Listen to this track by once-big suited Talking Heads frontman turned Latin music enthusiast David Byrne. It’s “Loco De Amor”, or in the English “Crazy For Love”, don’t you know. The track appears on Byrne’s 1989 solo record Rei Momoand his first, put out when Talking Heads was on something of a hiatus (they’d break up officially in 1991), and when his artistic mind turned outward from North American radio play to locales and sounds further to the south.
In addition to the salsa and reggae touched on here on this tune, the record as a whole explores a whole gamut of musical styles common to the Caribbean and South America, with Byrne’s post-punk voice at the center of it all. Stark contrast has always been a big part of the post-punk ethos of course. And there’s plenty of loopiness here that makes the tune as lyrically interesting as much as it is sexy and danceable. “Loco De Amor” contains one of my favourite similes in music: “Like a pizza in the rain/No one wants to take you home …”. So, Byrne was still writing David Byrne songs, just as he’d done while with Talking Heads.
Yet when the song was written, it was with another musician in mind, and several miles away from the world of Talking Heads, too.
Here’s a clip of art-rock foursome, and post-punk pop innovators Talking Heads. It’s their 1980 track “Once In A Lifetime”, a key element to the high-pinnacle album Remain in Light, and also a bright point in the excellent landmark 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense, directed by Jonathan Demme.
The film was shot in at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, December 1983. It captures the band during a point in their history when they’d expanded their live sound from being a tightly-wound and appropriately claustrophobic post-punk four-piece into something of an Africanized pop-funk collective.
Several side musicians from the funk world (members of Parliament Funkadelic and The Brothers Johnson are represented) were installed on these dates to fill out their sound, and effectively reposition their material into a more dance-oriented style, while losing nothing of its spiky, psychologically angular rock impact. Read more
Here’s a clipof New York-based art-pop mavens Talking Heads with their 1983 hit “This Must Be the Place” as taken from their closer-to-pop album Speaking in Tongues.
With this tune, for me at least, it sounds like it’s been going on for a while before we get to hear it; it kind of feels like we listeners catch it in midstream. It’s a huge song, yet at the same time very unassuming. And you get the feeling too, that after it fades, it’s still going on, like a river working its way underground. Of course, the band are carrying forth the same kind of approach which placed an emphasis on groove, the same approach that they’d managed on the album which many consider to be their masterpiece – Remain in Lightfrom 1980.
On that record, the influences of African funk music are evident, and quite clearly it’s had an indelible effect on this track too. But, Talking Heads had played with sound akin to Fela Kuti and Afrobeat before on the track “I Zimbra” off of their equally excellent Fear of Music album.
It’s quite clear that the band was building toward the kind of sound where the melodies they were making would be free to roam around a rhythm, rather than constrained to a set of chord changes. And it’s none so evident than it is on “This Must Be the Place”, where David Byrne‘s vocal kind of wanders dreamily, yet within the bounds of the hypnotic engine which is moving behind it thanks to Chris Frantz’s drums, Tina Weymouth’s bass, and Jerry Harrison’s keyboards.
With funk, a one-chord groove is a characteristic which is a defining element to the style. And certainly with Talking Heads’ approach to it, that strength of a single chord groove is vital to how this song grabs the attention of the listener. But where a lot of funk music is about movement and sensuality, with this band, you get the idea that they’re using the principle in an exactly opposite manner.
With this tune, the interlocking grooves are not about churning bodies dancing together, about togetherness and physicality. It’s about the relentless workings of machinery, the sounds of the city, the sounds of anonymity and, at worst, dehumanization. In this, the principles of post-punk creep their way into the mix. And of course urban alienation is a major theme running through the band’s work, from ‘Psycho Killer’, to ‘Born Under Punches’, to ‘Road to Nowhere’. When it comes to songwriting, as inventive as they were with presentation, they never took their eye off the ball.
Talking Heads were exceptional for a lot of reasons. But one was that you got a sense that all of the songs they wrote were cohesive to an entire body of work, even if they were able to explore different musical areas stylistically. A song like ‘Pulled Up’ from their first album, and ‘This Must Be the Place’ are world’s apart. Yet, they are inextricably Talking Heads songs.
Here’s a clip of David Byrne’s “Dance on Vaseline”, taken from his 1997 album Feelings.
By the end of Talking Heads, Byrne took an interest in Brazilian music, which he promoted on his Luaka Bop label, along with making several solo records which featured Brazilian sounds. On this cut, you can tell that he’s throwing in some of his earlier influences as well, and it becomes something entirely new beyond an established artist who’s trying his hand at world music. This is danceable, sexy, pop music with a little bit of menace lurking underneath.