Talking Heads: 77

Talking Heads: 77

The grimy downtown club CBGB became the epicenter of New York punk and New Wave starting in 1974. The best-known bands on the scene were happy to credit their hip or cutting-edge influences: Tom Verlaine of Television loved free jazz and 1960s garage rock, Patti Smith named Keith Richards and Arthur Rimbaud as her role models, and everyone in the Ramones adored The Stooges. But Talking Heads stood out for their unironic adoration of KC and the Sunshine Band, Bohannon, and other dance groups—a radical position, given how much CB’s patrons were opposed to disco. Talking Heads: 77, named for the year in which it was released, is an eager first step towards a confident, expert hybrid of musics. It includes perhaps their best-known song, “Psycho Killer,” which singer David Byrne started as a thought experiment—he wondered what it would be like to write a song in the style of Alice Cooper—that came to typify his writing style for a few years. “Psycho Killer” got a second life 40 years later when Selena Gomez interpolated Tina Weymouth’s bass line for her huge hit “Bad Liar.” “No Compassion,” which includes the chilling line, “They say compassion is a virtue, but I don’t have the time,” is an exercise in assuming an indifferent, even cruel, persona—and Byrne inhabits it convincingly. It shows “the rough side of our music,” guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison says. There’s plenty of pleasure on the record too, especially in the interlocking strummed guitar lines played by Byrne and Harrison, which expand on what Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison had done in The Velvet Underground. Tony Bongiovi (a cousin of Jon Bon Jovi) and Lance Quinn co-produced the album; their previous collaborations included Gloria Gaynor’s disco standard “Never Can Say Goodbye.” But their work with Talking Heads was thin and sometimes even twee, a problem the band soon solved.

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