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40 Years of Brilliance: Looking Back at ‘More Songs About Buildings and Food’ by Talking Heads

More Songs About Buildings and Food

Talking Heads.

Their influence is undeniable. Just look around. Radiohead got their name from a Talking Heads song. Vampire Weekend adapted their Post-Punk/New Wave style into Yacht Rock. David Byrne is STILL collaborating with some of music’s biggest names, like mega-producer Brian Eno and songbird of our generation St. Vincent.

This level of cultural relevance isn’t easy to achieve, but it was locked in for the Talking Heads as soon as their sophomore effort, More Songs and Buildings and Food was released in 1978. Talking Heads: 77 is a wonderful album as well, but once can be a fluke. Two amazing albums? Well now we’re talking about a pattern. And More Songs… certainly is amazing. But let me back up.

Talking Heads is, at its core, bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz, guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison, and front man David Byrne. They gained fame opening for the Ramones at CBGB, a notorious home for the American punk movement, for their use of funk, African rhythms, and David Byrne’s dorky and buttoned up energy — a serious departure from the gleeful exuberance of the punk scene.

Their first release, Talking Heads: 77 achieved moderate success, charting as high as #60 in the UK; the US was less immediately receptive with only Psycho Killer seeing the charts, ranking 92nd at its height. The Heads went back to the drawing board, looking to refine their sound. David reached out to Brian Eno, a fine musician in his own right, but who was quickly becoming a producer of note from his work on David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” of albums (Low, Heroes, and Lodger). With Eno’s help tightening up and a new focus on danceable beats, More Songs About Buildings and Food exploded onto the scene.

And I mean that. Just listening to the opening of track 1, “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel.” There’s no real build up, they just throw you in to a rollicking rhythm section and a fun guitar riff. David’s wail joins the instrumentation quickly. The song is short at 2:11, and ends with the line “show me what you can do.” And that’s just what Talking Heads have done. It’s a quick introduction to their style, and the march forward continues.

Side one (and really, the whole album) consists of a lot of funky songs that are easy to dance to. “With Our Love” laments a relationship long since soured paired with the fear of leaving said relationship. “The Good Thing” reads like a self-actualization mantra you’d actually want to be humming all day. “Warning Sign” sees David cautioning both us and himself about overlooking flaws in beginning stages of a relationship and how you can be setting yourself up for heartbreak. It lightens up a little bit after that, with “The Girls Want to Be with the Girls” (about needing someone you can be with who understand what you’re going through) and “Found a Job” (about a couple in dire straits that don’t like anything on TV so they decided to make their own shows, thus saving their relationship in the process).

Side two opens with “Artists Only,” an incisive and sarcastic impression of the pretentious art students David met during his brief college tenure. The sarcasm continues in “I’m Not in Love,” where the pulsing rhythm recalls a heart beating fast, a counterpoint to the lyrics about this encounter just being about sex and the narrator lying about both himself and the world not needing love. Stay Hungry is more about the act of sex itself, with the narrator pushing his partner into a physical relationship— it also leads effectively right into the only cover on the album, “Take Me to The River.” Things slow down a bit as Byrne becomes half crazed minister, half seductive barfly. “The Big Country” is the inverse of 77’s “Don’t Worry About the Government,” with a pretentious and elitist character looking dismissively at the lifestyle of the flyover states.

More Songs About Buildings and Food has varied and exciting instrumentation paired with Byrnes unique vocals and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. It’s no surprise that Talking Heads were considered by many to be the “it” band of the close of the 70s, with this album catapulting them to 29th on the Billboard Charts and 21st on UK charts. They continued to experiment with great success, with the next few years seeing perennial classics like Fear of Music, Remain in Light, and Speaking in Tongues, plus incredible tours leading to the greatest concert film of all time, Johnathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense.

But when you look back, More Songs… is where it all started for them. It’s great top to bottom, holds up incredibly, and is my personal favorite of their studio albums. So, music class is in session and your teacher is Talking Heads. Give More Songs About Buildings and Food a spin, dance to some of the 70’s funkiest grooves, and think about one of the greatest influences in rock history. They’ve earned it.

-George Heftler

Pop-Break Staff
Pop-Break Staffhttps://thepopbreak.com
Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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