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Credit: Talking Heads


The Cover Uncovered: How Talking Heads made the artwork for ‘Remain In Light’

Soon after David Byrne met Chris Frantz at the Rhode Island School of Design in the early seventies, they had an image in their head. The image wasn’t clear, but what they did know is that they didn’t want to be like anybody else. They formed their first band in 1973, called Artistics. From these humble beginnings, the snowball of their creativity rolled downhill gathering momentum as they expanded their scope. Frantz managed to persuade his girlfriend, Tina Weymouth, to learn the bass guitar in the meantime. By the mid-1970s, the three had moved to New York City and had reformed Artistics as a trio, renaming the band Talking Heads ahead of their first gig supporting punk pioneers the Ramones.

By 1977, Talking Heads had recruited Jerry Harrison, the guitarist from Jonathan Richman’s The Modern Lovers, and were becoming the cream of the city. Their debut album was met with high acclaim from listeners and peers alike with its catchy, funk-infused take on punk music with their first charting single ‘Psycho Killer’ doing much of the leg work. One peer particularly drawn to Talking Heads’ creativity was the experimental producer and musician Brian Eno.

For the next three years, Talking Heads and Brian Eno were fused as one during a period where Eno was almost considered the “fifth head”. The next three albums were produced by Eno as the band’s sound gradually channelled Talking Heads into a genre of their own, thanks to the creative influence and experience of Eno, who had recently helped David Bowie with his most experimental albums during his time in Berlin. 

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Of the three albums made during the partnership with Eno, Remain in Light was the most inventive and received the highest praise. The lead single ‘Once in a Lifetime’ buoyed the album in the charts, but under the surface, the album had so much to offer too. From pacey hits like ‘Crosseyed and Painless’ and slower tracks like ‘Listening Wind’, the album explores a wide range of themes and emotions with Eno’s trademark obscure creativity ever-present in the production of the music. The uniqueness of Byrne’s almost yelping vocals accompanied with afrobeat influences, inspired by Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, add a fresh sound to the record as it looked to stand out amongst work from other experimental rock artists of the time. 

This extremely progressive music was accompanied by aptly abstract and artistic cover artwork. Originally, the album was to be called Melody Attack, and the front cover was intended to sport a pop-art inspired arrangement of Gruman Avenger torpedo bomber planes taken from an in-flight photograph taken over the Himalayas. This image was used as a tribute to Tina Weymouth’s father Ralph, who served as a US Navy Admiral during World War II. The design was created by Weymouth and Frantz with help from MIT media labs. It took a, now incomprehensible, effort to produce due to the limited computing power available at the time. 

The aeroplane design was subsequently relegated to the back cover of the sleeve when the album’s name was changed to Remain in Light. The name was changed because the band decided that Melody Attack was a tad “flippant” to accompany the style of music on the album. With the change of name, the graphic design originally intended for the rear cover was instead chosen for the front cover.

It was created by graphic designer Tibor Kalman and the idea came from Weymouth’s passion for masks. What resulted was the cover we have all grown used to, showing the four faces of the band members obscured by an invasion of red.

The idea of including Eno in the design was considered for a time due to his expressed interest in being included as an extension of the band, but in the end, this thought was abandoned. The effective and salient design was complemented with the use of inverted “A”s in the title font to add to the abstract wonderment and catchy aesthetic.

Remain in Light is an album so brilliant that it would have fared just fine had it been packaged in a dirty bin liner; however, the art used was so progressive for its time – being one of the earliest computer-generated album designs – and therefore holds a place in history in its own right.