In hindsight it’s a little difficult to believe that Talking Heads started life as one of the bands at the core of the mid 1970s New York Punk scene, alongside other CBGB luminaries such as The Ramones, Richard Hell, Suicide and Television. Because, unlike most of their peers, Talking Heads broke free from their Punky roots and, through front man David Byrne’s uncanny ability to write incredibly catchy tunes, captured the imaginations of much larger, more mainstream audiences. Which meant that they survived for much longer and much more successfully than most of their peers - right until 1991 in fact. They even reached the Top Twenty. Regularly.
But no matter how incredibly catchy his tunes were, a David Byrne song also always operated on a higher intellectual plain than your average chart hit. David wanted you to think about his songs - both lyrics and music - as much as he wanted you to feel them. So, for example, ‘Once In A Lifetime’, one of Talking Heads’ biggest hits, might be an infectious pop song on one level, but on another, it was also a clever critique of materialism and the emotionally and spiritually starved times he saw us all living in. Maybe.
And despite the chart success and the beauty of many Talking Heads’ songs, a typical Heads’ song would usually sound a little detached, slightly noncommittal or even cynical. Because David was, above all else, an observer. An observer looking in from the outside, at other people and their habits, preoccupations, foibles and beliefs. So, for example, when he danced on stage in his trademark, outsize comedy suit you could be forgiven for thinking this was David letting-go and having a good time. But you’d be wrong. It was more likely to have been meticulously designed to allow David to simultaneously hide his real self away whilst still being the star of the show and subtly critiquing the values and behavior of people who really do enjoy letting go, having a good time or even just dancing.
Which must have meant that when he wanted to write a song about how it feels to fall head over heels in love with someone, he faced a real dilemma.
Partly because his natural songwriting stance was that of observer not participant.
But mainly because to bring alive that wonderful feeling of total immersion in someone else and, through that person, total exhilaration in the World around you, requires the complete abandonment of all the detachment, caution, self-control and reserve that was not only the hallmark 0f David’s observational writing style, but seemed to be part of his actual personality.
And when you listen to ‘Oh-Uh, Love Comes To Town’, Talking Heads’ second ever single, you can almost hear the dilemma the young, cautious by nature, standing-on-the-outside-looking-in by preference, David Byrne was facing up to.
Indeed for 90% of the songs’ existence the David Byrne we know best is in control - singing about what it might be like to fall head over heels, but still seemingly written from a distance, third party observer-like. Almost as if he was trying to describe a condition he had read about in books.
Even if that was all there was to this song then, with its wonderful steel band-infused, almost funky rhythms, it would still be a song of exquisite beauty that sounded fresh and original even in that most creatively rich and diverse year of 1977.
But that isn’t all there is to this song. There’s also the other 10%. The 10% that starts at precisely 1 minute 42 seconds with the words ‘Jet fighter going out of control’. When, by letting his lyrical imagery loose and, just as importantly, by forgetting the song’s tight structure for a moment or two, by squeezing just a few more syllables into the next couple of lines than he had allowed up until that point and therefore by having to rush and almost stumble his words, he reveals that he’s not just a clever observer after all, he’s also an experiencer too.
One of those few, very lucky people who get to experience for themselves that remarkable feeling that can cause someone, even as usually self-controlling as David Byrne, to let go. And fall. Fall uncontrollably with no ability or even desire to stop.
But of course we’re dealing with David Byrne here. So almost as soon as he has - perhaps inadvertently – shown that there is a more first person, more emotional, more it-happened-to-me, David Byrne he gets cold feet and runs away.
In this exquisite and revealing song’s case by ending it a mere 68 seconds later. In his career’s case by practically never allowing himself ever again to reveal in a song anything as first person or personally revealing as those few seconds in ‘Uh-Oh’. Oh and by commissioning that oversized suit to hide behind on stage.
Available on the first Talking Heads’ album, ‘Talking Heads: 77′; Amazon