Consider the Talking Heads

Grant Tillery

I recently got my hands on David Byrne’s “How Music Works,” a book I’ve wanted for a long time.  I empathize with Byrne’s music nerd persona, and he delivers arguments and tells his story as a musician with an entertaining and intellectual bent.  Exploring Byrne’s theories on music led me to delve deeper into his Talking Heads’ discography.

The best introduction to the Talking Heads is “Take Me To The River.”  Byrne put a rock bent on the Al Green classic, and it’s still funkifized.  He skirts with success into blue-eyed soul territory without trying to.  “Psycho Killer” marks the genesis of New Wave.  There’s a slight disco backbeat, but the bottom-heavy rhythms once again hint at funk influences.  On “Psycho Killer,” Byrne transmutes angst-filled punk sounds into a spaced-out multi-chorded affair without diminishing its inherent simplicity.

The African-influenced percussion of “Burning Down the House” is the beginning of Byrne’s vast exploration of other cultures’ music.  Its rhythms are more pared down than many of his other tracks, but “Burning Down the House” signals the Talking Heads’ move from their nouveau punk roots to a slicker world music sound.  Beyond these three tracks lies a vast catalog of music notable for its cultural merit and party-starting sensibility. 

The Talking Heads are one of the few bands that had a foot in both worlds, much in thanks to Byrne’s gawky, endearing personality and curiosity toward all things eccentric.