Seminal Single: Talking Heads – Take Me To The River

Sire Records | US | 7" | 1978 | SRE 1032

Sire Records | US | 7″ | 1978 | SRE 1032

Talking Heads: Take Me To The River US 7″ [1978]

  1. Take Me To The River [edit]
  2. Thank You For Sending Me An Angel [version]

Writing yesterday about The Ramones brings to mind their contemporaries who were also on the Sire Records label. Unlike The Ramones, Talking Heads were a band than actually managed to worm their way into the conservative Orlando FM Rock playlists of both WDIZ-FM and WORJ-FM. Their second album was released in 1978 and while I’d read about the band the prior year, certainly nothing from “Talking Heads ’77” ever managed to vault the barriers that the management of the aforementioned radio outlets had erected to staunch the flow of this, …this… New Wave! Not so with their sinuous trojan horse single released from their sophomore waxing; “More Songs About Buildings + Food.”

“Take Me To The River” got significant airplay, even where I lived at the time. I still haven’t heard the original version of the Al Green song but this cover is something of a modern classic. It was a significant signpost that the New Wave movement I had only really read about, might be for me. What grabbed me immediately was the synthetic percussive rhythm hook [were they Syndrums?] that built the machine beat that carried the whole song from start to finish. Then the spectral bass line that Tina Weymouth gave the song a rhythmic foundation that grabbed my by the lapels and didn’t let go.

The whole production had the feel of dub reggae but with the warm Hammond organ of Jerry Harrison filling the foreground of the soundstage and distracting from the echoic space almost everywhere in the recording. The final coup de grace was the delivery of singer David Byrne. His neurotic yelp invested the song with incredible tension. As the song comes to its fiery conclusion after the middle eight, his expression vocals suggest total meltdown. In fact, he’s expertly surfing the rolling rhythm of the song to provide the maximum hold and release of tension with his voice.

One thing I distinctly remember when thinking back to the point where this song only existed on the radio for me, was that in the summer of 1978, I remember traveling half way across America from Florida to Texas for a trip, and I heard all sorts of music on FM radio that had not filtered back to sleepy Central Florida. Yet. Things like my first exposure to Van Halen [?!] as well as this song. of course, once I got back home after that vacation, I got my first stereo and within a year had all three Talking Heads albums.

As the initial New Wave salvo occurred and subsided, Talking Heads became an integral part of the Core Collection. Hearing them gave me an inkling that this new New Wave trend be something that actually spoke to me in ways that the disco trend [which was omnipresent at this time] didn’t. It could be a music for alienated outsiders like myself and not just another shallow musical trend, though it would ultimately be that too [see False New Wave].

I’ll admit, that I was wary of New Wave, having been given a savage pummeling by Disco by this time. I didn’t have any “problems” with Disco until one day I looked around and it was everywhere! Not only did New Wave speak to my tastes and concerns as a youth, but I didn’t think that I would have to worry about it consuming our culture whole, as Disco tried… and for 18 months, succeeded. Sure, there were New Wave Cover Versions, but Robert Stigwood’s attempt at a New Wave “Saturday Night Fever” [“Times Square”] fell flat on its face and the hateful Urban Cowboy trend hijacked New Wave’s seat on the trend train for the next year or so. This song [along with DEVO, concurrently] was ample proof that people in the late seventies were making music that spoke to me more effectively than anything else I’d heard in a decade of listening to the radio as if it were my best friend.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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8 Responses to Seminal Single: Talking Heads – Take Me To The River

  1. Brian Ware says:

    This post really struck a chord with me as I had similar struggles making the transition into the 80s. Most of my generation pretty much stopped any forward motion once Simon and Garfunkel broke up. Having grown up with the same radio you did, my 70s experience was a real grab bag. Since Orlando was not exactly a cultural fast lane, my first exposure to new wave acts was Saturday Night Live. However, when acts like DEVO and The B-52s appeared, I just didn’t get it at all. However, “Take Me To The River” finally clicked for me as well, and once I started hearing the likes of Squeeze, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello and Icehouse on our local college radio, it made for a smooth and easy transition.

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  2. chas_m says:

    At this point, Monk, I fear that a hearing of the Rev. Al Green original would disappoint, as it doesn’t have ANY of the tension you enjoy. Nevertheless, it has a soulful arrangement and vocal performance by Al Green, and that is a good thing. Pre-disco R&B.

