David Byrne is one of the great innovators of left-field pop music the world has ever seen, his career with Talking Heads was pioneering, brave and iconic with his solo career flowing in a similar vein. There is nothing quite like seeing Byrne live in action and with live music becoming a distant memory at a time of socially distanced chaos, it is a timely reminder of the utter delight that comes with watching a talent like the former Talking Heads man in action.
Byrne could quite easily turn the phonebook into a poptastic piece of art worthy of acclaim so, when he takes on a track of the magnitude of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, expectations are quite rightly sky-high. Even with those expectations being as high as humanly possible, Byrne still manages to shock with his brilliance. Houston’s original searing vocals on the 1987 hit are nothing short of sublime and played a huge part in the song topping the chart in 13 countries across the globe, as well as winning her a Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance — it would be an impossible task for Byrne to directly try and replicate Whitney, instead he re-imagined it in a way that only he could.
The former Talking Heads man is no stranger to thinking outside of the box and Byrne, never wanting to be like someone else, has always triumphed originality above everything else. With his band Talking Heads, he rose to the top of the pile in New York and, soon enough, began surpassing his counterparts. However, it was never enough for Byrne to pull out a greatest hits tour every few years to pay the bills, Byrne has far more integrity than that.
Instead, the singer continues to take his talents to wherever they lead him, whether that’s to Broadway working on his show American Utopia, he has forged out a career which is unique in every sense of the word that has made him a true icon of music.
Perhaps, the only mainstay over the course of his wildly incredible career is the desire for nothing to stay the same for too long in case it gets stale and to stay forever creatively challenged. Taking on a track like ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ is something that you wouldn’t expect Byrne to do but at the same time, it is the perfect choice of cover for that very reason.
The song was a pioneering anthem in the pop sub-genre now commonly known as a ‘sad banger’ but the number was originally designed to be all-sad with the euphoric element of the song left at the door. Producer Narada Michael Walden originally unhappy with the track given that the songwriting team of George Merill and Shannon Rubicam had failed to match expectations.
“It reminded me of a rodeo song with Olivia Newton-John singing,” Walden later said. “I love Olivia Newton-John, but for Whitney Houston, it didn’t seem right. I felt the song needed a much funkier feel. I slept, dreaming about it, woke up in the morning thinking about it, wondering what am I gonna do with this dance song. So, we just jumped in the water and lo and behold a magic record was born, Houston just knocked it out and then I knew we had a good record.”
Byrne took the structure that Walden had given the original and then sculpted it into his unique world by bending ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ in a fashion that only he could. Take a few minutes out and marvel in Byrne’s magnificence.