Don’t Stop Destroyin’ This Heart Of Glass

by John Holbo on July 13, 2008

Quiet around here so I’ll keep up the weekend nonsense posts.

I really like Ladytron’s “Destroy Everything You Touch”. It’s a great single and a fun video. However, it is disconcerting to me, on some level, that the song is basically a cross between Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” all runway cold and post-electropunk. I think that a mash-up of those three songs would be great, if anyone wanted to go to the trouble.

Furthermore, I would like to inquire: what do you think of The Talking Heads? I’ve been listening to a lot of old Heads and I’m puzzled. The first big concert I ever went to was the Heads on the Stop Making Sense tour. It was very early in the tour and Byrne didn’t even have the big suit yet. I would sort of like to be able to claim that this very influential band somehow defined a musical moment, and I was there. But, on reflection, they don’t seem to have had all that much lasting influence. It seems like they matured from a spare, NY-style art rock outfit into a pretty good disco band, sound-wise, with Byrne as flamboyant nerd-showman. But there’s only one David Byrne, so it’s not as though subsequent bands have copied that. And it’s not as though indie music subsequently went the pretty good disco band route. So they were, oddly, an evolutionary dead-end. Am I just talking nonsense?

{ 70 comments }

1

Karl Steel 07.13.08 at 1:58 pm

NY-style art rock outfit into a pretty good disco band, sound-wise, with Byrne as flamboyant nerd-showman. But there’s only one David Byrne, so it’s not as though subsequent bands have copied that. And it’s not as though indie music subsequently went the pretty good disco band route. So they were, oddly, an evolutionary dead-end. Am I just talking nonsense?

I’d say yes. The literate nerd is a by-now venerable type of indie rocker that I’d by now has eclipsed the former type–nasty, drug-addled–of literate rocker; it was very much a type in Olympia’s music scene 1990-1997 or so (think Some Velvet Sidewalk), and probably even now. Disco rock was all the rage in Brooklyn about 5 years ago, and, while it might have claimed that Talking Heads were too mainstream, I’d say that !!!, the Liars, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Rapture owe as much to ‘Making Flippy Floppy’ and ‘Stay Hungry’ as they do to other NYC bands of that era (e.g., ESG and Liquid Liquid). I’d say the only place Talking Heads had no (good) influence were the horrible Little Creatures, True Stories, and Naked albums….

2

Karl Steel 07.13.08 at 1:59 pm

Sorry for the totally ungrammatical comment. Sheesh.

3

Jordan 07.13.08 at 2:12 pm

Yeah, I think you’re talking nonsense. Certainly the hugely popular Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were routinely described as Talking Heads successors (though I don’t hear it myself.) Arcade Fire are big fans and cover This Must Be the Place. Here in Madison we have a fairly popular Talking Heads tribute act, which must give some hint as to what parts of the past the scenesters are interested in.

It’s true that I don’t think you hear much “Talking Heads 77″ in modern indie (and more’s the pity!) but I think there are plenty of yelpy, jerky pop bands that owe plenty to ’80s Heads.

4

John Holbo 07.13.08 at 2:14 pm

Hmmm, fair enough karl. However, I think the literate nerd is a more general category. There were lots of New Wave nerds – Devo, etc. And there is a still more general category of skinny shoegazer art school rocker. But it seems to me Byrne is a bit different than all that. He’s the nerdy Latin-music-loving art school rocker. I feel that the influences you cite are perhaps overdetermined. Admittedly, proof in these questions is hard to establish.

5

Jeff Rubard 07.13.08 at 2:16 pm

Although I agree with Karl about the hidden importance of Talking Heads for “New York rock”, I don’t agree about them being a major input for the Northwest ’90s: I’m sure everybody knew the records by heart, but they wanted to do something different. Also will add that although they were never one of my favorite bands, Radiohead is named for “Radio Head” (never one of my favorite songs).

6

John Holbo 07.13.08 at 2:16 pm

Interesting, Jordan. I have to agree with the “don’t hear it myself” part, re: Clap Your Hands. Arcade Fire? Never thought of that. It’s not as though Arcade Fire sounds like them, though. Maybe the Heads are enjoying a revival, however.

