KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #170: Burning Down the House by The Talking Heads.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Somgs in Modern Music History.

Song #170: Burning Down the House by The Talking Heads.

“Burning Down the House” holds a special place in the career of The Talking Heads because it was the very last song that the band ever played together on stage. The occasion was their induction into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. That performance was the first as a group since the band broke up in 1991.

In the very beginning, David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison were a band that approached their music from the viewpoint that each song was a piece of Art. Thus, their songs didn’t always make sense, lyrically, because the intent of their lyrics was not usually to tell a story. What they often did was use words that complemented the rhythms and beats that stood out as the main focal points of their songs. And, what songs those were! The Talking Heads were very influenced by the genre of Funk, along with, an eclectic collection of songs from across the globe that became known in North America as “World Music”.

The story of “Burning Down the House” comes from a concert experience that husband and wife, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, had in NYC when they attended a concert at Madison Square Garden by the legendary Funk group, Parliment-Funkadelic, lead by George Clinton. In their prime, Parliament-Funkadeic put on ferocious shows that were rooted in grooves that pulsated and bass notes that throbbed. One of their most popular songs was called, “The Roof is on Fire” in which the band encourages the audience to chant back the phrase, “Burn Down the House”, which the band does with high octance Funk. Anyway, a few days following that concert, the members of The Talking Heads were jamming together in studio. David Byrne had the musical structure for the song and was starting to ad-lib phrases that he thought fit the rhythm of their music. Frantz and Weymouth mentioned “Burn Down the House” from their Parliament-Funkadelic concert. Byrne thought the phrase was a good match for the vibe they were after and, after a few tweaks, “Burning Down the House” became a living, breathing entity.

The song was initially released on one of their top selling albums, “Speaking in Tongues”. But, while the album sold well, the song didn’t chart all that high and, at the time, was not considered one of their top studio songs. The funny thing about music is that, sometimes, it isn’t the song, itself, that causes it not to resonate completely with audiences, it is, instead, the format with which the song is presented. Despite slow sales of the song as a single, the band always loved playing it live and always got a great response from concert goers in attendance whenever “Burning Down the House” was played. One thing that helped make a difference between the in-studio version of the song and the live version of the song was that The Talking Heads managed to recruit a man named Bernie Worrell to join them live. *(Worrell was an active member of Parliament-Funkadelic.) His addition to the live band upped the Funk calibre of the song and that, in the end, ended up making all the difference in the world. A live concert film called, “Stop Making Sense” was released a few years later; with the raucous live version of “Burning Down the House” finally available to be viewed and enjoyed by the masses. It was this live, funked-up version of “Burning Down the House” that is the one that we have all come to know and love. I know from my own experiences…..way back when house parties were still a factor in my life…..that this song always sounded awesome coming out of stereo speakers that had good bass! There is just something about good Funk and good Bass that seem to go hand in hand.

So, not surprisingly, when The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame came knocking upon the door of The Talking Heads, they agreed to reunite for one final performance. They played, “Once in a Lifetime”, “Life During Wartime” and then, brought the house down with “Burning Down the House” which was that night, as it was every night, a song whose essence was better felt when played live.

So, needless to say, you will all be getting an awesome live version of “Burning Down the House” for your video this fine day. Feel free to crank the volume; especially, if you have speakers with good bass. Here are The Talking Heads. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Burning Down the House”, by The Talking Heads, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Talking Heads, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “The Roof is on Fire” by Parliment-Funkadelic, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Parliment-Funkadelic, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting the funkiest of bands and artists from all over the world. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #246: Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #246: Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads.

In the totality of the entire Earth, there are hundreds of thousands of singers/bands who have talent and are good at what they do. However, we never hear of 99.9% of them. For those “good” singers, their platform may be their shower stall, the front seat of their car as they head on down the highway or, even, the tiny stages of their local community theatres or clubs. Their audiences are small and tend to be familiar. Those who hear their sweet voices are made better by the experience and, to them, those singers are amazingly gifted. Singing is a cathartic and uplifting experience and brings a sense of pleasure and, for many, that reward is enough to justify their continued attention to their craft. And, that is ok. Not everyone needs to be a “star” in order to make the world around them better.

