Heads’ sound. And a song like Happy Day is the perfect showcase of his voice and its place. Often reaching just beyond his register and power, it’s the falters and strains that make it feel a little removed, but heartfelt at the same time.
A combination of funk, twee and nerd-rock, Who Is It? works so much better than that combo ever should. A combination of ska and twisted carnival creepiness, Don’t Worry About the Government works so much better than that combo ever should. And when you can save a song like Psycho Killer until the second last on your track listing, you know you have a strong album on your hands.
Listening to Talking Heads: 77, I realised something. Talking Heads pull off the impressive feat of being totally original, totally unique and widely eclectic, while also delivering an immediately recognisable sound at the same time. Nailing down a genre to describe this band or this record is impossible, but this is no random mish mash. Each and every song is so completely Talking Heads, and so completely belongs together here on Talking Heads: 77.