7

winer 07.13.08 at 2:17 pm

and “stop making sense”, the movie, is still the concert film by which all other concert films are measured.

8

Jacob Christensen 07.13.08 at 2:32 pm

Somehow the very idea of “Once in a Lifetime” being performed without The Big Suit is very scary.

Otherwise I stopped following contemporary developments sometime during the mid-1980s so I really can’t say if THs were a dead end, but my impression is that electronica in many ways took over as dance music from the late 1980s.

An unforseen shift in the musical tectonics, perhaps?

9

CK Dexter 07.13.08 at 2:51 pm

I’m pretty sure I’ve read Black Francis say they had a strong influence, if only in spirit and sensibility, on the Pixies, though it’s hard to find it directly in their sound–apart from some vocal elements.

10

Thomas 07.13.08 at 2:54 pm

Not quite a dead end, but a band more often name-checked than actually referenced.

But there is Modest Mouse.

11

jj 07.13.08 at 2:56 pm

But there’s only one David Byrne, so it’s not as though subsequent bands have copied that. And it’s not as though indie music subsequently went the pretty good disco band route. So they were, oddly, an evolutionary dead-end. Am I just talking nonsense?

How about Beck?

12

John Holbo 07.13.08 at 3:00 pm

Beck is more folk-hop.

I am not surprised to hear that so many folks like and admire the Heads. But I persist in not hearing a lot of actual imitation in these cases.

13

bkgood 07.13.08 at 3:13 pm

Indie music eventually did go the “pretty good disco band” route. Examples: LCD Soundsystem, !!!, Outhud, Datarock, the Rapture, etc.

The Talking Heads have a sound that is hard to imitate closely without sounding really obvious, so there isn’t going to be anyone out there who sounds just like them.

14

jj 07.13.08 at 3:29 pm

Beck is more folk-hop.

I would say what bin you put the records in in the record store only takes you so far (or what folksonomy tag you put on it). I still say there wouldn’t be a Beck without David Byrne.

Also “pretty good disco” only applies to Speaking in Tongues and a small number of tracks on later albums. Fear of Music isn’t disco, for instance, and Remain in Light is pretty hard to dance to in most cases…

15

Righteous Bubba 07.13.08 at 3:38 pm

Byrne and Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is the influential work that came out of Talking Heads. Legions of folks who make music and play with tapes followed the release of that record. Seeing the Stop Making Sense tour was okay I supposed but Eno had set sail by then and the Talking Heads got worse.

16

gabe 07.13.08 at 3:40 pm

Danceable white/indie/’art’ music seems to suffer from this, I think because they can’t take their audience with them – imagine if TH had carried on in the same vein as ‘Remain in Light’, which still sounds pretty radical now (disco band doesn’t begin to describe it). The same thing happened for a short period in the early 90s, to the extent that even U2 felt obliged to join in, but that also fizzled out. Thus: when funkiness starts coming back expect to see more TH influenced bands…

17

John Holbo 07.13.08 at 3:44 pm

Hmmm, I take it no one wants to discuss how that Ladytron song sounds strangely like Journey?

(Not that I mind talking about the Talking Heads.)

18

gabe 07.13.08 at 3:44 pm

That Beck video is indeed very Byrnesque (Byrnean? Byrnish? Byrnese?)

19

ogmb 07.13.08 at 3:47 pm

20

ogmb 07.13.08 at 3:48 pm

I take it no one wants to discuss how that Ladytron song sounds strangely like Journey?

Sorry, I don’t hear either Journey or Blondie.

21

polishalice 07.13.08 at 4:03 pm

Y0u can hear a lot of Royksopp

compare Ladytron:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fOExDknuYM&feature=related

with Royksopp: Remind Me

22

John Holbo 07.13.08 at 4:18 pm

Dude, listen to the just the opening bars. It’s the opening bars that have it, then it sort of filters through the rest.

23

Jeff Rubard 07.13.08 at 4:23 pm

Hmmm, I take it no one wants to discuss how that Ladytron song sounds strangely like Journey?

John, “Don’t Stop Believing” is important advice about propositional attitudes, but I would say that the Blondie influence is the funky-authentic part of the song and the rest is basic New Order-esque electro; I’m sure someone more knowledgeable could find you a perfect Italo-Disco match.