But, a small fraction of those talented performers DO manage to raise out of the depths of their local scenes and DO become recognizable figures and leaders in the music industry. What is it that causes someone who is a star of their church choir to suddenly become a star on the biggest and brightest stages of the world? One of the most important reasons is thougtful attention to detail in the construction of the original songs they sing. Another is repetition. Hours upon hours spent perfecting notes and keys, dance moves and breath control. Today’s song is a textbook example of what can happen when you have talent and creativity and a work ethic that is second to none. The song is, “Once in a Lifetime” and the band is Talking Heads.

In the mid-1980s, Talking Heads had a string of quirky, intelligent, popular hits including, “Burning Down the House”, “Psycho Killer”, “Life During Wartime”, “This Must Be the Place”, “Girlfriend is Better”, “Road to Nowhere” and “Once in a Lifetime”. To illustrate how a band can achieve national recognition for their work, we will focus on the song, “Once in a Lifetime” and, in particular, the inspiration for the song, the innovative way the musical structure was created, how the music video was choreographed to give it such herky-jerky originality and, finally, how all three aspects tie together to elevate this song above most others to the deliver the message that Talking Heads intended.

Talking Heads consisted of singer, David Byrne, guitarist/keyboards, Jerry Harrison, bassist, Tina Weymouth and drummer, Chris Frantz. All four performers had a background in the Arts and brought that sensibility to the music they created as a group. They never viewed themselves as simply, musicians. They viewed themselves as artists who used the medium of music to tell stories. Movement, language, music, visual props and images all combined to add layers of meaning and interest to their performances. To Talking Heads, how they presented their work was often just as important as the work, itself.

The inspiration for “Once in a Lifetime” was fundamentalist religion in the southern US, in particular. Specifically, singer David Byrne was interested in the mindset of those people who attended those churches where evangelists promised healing and miracles and the coming of The Rapture. In return, parishioners responded with trance-like waving of arms in the air, heads tilted, eyes closed, ready to fill their hearts, minds and souls with the Glory of God. After church was over, many of these same people climbed into their ordinary cars, returned to their ordinary homes with their ordinary families and carried on with their lives. Byrne wondered what those people were like. Did they actually believe the Second Coming was at hand? Were they able to focus of the mundane aspects of living a normal life, such as doing the laundry, mowing the lawn, etc., after being promised miracles? To Byrne, he found the whole thing fascinating and thus, he was able to approach the subject in a non-judgemental manner.

So, in the song, “Once in a Lifetime”, he acts as the preacher and sings/talks his way through the song in the same cadence familiar to anyone who has watched a Gospel sermon in person or on tv. Byrne’s lyrics ask questions about how the lives of those involved in these religious experiences have come to be the way they are and, in doing so, do the parishioners even realize what has become of them? The musical structure of the song is such that each musician was given carte blanche to come in and out of the song as they saw fit. They don’t share the same starting notes nor do they finish on the same beats. Instead, they weave in and out of each other’s musical “noise” in a way that creates a continous wave of music that comes from all directions at once. It isn’t exactly like Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” technique. Instead, it is meant to replicate the waves of emotion and spirituality that characterize many of these religious revival meetings. So, you have lyrics that sound like a sermon from a Gospel preacher, combined with music, whose sound structure replicates the emotions felt during these services which, when taken together, give the song the feel of a live, religious experience.

The final element added by Talking Heads was the construction of the music video that accompanied the song. As mentioned, Byrne was fascinated by the people who wanted so badly to feel the Lord enter their hearts. He was fascinated by them, intellectually but, he was, also, fascinated by them, physically. So, together with choreographer, Tony Basil (who some may remember from her own hit song, “Mickey”), they watched thousands of clips of people in the throes of religious ecstasy. Byrne watched these clips, not as a trained dancer but, in the same way an actor like Robert Deniro or Johnny Depp, would. Once he felt he understood the mannerisms, Byrne and Basil recorded him singing and dancing to various parts of the song, hundreds and hundreds of times. When that was done, they assembled the best of the recorded clips and put them in a sequence that best matched the musical structure and the lyrics. The result was one of the most unique and original music videos of the early MTV-era. Byrne was so pleased with the result that he decided to apply the same technique to the Talking Heads live concert performances of their hits and, as a result, he and Basil created unique choreography/movements for each song. The effect of that was so striking that a movie was made of a live tour called, “Stop Making Sense”.

