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New Wave Band:

Talking Heads

by New Wave Dave


I don't view Talking Heads as "the most New Wave band" [whatever that might mean]. They're just — just! — my favorite one.

Of course, I'm specifically thinking of some of their early albums. David Byrne & crew became so chameleon-like, turning out music of many genres, that you can't simply tab them as New Wave. For instance, the superbly funky Remain in Light album — thanks for producing it, Brian Eno! — is wonderful aural entertainment, but New Wave it ain't.

New Wave music was about new rhythms, new attitudes, and pushing listeners out of their comfort zones and into new ways of thinking. One of the first shots in the New Wave revolution came in 1977, with the aptly named Talking Heads: 77. The best-known song, "Psycho Killer", was puzzling and yet enthralling; was this nervous guy, thrashing out weird lyrics, playing the role of a psycho killer? But other tracks deserve to be heard - and moved to. Crank up "New Feeling" or "The Book I Read" or "Pulled Up", and you'll find your head snapping, your limbs flailing, and your mind moving in unfamiliar ways.

Their next salvo, the following year, was the wonderfully titled More Songs About Buildings and Food. Like Talking Heads: 77, this album featured vocals and rhythms that both reflected and induced anxiety ... but in a melodic and thought-provoking way. While the huge hit was a geeky remake of Al Green's "Take Me to the River", the album is littered with oddly catchy nuggets like "Artists Only" and "Stay Hungry".

1979 brought Talking Heads' best-selling album so far, Fear of Music. This one straddled several flavors of music: New Wave ("Mind", "Paper"), more traditional [and commercially successful] rock ("Cities", "Life During Wartime"), and oddball trippiness ("Heaven", "Electric Guitar", "Drugs").

Fear of Music is the last Talking Heads album that I would count as largely New Wave, so I'm not going to discuss their later studio albums (which also contain lots of good stuff). But you shouldn't miss the compilation Sand in the Vaseline, which contained many of their well-known New Wave songs as well as some earlier singles (from the 1977 period) that hadn't been on an album, such as "Love — Building on Fire". Certainly worth a listen!