Saturday, December 27, 2008

Trees Talking Heads, 1979-82

If you consider solo and side projects of a particular band, you can trace their lineage much like a family tree.  

For example, take the Beatles:
Being the Beatles, you can assume the family tree is going to be strong.

The Beatles > George Harris' Son > Ringo Starski > Polio McCartney > Chum Lemon > Traveling Wilburys (ugh) > Wings > Plastic Ono Band > etc.

You could argue the case that further branches would spring off for everyone involved with the Wilburys and Plastic Ono Band, but for the sake of brevity (haha!), I did not bother.

(L-R) Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, David Byrne, Jerry Harrison (with Residents shirt!)  

One of the strongest of music family trees would be Talking Heads. The sheer quality of output amongst band members and offshoots - especially during their peak period of 1979-82, rivals that of anything put against it.  

1979s dark and paranoid Fear of Music, Talking Heads' third long player, shifted the band's path towards sheer brilliance.  Produced by Brian Eno, the album would feature Robert Fripp's guitar work on the opening track, 'I Zimbra'.  Interestingly enough, the same track - in addition to 'Life During Wartime', highlights both Ari Up of The Slits and actor Gene Wilder on congas.

That's right!  Gene Wilder.

The Beatles never had Wily Wonka on congas, now - did they?   

Note: I am focusing on the '79-82 period of the band because it was not until 1979 that Talking Heads progressed beyond sounding like New York legends, Come On.  

Everyone knows that.

First live performance with Jerry Harrison (far left) - CBGBs, New York City

Eno would once again take the helm for the Talking Heads' fourth and arguably greatest album, 1980's polyrhythmic masterpiece Remain in Light. The album would include former Frank Zappa and David Bowie guitar virtuoso Adrian Belew, former Labelle powerhouse Nona Hendryx on backing vocals, and future Power Station frontman Robert Palmer on percussion. 

To realize the complexity of the music for the supporting tour, the band would expand its line-up to include Belew, Hendryx, former Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell, bassist Busta Jones, backing singer Dolette McDonald, and percussionist Steve Scales - all very highly skilled musicians in their own right.    

This line-up, as well as the early 4-piece band, was featured on 1982's double live album, The Name of This Band is Talking Heads.  Like all of the Talking Heads discography, the album did not chart well.  It did, however, receive stunning accolades - many hailing it as the greatest 'official' live album ever produced.  

(L-R) Chris Frantz, David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth

During the layoff between 1980's Remain in Light and 1983's Speaking in Tongues studio albums, each of these musicians - in addition to tragically forgotten R&B drummer and session hero Yogi Horton, would strongly contribute to the various Talking Heads' solo material:  

* David Byrne would score Twyla Tharp's avant-dance production, The Catherine Wheel (Byrne, Worrell, Belew, Frantz, Eno, Harrison, Scales, McDonald, Horton).  He would then partner with Eno for the brilliant My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Byrne, Eno, Frantz, Jones, Scales).  Both stunningly good albums.  

* Jerry Harrison would release the terribly underrated The Red and The Black (Harrison, Belew, Worrell, Scales, Hendryx, McDonald, Horton).  At the time, the more ridiculous of criticisms of the album was that it was nothing more than a Remain in Light rehash.  Hogwash.  Considering how involved Harrison was in the creative process of Talking Heads, it makes complete sense that his solo material would incorporate similar soundscapes.    
And while it is slightly out of the focused-upon time period, in 1984 Harrison would collaborate with Bootsy Collins for the superb 5 Minutes EP as Bonzo Goes to Washington.  I've included it here, as it is so darned hard to find these days.  

* Husband and wife team Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth would form Tom Tom Club, releasing their self-titled debut LP (Frantz, Weymouth, Belew) in 1981.  The album would spawn one of the more sampled tracks in all of hip-hop history, Genius of Love.

* Adrian Belew would spin his work with the Talking Heads into a ride with Robert Fripp's King Crimson, who would release the excellent (and Talking Heads-like) Discipline.  Afterwards Belew would release his acclaimed (and Talking Heads-like) debut, Lone Rhino

* And in keeping with the spirit of the post, we've also got Nona Hendryx's 1983 second album, Nona (Scales, Worrell, Weymouth).  As with Bonzo Goes to Washington, it does tip-toe out of the time frame. However, the middle-of-the-road 80s R&B on Nona puts a deserved spotlight on a truly wonderful singer. 


As always, all thanks go to the original posters of this material.
And all comments welcomed.  Ingrates.          

Talking Heads:

Fear of Music, 1979 -- Art of Modern Rock Blog

Remain in Light, 1980 -- Tsururadio Blog (Vinyl recording!)

Updated Link: 

David Byrne:

Jerry Harrison:

The Red and the Black, 1981 -- The amazing Rho-Xs Blog

Chris Frantz & Tina Weymouth:

Tom Tom Club, 1981 -- Same as Above: Rho-Xs Blog

Adrian Belew:

King Crimson's Discipline, 1981 -- 2000 Mustangs Blog

Lone Rhino, 1982 -- DJ Koppig Blog

Nona Hendryx:

Nona, 1982 -- Quiet! There's a Lady on Stage Blog

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