So, as you watch the video for this “official” video for this song, as well as, a live version , too, please keep in mind all of the carefully considered details that went into the making of this song/performance. There are reasons why some musicians end up rising to the top of their genres. In this case, the holistic planning that went into the creation of “Once in a Lifetime” helps to set it apart from so many other songs of that time. I love how smart a song it is and I appreciate how clever it all was conceived. I hope that you like it, too.

Here is “Once in a Lifetime” by “Talking Heads”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads, can be found here.

The link to the video for the live version of the song, “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Talking Heads can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for always supporting intelligent and creative music. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #419 …This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) by The Talking Heads.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

Kexp: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #419: This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) by The Talking Heads.

The Talking Heads were formed in the mid-1970s and enjoyed much success in the decade or so that followed. The group consisted of charismatic front man, David Byrne, along with Tina Weymouth (bass guitar), Jerry Harrison (lead guitar) and Chris Frantz (drums). Much is made of the fact that these four folks were Art School students. This is a thing because of the way they approached their music; often juxtaposing imagery into their lyrics that helped give deeper meaning to their songs. As well, The Talking Heads were well known for playing around with the lyrical structures of their songs, as well as, the timing of the beats they used. If I dare say, there was an intelligence at work that can be seen in the string of musical gems they produced during their prime. They had hits such as, “Burning Down the House”, “Girlfiriend is Better”, “Life During Wartime”, “Psycho Killer” and “Once in a Lifetime”. In fact, “Psycho Killer”, “Life During Wartime and “Once in a LIfetime” are all inducted into the Song Category of The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

“This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” is from one of their most popular albums called, “Speaking in Tongues”. David Byrne states that this song is a love song. It certainly will give you that feeling when you listen to it. But, Byrne claims to have not wanted to write a love song that sounded like any other love song being played on the radio at the time. So, he created a sort of “inside joke” by writing a love song composed entirely of non-sequiturs. A non-sequitur is a writing convention in which two sentences follow each other in ways that make no sense. For example, if you and I were talking and you started by saying, “Nice weather we’re having today” and I answered with, “Please hold my hand”, you would have non-sequiturs in action. So, the genius of this song is that the entire set of lyrics are comprised of line after line that make no sense in relation to the line that preceded it YET, the song makes sense, overall, AND, the song sounds like a love song, all at the same time.

“This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” is quite an enjoyable sounding song and quite the feat of linguistic dexterity. In addition to the lyrical gymnastics employed by Byrne, the (Naive Melody) part involves the opening few notes and tones that you hear before the first verse starts. Byrne wanted to de-construct the musical structure of what songs could be. In this case, he created an ultra simplistic ostinato, in which the guitar and bass repeat over the course of the entire song without change. So, in essence, The Talking Heads created a new version of how a hit song could be by writing non-sensical lyrics over a simple, repetitive musical structure but, yet, creating a song that sounds wonderful and will have you humming along and tapping your toes.

If your ever wanted to see The Talking Heads at the peak of their creative powers, they released a full-length concert film called, “Stop Making Sense” that was directed by famed Hollywood director, Jonathon Demme. The point of that title was, in fact, the philosophy of the band. They believed in not having to adhere to convention but rather, re-inventing the way Music had been played and, by doing so, creating something new and different that still sounded fresh and exciting and enjoyable. They weren’t an experimental band that produce ambient screeching and called it Art. The Talking Heads were innovative musicians and hitmakers who produced some of the most memorable songs of all time. *In fact, as I watch the video for this song and, in particular, the way Byrne interacts with the lamp, in combination with the non-sensical nature of the lyrics, I am reminded of Gord Downie (of Canada’s own, “The Tragically Hip”) and how he moved about the stage, often improvising but, always exiting and re-entering his original songs perfectly. So, please enjoy, “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).

Enjoy your next meal. These are the times of our lives.

The link to the music video for This Must Be The Place by The Talking Heads can be found here.

The Talking Heads have an interesting website that you can check out by clicking on the link here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting musical artists who create original works for our endless astonishment. A link to their website can be found here.