[Review] Talking Heads: 77 (1977)

The band’s nervous, brilliant debut is a sugarcoated pill for an anxious age.

Kronomyth 1.0: A heads of their time.

William Ruhlmann captured this beautifully in a review for AMG, an excerpt of which follows: “All pretenses of normality were abandoned… the staggered rhythms and sudden tempo changes, the odd guitar tunings and rhythmic single-note patterns, the non-rhyming, non-linear, non-narrative lyrics full of aphoristic soundbites that came across like odd remarks overheard from a psychiatrist’s couch, and that voice, singing above its normal range, leaping into falsetto and from there into strangled cries like a madman trying desperately to sound normal.”

I was aware of this music in 1977, but Elvis Costello and (later) The Clash had the steam to reach my suburbs first, the Heads only landing in my little world with Fear of Music. The whole NYC scene (Television, Patti Smith) took years to filter down to me, so I can’t write a testimony to how Talking Heads: 77 changed my life. In fact, this is the last Heads album I bought, finally capitulating after resisting the purchase for years (I equate order with complacent thinking).

Spinning the clock back to 1977, this music would have instantly caught your ear and maybe even blown your mind. David Byrne sounded (and looked) like an accountant after a nervous breakdown, all his work papers shredded into musical confetti. It would be tempting to see the Heads as the class clowns of the new art rock school if Byrne’s angst weren’t so palpable. It’s a ride unlike any other, where the roads to Candyland and morbid self-obsession cross. Some of the treats are half-baked (“Who Is It?,” “Tentative Decisions”), others surprisingly intricate (“Happy Day”) and a few reveal a real sweet-tooth (“Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town,” “Pulled Up”).

The subsequent Eno albums were alien creatures that often buried the band’s helium energy under layers of exotic effects and cross-cultural experiments. If Remain In Light was a mature cabernet, Talking Heads: 77 was a well-shook soda can. The more I listen to this, the more I might be convinced that 77 is indeed one of the most important alternative rock albums from the 70s/80s.

Original elpee version

A1. Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town (2:48)
A2. New Feeling (3:09)
A3. Tentative Decisions (3:04)
A4. Happy Day (3:55)
A5. Who Is It? (1:41)
A6. No Compassion (4:47)
B1. The Book I Read (4:06)
B2. Don’t Worry About The Government (3:00)
B3. First Week/Last Week… Carefree (3:19)
B4. Psycho Killer (David Byrne/Martina Weymouth/Christopher Frantz) (4:19)
B5. Pulled Up (4:29)

Songs written by David Byrne unless noted.

CD reissue bonus tracks
12. Love–>Building on Fire
13. I Wish You Wouldn’t Say That
14. Psycho Killer (acoustic)
15. I Feel It In My Heart
16. Sugar On My Tongue

Original 8-track version
A1. Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town
A2. Happy Day
A3. Don’t Worry About The Government
B1. New Feeling
B2. Tentative Decisions
B3. First Week/Last Week… Carefree
C1. Who Is It?
C2. No Compassion
C3. The Book I Read (beginning)
D1. The Book I Read (conclusion)
D2. Psycho Killer
D3. Pulled Up

The Players

David Byrne (guitar player and singer), Chris Frantz (drummer), Jerry Harrison (guitar and keyboard player, 2nd singer), Martina Weymouth (bass player). Produced by Tony Bongiovi, Lance Quinn & Talking Heads; engineered by Ed Stasium.

The Pictures

Cover by David Byrne. Photography by Mick Rock.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on September 16, 1977 in the US and Portugal (Sire, SR/M5/M8 6036), the UK (Sire, 9103 328), Canada (Sire, QSR/M5 6036), Germany (Sire, K 56 647456 657), Japan (Philips, RJ-7321) and the Netherlands (Philips, 6370 813) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #97 on the US charts and #60 on the UK charts. 8-track features different track order.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the Philippines (Warner Bros./WEA, SR 6036).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in Japan (Sire, P-6485) with lyrics innersleeve.
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1987 in the US (Sire, 6036-2).
  4. Re-packaged with More Songs About Buildings and Food on 2-for-1 double cassette in May 1987 (Sire, 23712).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in 1990 in Japan (Warner Music, WPCP-3620).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in 1998 in Japan (Sire, WPCR-2661).
  7. Re-issued on compact disc in 1999 in Germany (WEA, 27423).
  8. Re-released on expanded compact disc on January 10, 2006 in the US (Rhino) with 5 bonus tracks.
  9. Re-issued on compact disc on February 22, 2006 in Japan (WPCR-75151).
  10. Re-released on expanded, remastered/remixed compact disc + audio dvd in 2006 in Europe (Rhino, 73297-2) with 5 bonus tracks.
  11. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee on April 18, 2009 in the US (Rhino, 79884-1).

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