"The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads"


In 1982, the future of Talking Heads was relatively up in the air.  After 1980's tense Remain In Light sessions, Talking Heads found themselves splintered into two camps: frontman David Byrne and producer Brian Eno found themselves in one corner, while David's bandmates Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth found themselves in the opposing corner.  Much of this was due to creative differences, Harrison, Frantz and Weymouth feeling alienated by the united duo of Byrne & Eno.  When initial copies of Remain In Light credited David Byrne and Brian Eno as the sole writers of the eight tunes on the album, the camel's back had been broken.

All four members decided to take some time off to work on solo projects.  Two years later, in order to fill the gap, Warner Bros. decided to issue a two LP live set, culled from performances spanning the Heads' career from 1977-1981.  The result--The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads--was perhaps one of the most heralded live albums in history...and yet, for one reason or another, Warner Bros. chose not to release it with their initial batch of Talking Heads compact discs, much to the chagrin of many fans.  With the advent of CD-Rs, zealous fans decided to rip their old vinyl copies of the album onto CD-Rs, having given up on the prospect of any sort of official compact disc release.  Later on, the album made the peer to peer and bit torrent rounds.

When a title is kept out of public circulation for a long amount of time and then is suddenly brought back into the fold, it's often difficult to discern whether or not the accolades it recieves are due to its scarcity.  Often times a title will amass a rabid following over the years in which it is scarce.  The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads has received a great deal of critical and fan acclaim over the years, for a myriad of reasons.  Making its debut appearance on compact disc, the album not only justifies the adulation that has been bestowed upon it over the years but also ups the ante by expanding it to nearly double its original size.

David Byrne's squeaky, "organically shy" voice opens the album in a very understated manner: "The name of this song is 'New Feeling'...and that's what it's about."  The first few tracks are culled from a small, intimate performance at Northern Studio in Maynard, Illinois and faithfully recreate the wiry tension of their debut album.  Aside from some alternate lyrics in "Psycho Killer," the performances themselves actually don't deviate too far from their album counterparts--following "Don't Worry About The Government," a man in the audience can even be heard saying "he sounds just like the record!"--but are thrilling in that they reveal just how incredibly tight the four piece had become in the early days.  Showcased is the manic, skeletal wiriness of the early material, as well as Byrne's indelible penchant for sublimating the banal.  (Who else could convincingly pull off songs about subjects as diverse as serial killers, drugs, air, the government and parental support?)  Perhaps the highlight of these opening seven tracks is "A Clean Break (Let's Work)," the only track on the set that never appeared on a Talking Heads studio album.  The style is quintessential early Talking Heads, with chiming guitars, funky, spasmodic, descending riffs and an absolutely howling Byrne vocal.  It justifies the price of disc one alone.

The next two tracks, from The Park West in Chicago, Illinois, don't quite have the sonic clarity of the opening seven, but are a joy in that they capture material from More Songs About Buildings And Food.  The next three tracks are culled from a very rare radio promo LP entitled The Warner Bros. Music Show (which can sometimes be found for $20 and up at better used record stores), taken from a performance at The Agora in Cleveland, Ohio.  Of particular note is a fine reading of the whimsical "The Girls Want To Be With The Girls" and a primitive reading of "Drugs" (titled "Electricity" here) which lacks the spatial creepiness of the later, rearranged "Fear Of Music" LP version but makes up for it with chugging rhythms and soaring synthesizers.  The disc ends with seven tracks taken from The Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey.   This includes renditions of two of the finest tracks from More Songs About Buildings And Food (the atmospheric cuts "Artists Only" and "Stay Hungry") and a rather earnest but slightly slower reading of "Heaven," probably Byrne's most poignant and lyrically touching song from the Heads' early years.   On the fantastic "Air," Byrne takes some serious vocal liberties, contorting his voice into a chameleonic cartoon.  The highlight of these tracks, however, is a rare live rendition of the early Heads a-side "Love Goes To Building On Fire."  In the studio, producer Tony Bongiovi (who David Byrne later called "the biggest asshole I've ever met"), in an attempt to make the song more "commercial," slathered the arrangement  with horns and sound effects, totally out of step with the band's vision.  Here, the quartet strips the song down to its essence, substituting the horns in the song's bridge section with loud, churning guitars and Byrne's throaty growls.

Disc two proves to be the highlight of the entire set, just on general principle alone.  The producers of this set have shuffled the track order around and included some bonus performances so as to faithfully recreate the exact set list of the incredible Remain In Light tour from 1980.  The tracks, culled from three different performances from New Jersey, New York and Tokyo, seamlessly blend together to create one unique listening experience.  For this tour, the band was presented with the dilemma of how to reproduce the material from their polyrhythmic masterpiece Remain In Light with a mere four piece.  For the first time ever, the band decided to recruit the help of outside musicians on stage: namely Dolette McDonald and Nona Hendryx on backing vocals, Steve Scales on percussion, Busta "Cherry" Jones on bass, Bernie Worrell on keyboards and, last but certainly not least, Adrian Belew on lead guitar.  Of all these backing musicians, Belew probably had the most heralded track record, having performed with both Frank Zappa and David Bowie.  His deft, unmistakable, largely ambient style of guitar playing tends to steal the show on disc two, particularly on tracks like "Psycho Killer," where he punctuates the opening with otherworldy guitar-laser blasts.  On "Warning Sign" and "Stay Hungry," he conjures up icy, swirling sounds that give the songs added punch.  He slings webs on the ambient "Drugs."  On "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)," Belew transforms the mechanical opening of the song with ethereal guitar tones that seemingly float in on distant desert breezes.  It's interesting to note that Adrian Belew very nearly became a permanent fixture of the band at this point, but after observing the splintering Heads, opted instead to join Robert Fripp in King Crimson.

Other highlights of the second disc include a more subtle version of the classic "Once In A Lifetime" than the Stop Making Sense version from a few years later, a glistening version of the downright bizarre Fear Of Music track "Animals"--a mechanical piece of electric funk in 5/4 time--and an extended version of the beat poetry electro-funk of "Houses In Motion" which features an entire extra verse omitted from the studio version.  While the live versions of the Remain In Light tracks don't quite trump the indellible studio versions, they do offer a fantastic alternate view of the already brilliant Heads material from 1980.

Many will claim that The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads eclipses its big brother Stop Making Sense in every way.  While Name surely reaches further in its grasp than Sense and charts the first several chameleonic years of one of the most innovative rocks bands in recent history, both live albums are essential in their own way. Name charts the incredible progress of the band from wiry, art house quartet to to ambient electro-funk neuftet, while Sense presents the band as polished performance artists (both audial and visual) at the absolute top of their game.  Both are highly recommended.

Rating: A-

© 2004 Crapple Records, Inc.  All rights reserved.  No part of this article may be reproduced without the expressed written consent of Crapple Records, Inc.

Back | Main