Monday, December 15, 2008

Talking Heads

(UBM: We kick off Funky Whiteboy Appreciation Week with a salute to Talking Heads. Allow me to pass the mic to filmmaker and funkateer Reginald Hudlin.)

Talking Heads built a reputation as one of the most interesting acts of the ’70s/’80s New Wave movement. “Psycho Killer,” their first hit, was a clever but raw piece of rock ’n’ roll.

With each album, they inched ever funkward… first with the fake Afrojam “I Zimbra” (click here to hear the 12-inch version), then with most of the “Remain In Light” album. (Click here to hear “Crosseyed and Painless.”)

“Once In a Lifetime” has been sampled with some success by rappers... but not as much as “Genius of Love” by the spinoff group Tom Tom Club.

By adding P-Funk founding funkfather Bernie Worrell and other (mostly black) bumpin’ musicians to their lineup, Talking Heads became a funk band for real.

Bandleader David Byrne had the anthropological instincts of a lot of white rockers of the ’80s, like Paul Simon and Sting. All of them were accused of being yet another set of cultural imperialists rummaging through native grooves for inspiration when they ran out of their own ideas.

This argument is a slippery slope. On one hand, black folks want recognition for our artistic achievements. But we don’t want anyone biting our style… especially if others make more money off of it. While no one wants to be exploited, inspiration and “borrowing” are time-honored aspects of any art form.

At least the Heads hired and prominently featured black musicians, acknowledged where their cultural inspiration came from, and actually made good music.
– Reginald Hudlin


DeAngelo Starnes said...

Damn good writing. "Crosseyed and Painless" is my favorite Talking Heads cut and one of my favorite cuts of all time - period. I love how the 'boards take over the guitar rhythms. Phat phat piece.

Great point re: "borrowing." I think there's a fine between theft and borrowing. Homage is one thing; stealing is another. But bruhs steal styles all the time. In fact, Rahsaan Roland Kirk is famously quoted that he was stealing when asked about his style.

Dollar Bill said...

And Byrne continues to assist with his label,which brought Shuggie Otis back into the well deserved spotlight.
Just one of many great releases on Luka Bop.

KeWayne said...

I was really surprised at the number of top hits that were 'covers' of other artists' productions. In the 50's, 60's & 70's it seems to me it was pretty trans-racial. About 16 of the Beatles top hits were actually covers of both black & white artists and scores of others covered dozens of Beatles' songs.

It is a tribute, in my opinion, because I doubt someone would sing another person/group's music unless they really liked it...

Reginald Hudlin said...

Thanks for the compliment, DeAngelo!

And Dollar Bill, you are right...that reissue of Shuggie's album did us all a great favor.

Undercover Black Man said...

Luaka Bop's a cool label... by why hasn't Mr. Byrne signed Bernie to a deal? That's what I wanna know.

maria said...

thanks for the nod to `heads. been a fan for years. in fact, for my wedding dance, we played "this must be the place."

don't forget, tho, the divine spawn of heads, Tom Tom Club, with the incomparable hit, "Genius of Love!"

what you gonna do when you get out of jail?
I'm gonna have some fun
What do you consider fun?
Fun, natural fun!!

bklyn6 said...

Thanks for setting if off right, (and reopening my eyes) Mr. Hudlin!

Unfortunately, I only have one Talking Heads track on my mp3 player, and it's not even "Psycho Killer"! (I also have TTC's "Genius of Love.") Now I have to buy more.

Unless there's another stimulus package on the horizon the rest of the week better suck, Mills!

Just kidding. :p

btw "Stop Making Sense" is awesome.

Mark V said...

Side 1 of the Heads 2nd album, More Songs About Buildings And Food has some really tight rhythm section play. "Found A Job," "The Good Thing." Some would call it funky.

and UBM, thanks for the Nite Fite link on your margin. Appreciate it. We're done with new episodes...for now.

Undercover Black Man said...

Unless there's another stimulus package on the horizon the rest of the week better suck, Mills!

I'm afraid you're gonna have to spend a little more after my man Larry Alexander turns you on with his tribute piece today.

(This is called a "tease.")

Francisco said...

Good Write up. I am a fan of David Byrne's Cuban and Latin American collaborations, which are many and frequently below the radar in the US. Plus his recording house always has a good place for afro-cuban, latin american music singers.

OOTO: Reg, will you bury your beef with Aaron McGruder here in this illustrious blog? I just want to see 'The Boondocks' in peace. Happy Holidays.

Reginald Hudlin said...

FOUND A JOB and GOOD THING are indeed funky, but not "try it out in the black club" kind of funky.

Undercover Black Man said...

Must mention "Speaking in Tongues"... end-to-end, one of the funkiest albums of the '80s.