David Byrne of Talking Heads is 70

This ain’t no party

For me, the great thing about David Byrne is that he keeps growing and changing. This comes across in this 2022 online interview in Parents magazine. It’s entitled David Byrne is Gloriously Odd: How Family Formed Talking Heads’ Lead Man.

He tells the story of Everybody’s Coming to My House, a song on his 2018 album American Utopia. Byrne wrote as though those folks in his place were a bit of a bother. Yet when he got some Detroit teens to perform it, they had a very different read, the joy of everyone hanging out.

I’ve long stated that one of my two favorite concerts ever was Talking Heads performing at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on August 5, 1983. Later shows in that tour, three nights at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater in December 1983, were turned into Stop Making Sense, the highly regarded 1984 American concert film directed by Jonathan Demme.

I had been a fan of Talking Heads before that. And when the band broke up, I enjoyed many of Byrne’s solo albums as well. But seeing American Utopia, the filmed version of the Broadway production, was a revelation. As he noted in the Parents piece, the plan was to make the difficult look easy.

Watch David Byrne Answers the Web’s Most Searched Questions for WIRED. Also, in the recent CBS Saturday Morning interview, he acknowledges that he cannot write songs at present. But he can draw.


Check out the All Music discography of his solo work and Talking Heads, who are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, class of 2002.

Also, in 2018, David Byrne teamed up with Choir! Choir! Choir! to cover David Bowie’s  Heroes.

This list is vaguely in order towards my favorite, but only the top song is secure.

You and Eye  – solo
Marching Through The Wilderness – solo. In a review of Rei Momo by William Ruhlmann: “On his first full-fledged solo album, Byrne indulges his fascination with Latin and South American musical styles, employing a variety of native musicians but mixing up the sounds to suit his own distinctly non-purist vision.”
And She Was – Talking Heads

Dirty Old Town – solo
Making Flippy Floppy – Talking Heads, just fun to say
Crosseyed And Painless – Talking Heads                                                                  Back In The Box – solo

America Is Waiting – Byrne and Brian Eno
Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) -Talking Heads
Loco de Amor – solo
Psycho Killer – Talking Heads, probably the first song of theirs I heard

More songs

Take Me To The River – Talking Heads; if I were to do karaoke, it would sound more like David Byrne than Al Green
Slippery People – Talking People; on the Stop Making Sense tour, one of the background singers is Lynn Mabry, who I’ve met. She, among other things, sings backup for Sheila E., as does the niece Rebecca Jade
I Zimbra – Talking Heads, the first song of theirs I loved

Burning Down The House – Talking Heads. Did anyone watching the video believe “I AM AN OR-DIN-AR-Y GUY?”
Life During Wartime – Talking Heads. “This ain’t no party…”
Independence Day – solo
Road To Nowhere – Talking Heads

Lilies Of The Valley – solo
Help Me, Somebody – Bryne and Eno
This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) – this song is tied to a specific time (the 1990s), and place (on the way to Cooperstown), and people
Once in a Lifetime – an obvious choice, I know; how it was made (you can ignore the two-minute ad at the end)

Favorites: Talking Heads (1984-1987)

1983, SPAC

Frantz, Weymouth, Harrison, Byrne
More of my J. Eric Smith-inspired Favorite Songs by Favorite Bands, an impossible task I’m doing anyway.

I saw Talking Heads on their stop at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, north of Albany, NY in 1983. It was of the two or three best concerts I’ve seen in my lifetime. Oddly, I have never seen, in its entirety, the well-regarded Stop Making Sense movie made from that tour.

The then-current album in 1983 was Speaking in Tongues. It’s the only album of theirs I have on both vinyl and compact disc. Interestingly, the tracks have different running times, with the cuts on the CD going longer. It was one of those gimmicks that record companies were using at the time to get people to buy into the new CD technology. It remains my favorite album by the group.

Eventually, I acquired all of the studio albums on vinyl. My only CD, besides SiT, is the 1992 compilation Sand in the Vaseline. Here’s a quiz I did some years ago, based on their songs.


Mu: Wild Wild Life.
Lambda: Slippery People. “How do you do?”
Kappa: City of Dreams.
Iota: Blind.
Theta: This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody). “I guess I must be having fun.” This is a song that takes me back to a specific time and place in upstate New York.
Eta: Psycho Killer Qu’est-ce que c’est

Zeta: Take Me to the River . If I were ever to sing Karaoke, it might be this version of the Al Green classic.
Epsilon: Crosseyed and Painless. The album Remain in Light is an aural canvas, and picking a “favorite song” is difficult.
Delta: Making Flippy Floppy. “Nothing is complete.” I love saying the repeated FL sound.
Gamma: Burning Down the House . “I’m…an…or..din.ar..y..guy.” Yeah, right. The first single from SiT.
Beta: Road to Nowhere. ‘Give us time to work it out.” “I wanted to write a song that presented a resigned, even joyful look at doom,” recalls David Byrne.
Alpha: Once in a Lifetime. “My God, what have I done?!” The lead single from Talking Heads’ fourth studio album, Remain in Light. The inspiration from Afrobeat is apparent.

Music, September 1971: widely un-bought

Stax had to “promote a white rock record through a black promotion and distribution system.”