24

John Holbo 07.13.08 at 4:28 pm

But… but .. it’s that signature Journey keyboard intro. Why won’t anyone believe me?

25

Righteous Bubba 07.13.08 at 4:28 pm

Dude, listen to the just the opening bars.

Sounds like Midnight Express.

26

Dave Maier 07.13.08 at 5:05 pm

I’m not sure how to address the issue of influence, but in 1980 Byrne & Co (including Eno) were all the rage in my set. The first four records are all equally great, with the film as an amusing look back. Also, as already mentioned, Bush of Ghosts, and Byrne’s The Catherine Wheel. After that, feh.

As for Ladytron, I don’t know the band, but their very name echoes another influence on T.H. and that whole scene: it’s a track on the first Roxy Music album.

27

doug 07.13.08 at 5:37 pm

I think you’ve got it when you say they defined a musical moment, and you should be able to feel proud of having been there for it. But you’re also right that, evolutionarily, they were a “dead end.” That’s because TH were the kind of band that you couldn’t imitate (well) without it being blatantly obvious that you were doing so…and musicians mostly hate it when audiences can immediately pinpoint their strongest influence.

People will cover Talking Heads for years to come, but most will leave it at that. The trick is to figure out how their influence–which is undeniable–can be recognized, since it cannot be so on a strictly musical level.

In other words, the “idea of” the Talking Heads is the meme to focus on here ;p Props to John for taking CT to this level, btw. Henry, what’s in your pop-culture closet?

28

ben wolfson 07.13.08 at 5:38 pm

I believe Holbo is too narrowly construing what might count as being an influence.

29

winer 07.13.08 at 5:57 pm

“I believe Holbo is too narrowly construing what might count as being an influence.”

that’s an interesting comment. an influence doesn’t necessarily have to leave a perceivable trace for the listener. axl rose always said he was influenced by elton john, and while if i stretched my ears really hard, i could probably find some way to hear that, it makes more sense to say that the influence affected his imagination, but didn’t come out on record. i could see the same being true with, say, TH and Arcade Fire.

30

Ben Alpers 07.13.08 at 6:07 pm

I’d say the only place Talking Heads had no (good) influence were the horrible Little Creatures, True Stories, and Naked albums….

Let me give one cheer to Naked. Obviously not nearly as good as the five first albums from Talking Heads 77 to Speaking in Tongues, but a good deal better than True Stories. And also more influential. Along with the early David Byrne solo albums, for better of for worse, Naked helped mainstream a lot of “world music” sounds.

So there’s more influence for you.

31

Righteous Bubba 07.13.08 at 6:09 pm

Naked helped mainstream a lot of “world music” sounds.

No more so than the albums that were good.

32

Righteous Bubba 07.13.08 at 6:18 pm

With regard to the TH live show it’s worth noting that a lot of African acts like Fela Kuti would start with a small unit on stage and build to a larger ensemble as the show went forward.

33

CK Dexter 07.13.08 at 6:26 pm

This is just a hunch, but perhaps you’ll hear their influence in Vampire Weekend? I can’t be bothered to research that, since VW’s cutesy Paul Simon Graceland schtick bores me, but I’d suspect…

34

John Voorheis 07.13.08 at 6:38 pm

It’s not Talking Heads per se, but you can draw a direct line from Byrne and Eno’s “My Life In The Bush of Ghosts” through Old School Hip Hop to essentially all sample based music production. And they did it with tape loops, not an MPC.

35

JP Stormcrow 07.13.08 at 7:01 pm

I’m with Wolfson in 28, influence needs to be viewed more broadly.

36

Daniel Rosa 07.13.08 at 7:34 pm

My favourite Talking heads record is, by far, Remain In Light. It doesn’t sound much like what the T. H. did before or after, and I don’t think that the Remain In Light sound was an influence on recent bands. At least, I haven’t heard it. Too bad!

37

Righteous Bubba 07.13.08 at 7:50 pm

There are various downloads available of Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards Eno uses in his work that are useful for getting yourself out of a tight spot when composing. Lots of people covet the cards and use them; in this case it’s hard to imagine the influence of the compositional method being audible.

