January 9, 2014
Talking Heads: Take Me To The River US 7″ 
- Take Me To The River 
- 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.
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