    As for disco, you think YOU had it bad — *I* was living in Miami when that bomb hit! I had been previously introduced to punk while in Atlanta, and initially rejected it (insert interesting but distracting story of seeing the Sex Pistols here). Elvis Costello first and the Clash later were my introduction to *proper* punk and New Wave, but I was still able to enjoy (gasp) some of the better disco tunes (which, I discovered later, were mostly the ones that were reworked soul/R&B covers). Insert another interesting tale of ending up at a party at the Bee Gees house that would take too long to relay here, but suffice to say that while I wasn’t part of the “disco scene” at any point, Miami was THE place to be if you weren’t in New York. Disco was huge there, and that “lifestyle” affected everything.

    IIRC, I got “into” Talking Heads on the ground floor — like you, I find this odd singer and his nervous tension strangely appealing. I think what initially drew me was the lack of love songs, and later the astute musicianship (and still later, Brian Eno’s involvement from the second album onwards). Those songs hold up pretty well today, and together with Blondie and Devo and a few others proved that while one scene might be getting all the attention, there is usually a better scene bubbling under …

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chas_m – I like what Mark Mothersbaugh said about disco.

      “The other music that was big in the mid-’70s was disco, and it was kind of like a beautiful girl with a great body but no brain. I wanted to be really angry because I hated it, but at the same time I was like ‘What kind of synths are they using to get that sound?’ I begrudgingly would say: Yeah, the song ‘I Was Born To Be Alive’ is idiotic, but there are some really cool synth sounds in it. They made some of the best mixes, and the beats were irresistible, even though I was resisting it because I thought it was moronic.”- Mark Mothersbaugh

      But even he loved “Born To Be Alive.” There’s a copy of the disco 12″ of that [albeit purchased in the 90s] in my Record Cell. But damn! I was UP TO HERE with disco by 1978! It was like fungus! Disco records. Disco movies. Disco TV SHOWS… every sitcom had a “disco episode!” Disco TALK SHOWS [damn your eyes, Merv!]. Anything that ubiquitous, I’m gonna end up hating.

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    • zoo says:

      Chas, out of curiosity, in what part of Miami did you live? I lived there from 1972 (when I was born) through 1994. I must have been too young to notice how much disco infiltrated life in Miami.

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  3. Echorich says:

    Ok, so I had no problem getting my New Wave and Punk on radio from about 1978. As a 15 yr old I discovered college radio and WNYU and WFUV were full of multi-hour dj sets devoted to all that was new and unusual. As well, from 1978 – 80, FM station, WPIX devoted it playlist to New Wave and Punk and broke a number of artist in NYC including Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, The Clash and The Police. I know I had an unfair advantage.
    I discovered my personal musical taste in CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City as well as Hurrah’s in an era in NYC when you could easily get into a club or bar and be well under the age of 18.
    Talking Heads were at the pinnacle of my personal musical discovery having seen them at CBGB’s and feeling like Psycho Killer, from Talking Heads ’77, was the greatest song ever recorded for a number of years. It knocked Bowie’s Heroes out of that slot for a very long time for me.
    But Take Me To The River was something magical. Yes it was certainly the “Trojan Horse” as you so aptly put it Monk, on an album which is very static and fairly intense. The smooth groove of Tiny Weymouth’s bass was entrancing – and given that she was FORCED to re-audition by David Byrne I always thought it was a good old American middle finger salute to Byrne that her bass line is as important to the song as Byrnes vocal interpretation.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I first heard college radio when I was 15, but given that Central Florida was a cultural backwater, I can remember hearing ELP deep cuts on my first brush with college radio in 1978! The next time I turned the dial to se what was out there on WPRK-FM it was 1981 and Rollins college radio had moved with the times. I listened to WPRK-FM until I moved away from Central Florida.

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  4. chas_m says:

    And you can still listen to it anytime you want, thanks to the magic of the inter-tubes, at wprk.org!
    Being a genuine college radio station, not every show is stellar, but the stellar ones are SUPERDUPERSTELLAR. Hex Education Program, Bargain Bin Bonanza, and — whenever I’m in town — me doing new episodes of Chas’ Crusty Old Wave! Gotta love the flying freak flag.

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