38

John Emerson 07.13.08 at 8:04 pm

In other news, Tina Weymouth’s niece now publishes the Washington Post.

Some say that that is malicious gossip, and I intended it that way.

But why? Isn’t it a good thing for your niece to be the publisher of one of the world’s major, if not really great, newspapers?

Yeah, yeah, sexist.

39

Gustav 07.13.08 at 8:43 pm

Ladytron: their new album, Velocifero, is even better than Witching hour, the album with Destroy everything you touch.

Saw them play in Malmö about a year ago. Great concert.

40

Hudson 07.13.08 at 9:29 pm

You’re kidding with this post, right?

The Talking Heads are one of the most groundbreaking and influential bands of my lifetime (born 1968). Avant garde in every sense — lyrically, musically, stylistically, politically.

The only reason I can imagine for someone failing to see their influence everywhere (have you heard anything by Beirut, for example) is that it is so pervasive.

Banging head against wall.

41

ogmb 07.13.08 at 10:58 pm

but a good deal better than True Stories.

Radiohead liked it. Enough to name themselves after a song off it.

42

Righteous Bubba 07.13.08 at 11:25 pm

Radiohead liked it. Enough to name themselves after a song off it.

They weren’t that good when they started out.

43

John Holbo 07.14.08 at 12:12 am

Hmmm, perhaps the claim of the original post should have been: yes, they have been influential, in that clearly lots of people like and respect them. But they have been, oddly, unimitated for such an important band.

44

mq 07.14.08 at 12:50 am

I’d say the only place Talking Heads had no (good) influence were the horrible Little Creatures, True Stories

I liked both those albums. You just had to keep pace with the evolving genius of David Byrne, naif suburban dad.

45

Jared 07.14.08 at 1:44 am

Talking Heads: I think Karl @1 is right about the literate nerd trope; a pretty clear rejection of romanticism in rock. But that’s the early stuff, before Stop Making Sense. My impression is mid- to late-period Talking Heads is more important for integrating world music–mostly African–into rock. How many people followed this up is another question.

Ladytron: post-9/11 decadence (see also: LCD Soundsystem, Metric, etc.) seems to me to look more to Gang of Four for clues on how to combine disco with punk. With Blondie it was never serious. “Heart of Glass” is no more disco than “Tide is High” is hip hop.

46

Jeff Rubard 07.14.08 at 1:53 am

You just had to keep pace with the evolving genius of David Byrne, naif suburban dad.

You know, there are probably a lot of people who want to introduce you to their Luaka Bop collection right about now. But you really should know that you get to live in the big city because you’re being used.

47

Matt McIrvin 07.14.08 at 1:57 am

I’m a big Talking Heads fan but I am so ignorant about pop/rock/indie music in general that I can’t really say much about how influential they were.

For what it’s worth, I seem to recall the guys in Phish constantly insisting that they weren’t heavily influenced by the Grateful Dead, they were actually heavily influenced by the Talking Heads. But nobody seemed to entirely believe them.

And then on the other side of the coin, people often name They Might Be Giants as Talking Heads-influenced, but they say they’re really not; the similarities that are there probably just come from similar nerdy/NYC/art-school backgrounds.

48

Righteous Bubba 07.14.08 at 2:18 am

Lookit the 1980 Heads in Rome:

49

Wax Banks 07.14.08 at 3:27 am

Pedantry bomb!!

‘Once in a Lifetime’ was not performed in the big suit. In Stop Making Sense at least, it’s performed in (if memory serves) a white suit and nerd glasses and normal-sized pants. The Big Suit isn’t around the whole show.

p.s. Claiming you ‘don’t hear’ the David Byrne influence on CYHSY is pure 100% music-snob posing. The vocalist’s style is practically a straight Byrne lift on some songs, the instrumentation is reminiscent of TH, etc. Songwritingwise there isn’t a hell of a lot of connection, true.

50

Henry (not the famous one) 07.14.08 at 3:35 am

Influence is overrated. Who would you list as influenced by Wilson Pickett? And does a long list make him any greater? Or a short list less so?

51

rm 07.14.08 at 5:49 am

Well, I would list Talking Heads as influenced by Wilson Pickett, obviously.

