1977 was a landmark year for music. While many will point to those 12 months as the pivotal moment punk exploded onto the mainstream, it was a band operating outside of even that rock and roll periphery that arguably released the album of the year. Talking Heads’ debut record Talking Heads: 77 would go on to not only define a generation but provide ample resources for musical innovation for decades to come.
The record set the band apart from the rest of the herd and began a journey that would see the group become one of the most revered artists of the 20th century. Of course, with an astounding debut album, one which was gathering fans if not necessarily record sales, comes the pitfall of trying to top it. “Second album syndrome” is a phrase you will hear a lot in music journalism but, apparently, it never came close to entering David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and, later, Jerry Harrison’s cultural lexicon.
The notion of a “difficult second album” is one that is perpetuated by a ream of artists who could never top their debut. Theoretically, at least, it works out. A band or artist have usually been plugging away at the music industry for some time before they’re given their debut LP. It means that all of the years of human experience and artistic endeavour are encapsulated in those eight to twelve songs, usually providing a robust assessment of the artist at hand. It also means that, when asked to follow up a successful debut, usually within months, most bands struggle to find the same expressions that had given them the opportunity.
Perhaps Talking Heads were just a different entity, perhaps the demand for artistic evolution and innovation ensured that Byrne, Frantz, Weymouth and Harrison would always be working one step ahead. But one thing is for sure, they weren’t slowed down by their debut LP or the expectations to deliver another masterpiece. No, Talking Heads were encouraged and propelled by it.
Following the band’s momentous breakthrough year, they were back in the studio almost immediately, ready to deliver yet another step forward in their march towards greatness. More Songs About Buildings and Food is arguably the band at their swashbuckling best, it captures the band full of youthful verve and untainted enthusiasm. It’s also the moment that a very important friendship was born between singer Byrne and a new producer.
Having already asserted himself as one of the forewords in electronic music thanks to his “magic box” performances with Roxy Music, as well as his stints producing alongside David Bowie and Lou Reed, Brian Eno was the name on everybody’s lips. He instantly fell in love with Talking Heads upon hearing their music and found a partner in Byrne who would push him creatively to new heights. With Eno on hand, the group forged what would become as near to an archetypal Talking Heads sound as is possible.
Eno took their punk-aligned rambles and, with the help of his synth, gave them a new direction. The unique combination of punk ethics with funk-driven grooves meant they were a hit among the New York intelligentsia as well as the sound of the streets. As well as a stonking cover of ‘Take Me To The River’ from Al Green, the album also packed a punch with the brilliant ‘Found A Job’ too. In truth, it is an album that is greater than the sum of its parts.
On this record, Talking Heads had found their niche. They weren’t happy to be typecast by anything and were instead intent on pushing themselves forward at an alarming rate. If Brian Eno pointed them in the right direction he didn’t need to help with the power to get them moving, it was already there in bucketloads and the band were now ready to kick on and create a legacy.