“Not all the fresh music made in 1971 made an impact in that year. Some of it didn’t come out until years later the people who made it had made it had moved on, had become different people, or died.” That’s the first sentence in the September chapter of Never A Dull Moment by David Hepworth.

The Modern Lovers included future Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison and leader Jonathan Richman, who is considered by some to be the ‘godfather of punk rock.”

Roxy Music was primarily wanted to be perceived as an art project, as most of the members, including Bryan Ferry, were students. Likewise, David Byrne was meeting up with Chris Frantz at the Phode Island School of Design and thinking about a band called the Artistics; Byrne and Franz would, of course, also help create Talking Heads.

Kraftwerk was formed by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in 1969. Their second album had “more in common with the workshopping approach to improvised theater than the performance-oriented approach of traditional rock.”

When the critics suggest who ought to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they often mention this band, certainly not for its commercial success, but its influence. The Wikipedia notes: “Kraftwerk’s musical style and image can be heard and seen in 1980s synthpop groups such as Gary Numan, Ultravox, John Foxx, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Human League, Depeche Mode, Visage, and Soft Cell.”

Alex Chilton had experience some success with a band called the Box Tops, but the experience left him drained. He and some mates ended up starting a band called Big Star. Their album, #1 Record, released in 1972, did nothing, maybe because it was released on the soul label Stax, which had just bought itself out “of a distribution deal with Columbia” [Records] and therefore had to “promote a white rock record through a black promotion and distribution system.”

The records of the Velvet Underground and Big Star, “like those of of the Stooges, MC5 and Nick Drake, were widely available and widely un-bought.” But those artists inspired music that eventually topped the charts.

Listen to

George Jackson – Bob Dylan here or here

Motel Blues – Loudon Wainwright III here or here

Hospital – Modern Lovers here or here

Andy Warhol – David Bowie here or here

Life Is a Carnival – the Band here or here

The first e-mail I ever wrote

I sent some e-mail to a few people, including my colleague who was sitting in his desk perhaps three meters away. The adviser thought this was daft.

email-1005x1024Something I had forgotten:

When our work office was first going to get electronic mail, sometime c. 1995, it was all a bit mysterious as to what we would use it for. We all went to some computer lab, where it was explained what it was and how to send it. We were instructed to create messages. One of my colleagues wrote to me, “How did I get here?”, which is the first e-mail I ever received. I replied, “Same as it ever was.”

These, of course, are references to the Talking Heads song Once In A Lifetime, which was then stuck in my head, and now I’m going to stick in YOUR head. (If that link doesn’t work, try this one.)

Some things I remember:

I know we could NOT have gotten to the World Wide Web before January 1995 because our director at the time gave a talk about the Kobe, Japan earthquake, showing what was available on the web. I was annoyed that other offices in our building had email and web access before we did since we had what I felt was a more direct need.

Long before the e-mail etiquette has been codified – no SHOUTING, e.g. – there would be some unpleasantness about the “tone” of a message. There was a real learning curve, with some hurt feelings.

One of the business advisers from one of our outreach centers came to visit us in the central office, c. 1997. Their office did not yet have e-mail; given how ubiquitous it is now, I know that’s hard to believe, but was nevertheless true. I sent some e-mail to a few people, including my colleague who was sitting at his desk perhaps three meters away. The adviser thought this was daft. “He’s right here! Why don’t you just tell him?”
I had a dream the night after the “forgotten” info was revealed to me, and it featured a song giving the days of the week:

It’s Sunday
Monday Tuesday
It’s Wednesday Thursday Friday

I realized the tune was What You See Is What You Get by the Dramatics. Here’s the Soul Train rendition, which cuts off too soon, but is more fun to watch. I’m a sucker for the rolled tongue effect.

Not to be confused with WYSIWYG.

T is for Talking Heads

The album Speaking in Tongues had come out only a couple months before the SPAC concert, featuring their only American Top 10 hit, Burning Down the House.

Frantz, Weymouth, Harrison, Byrne
Frantz, Weymouth, Harrison, Byrne

One of the two greatest concerts I ever saw was the August 1983 performance of Talking Heads at the Saratoga Performance Arts Center, which someone put online; actually, here’s another recording. It starts with David Byrne by himself on guitar and percussion. He’s joined by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, who were married in 1977, on drums and bass, respectively, for a song or two, before Jerry Harrison joins on guitar. That was the core band, but then the additional players are added in; the process was so organic.

This is the same tour from which the classic Jonathan Demme film Stop Making Sense was taken, but this is the complete concert, not just a truncated show.

The album Speaking in Tongues had come out only a couple of months earlier, featuring their only American Top 10 hit, Burning Down the House. LISTEN to the whole album. I always associated that album, along with a few others of that period, as forerunners of the compact disc, for the versions of several songs on the CD, which I got a number of years later, were longer than the versions on the LP, which I had purchased soon after it came out.

The new wave band Tom Tom Club was founded in 1981 by Frantz and Weymouth as a side project. Their big hit Genius of Love [LISTEN], which is in the Talking Heads concert, has been sampled by several artists , including Mariah Carey on her hit single Fantasy.

LISTEN to Psycho Killer from Talking Heads ’77, and the parody Psycho Chicken by The Fools.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

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