I can’t believe no one else has gone for the obvious music-snob point: I don’t know who this band “The Talking Heads” is, but if you mean the band the name of which is “Talking Heads,” John, you are talking nonsense, if one can judge by understanding the music. I don’t know about their influence because, like so many others from the Heads era, I have been unaware of what the kids are listening to for 10 to 15 years.

But it seems to me that a band that is ubiquitously covered, and which casts a shadow on hip-hop, folk, world music, that stuff made with electronic things, and whatever music replaced rock, is influential.

All that remains to be made is the “Pickin’ On Talking Heads” album.

52

joel turnipseed 07.14.08 at 6:02 am

Hmmm… looks like someone needs to do a mash-up of Ad Reinhardt’s “How to Look at Art in Modern America” and the Trouser Press Record Guide (plus, say, Pitchfork where TPRG drops off).

Or has someone already done this?

Meantime, c’mon folks: Little Creatures and True Stories are wonderful albums (and True Stories a delightful film).

53

nick 07.14.08 at 7:33 am

[48] does not argue its case strongly enough: that 1980 Rome show is the single best live music accessible via this here series of tubes…

54

Adam 07.14.08 at 8:07 am

Surprised nobody’s mentioned the Dismemberment Plan yet. Their Talking Heads influence is pretty strong, especially on Emergency and I and Change.

To agree with #49, CYHSY is completely aping TH.

55

joel turnipseed 07.14.08 at 9:17 am

Ahem, Nick: with all due respect to TH, this is the greatest live music accessible via these here tubes: 1981 Mats Show at 7th Street Entry.

But de gustibus etcetera… basically: the availability via YouTube of everything from old 120 Minutes shows to live bootlegs and all else in between makes the tubes worth every bloody dollar Comcast sucks from my wallet (well, it does if you also include the existence of stuff like this).

56

Thom Brooks 07.14.08 at 10:07 am

The Talking Heads are one of those bands that I don’t think is my favourite, but the fact that nearly every song in my top 25 on my iPod is by them speaks differently…

57

Josh in Philly 07.14.08 at 10:51 am

John, what RM said: ain’t no “The Talking Heads.” They were so opposed to people adding the definite article that they released an album called The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads. There’s also no “The Fairport Convention” –dunno about “The Pink Floyd”, maybe that’s standard in the UK.

I have nothing of substance to say on the thread topic.

58

JP Stormcrow 07.14.08 at 11:10 am

Counter-pedantry on the “the” question.

David Byrne himself in this article used the construction:

This is more or less what I lived with for many years as a member of the Talking Heads.

Possibly it was overzealous editing.

59

Natasha October 07.14.08 at 2:10 pm

This is just a hunch, but perhaps you’ll hear their influence in Vampire Weekend? I can’t be bothered to research that, since VW’s cutesy Paul Simon Graceland schtick bores me, but I’d suspect…

Yes you can, but since Vampire Weekend channels just about every twenty year old worldbeat groove out there, I’m not sure Talking Heads in general or “Naked” in particular is a direct influence per se.

I like Vampire Weekend and their schtick. I like “Naked,” “Little Creatures,” and “True Stories,” too. The whimsy in the latter two — minus the dollop of humor it was served up with — sure seems onmipresent in the liberals arts grad wing of middle-brow pop culture, including indy pop music and movies.

60

CK Dexter 07.14.08 at 2:36 pm

Re: 40

“The only reason I can imagine for someone failing to see their influence everywhere (have you heard anything by Beirut, for example) is that it is so pervasive.”

I find the Beirut comparison very suprising, can you say more? The only thing Beirut reminds me of, other than random world folk, is Tom Waits.

