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Music

How Funkadelic inspired a Talking Heads classic

@TomTaylorFO

As a band, Talking Heads moseyed up to the music industry, introduced themselves as an intergalactic presence, walked it hand-in-hand to the dancefloor and showed it how to make Flippy Floppy. Endeavours of the otherworldly sort are not lost on George Clinton, the merrymaking maestro from outer space.

In fact, while Talking Heads may have had the freakishly original intent of coming in peace and providing the world with “Thinking Man’s Dance Music,” Clinton claims to have literally descended from “Another Planet” on his benevolent quest to conquer Earthly banality as the pioneering force behind the P-Funk party empire. He emerged from the “Mothership” with the gift of funk, and a heavy, wildly conceptual brand at that, and he hasn’t looked back since. 

Along the way, he has naturally inspired anyone who has even vaguely been influenced by funk, but when it comes to Talking Heads, the impact was rather more direct. The soft gathering storm of the acoustic plucking that opens ‘Burning Down the House’, the opening track on the band’s 1983 masterpiece Speaking in Tongues, is the sound of a fuse being lit before the funk explosion of the main composition.

The song itself is perfectly entwined with the backstory behind its inception. Tina Weymouth wrote on the liner notes of Once In a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads that “Chris Frantz had just been to see Parliament-Funkadelic in its full glory at Madison Square Garden and he was really hyped. During [a Talking Heads jam session] he kept yelling ‘Burn down the house!’ which was a P-Funk audience chant and David dug the line.”

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This carefree way to craft a song, the passionate enthusiasm for music that spawned it and the scintillating skill in being able to pull it all off in a simple jam session speaks of artists at the height of their form. The song itself sounds exactly like the fevered excitement of simply making music and having fun and it’s one hell of a thing to hear. This fun is an echo of the central tenet of P-Funk’s musical party. 

However, there is an even more tangible link than that. The legendary Bernie Worrell – once described by Jon Pareles as “the kind of sideman who is as influential as some bandleaders” – was both a P-Funk founding member and a Talking Heads collaborator. His involvement in both acts hints at a kinship they joyously shared. It is, without doubt, one of the greatest attributes of both trailblazing acts that they weren’t unhinged by their own sense of individualism and were happy to celebrate the artistic vision of others.

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