61

Russell Arben Fox 07.14.08 at 3:35 pm

I’m not even remotely familiar enough with indie pop and rock from the 80s and 90s to weigh in properly on this question, but I decided to submit it to a more knowlegable friend of mine, who said:

“Most of what I would say was already touched upon in the comment thread there. That is: (1) despite his distinctive vocal and performance style, Byrne’s music has been a moving target for the past three decades (and often across a single album), making imitation tough; (2) Byrne has had visible influence as a bridge and promoter for foreign pop in the US; (3) he has had a modest impact in the world of hip hop (and Weymouth and Franz, with the Heads-era ‘Genius of Love,’ had one of the most sampled songs in hip hop history); (4) I’ve heard covers of TH songs from all over (e.g., U2, Robyn Hitchcock, The Cardigans, Bonnie Raitt, Terry Allen, and many others, including the Phish Halloween concert that covered Remain in Light in its entirety), which would seem to indicate that–though there may not be a detectable ‘Talking Heads’ style out there–a lot of musicians listened to them, liked them, and continue to like them well enough to pay tribute through playing their music; and (5) in a hundred years, when people discuss the best concert movies ever made, I wouldn’t be surprised to see ‘Stop Making Sense’ on the list.”

Sounds pretty persuasive to me.

62

Scott 07.14.08 at 7:57 pm

Re:45

I’m not so sure Heart of Glass wasn’t serious (certainly Blondie was serious about disco when collaborating with Moroder). But assuming it wasn’t, how does that keep Heart of Glass from qualifying as disco? Unlike, say, punk, there doesn’t seem to be any required attitude to make it authentic.

They were definitely ahead of the game bringing art school cool (and a dry weirdness undercover as post-modernism) to music. Think of the cover of their first album :77 or the pop art title of their second. This kind of sensibility permeated new wave.

They also deserve credit for exposing a wider audience to African music (after tinkering with it that is). Remain in Light in 1980, a full six years before Graceland.

63

Scott 07.14.08 at 8:18 pm

Sorry John, I don’t hear the Journey either, but I haven’t listened to them much, so who knows. You’ve got some euro-disco arpeggios and the harmonizing sighs that kick-in midway through remind me of My Bloody Valentine, but the song still essentially feels like this:

64

Scott 07.14.08 at 8:22 pm

Okay that link, to Depeche Mode’s Behind the Wheel, doesn’t work. This one should:

65

CK Dexter 07.14.08 at 11:09 pm

Re: 64

Yeah, I hear much DM in many of Ladytron’s tracks. I don’t hear the Journey either.

Off topic, but what’s the deal with the 80’s anachronistically redefining “arty” to mean african music, spasticness, and overflirtation with the fashion world? That scar still hasn’t healed. “Art” rock still seems to mean: wears annoying clothes.

Makes me nostalgic for the velvets. Or the entire history of art before 1981.

66

Righteous Bubba 07.14.08 at 11:14 pm

I don’t hear the Journey either.

I hear what’s meant, I think, but the chord changes are just not the same.

67

Paul Vandevert 07.15.08 at 2:13 am

No, you’re dead on. I think Talking Heads may have been the 20th Century’s Rock n Roll answer to William Blake.

68

Pope Ratzo 07.15.08 at 6:58 pm

Well, I’d disagree. Stop Making Sense was far from the last we’d see of indie rockers making with the disco.

I live a few blocks from Union Park in Chicago, and I’ve been able to sit in my yard and listen to Lollapalooza these past few years. I heard more than a little bit of “disco” from the “too cool for school but not to drool” crowd. In fact, that’s where, a few years back, I was first turned on to Gnarls Barkley. You should’ve seen me and the Mrs. showing off our steppin’ to “Crazy”.

69

Zeba 07.15.08 at 7:57 pm

Pixies, Magnetic Fields, Vampire Weekend, Guillemots. The list could go on – young knives, mystery jets, even Gorillaz and other Damon Albarn projects. Scissor Sisters…The ways that TH has spread its tentacles of influence are many and varied.

I think the nerd-frontman trope is really common nowadays. And indie bands wouldn’t be so dance-friendly/disco-ish w/o TH.

Maybe TH are more influential on UK bands than on US ones. It’s a mix of the music and the image.

70

fbr 07.16.08 at 2:20 pm

To agree with #49, CYHSY is completely aping TH.

This wildly overstates the case. Alec Ounsworth’s voice and singing style is very much like David Byrne’s; the rest of the band, though, isn’t very Talking Headsy at all. New Young Pony Club, on the other hand, is practically a Talking Heads revival with a female vocalist,* and half the bands from the seemingly endless wave of post-punk revivalists are majorly influenced by the Talking Heads’ spare, jerky years.

*Which is not in any way meant as a slam on New Young Pony Club.

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