Thursday, September 6, 2007
Trolling the Studio: Talking Heads 1975
I mentioned in my previous Trolling the Studio that the unreleased album is one of the rarer finds. I have only four or five of those. Once an album is invested in, it's usually released eventually.
Much more common is the demo recording. This is an initial recording that a band will do to pitch the music to the record company. The quality will vary; sometimes, it's a rough recording with just the bare bones of a song, other times it can be almost identical to the finished product. They can illuminate a song or album in a few ways, though.
First, it can show you how much the basic musical idea was developed in the studio or onstage, when the entire band was working on it. Many times, the song is written by one member, and the demo is a solo piece not only for the record companies, but also for the rest of the band. Pete Townshend's demos for Who albums are a great example of that. Many were released on the Scoop collections, others will appear here soon. Other times, the band is involved from the beginning, but the song itself evolved, as you'll be hearing in this post.
Secondly, they can show you the tragic, horrible mistakes that were avoided by the above mentioned evolutionary process. It can be as subtle as changing a hook or as major as omitting a song altogether (demos frequently include songs that don't make the cut). You wouldn't believe the original lyrics to Comfortably Numb. You'd thank sweet baby Jesus that Roger Waters re-wrote them.
In this case, they provide a very early glimpse at what would become a great band.
Talking Heads formed in Providence, RI in 1974 and moved to New York the next year, for obvious reasons. The original trio consisted of David Byrne, Chris Franz, and Tina Weymouth. This is the lineup that recorded the demos I present here. Jerry Harrison was added to the fold in 1976 and the first album was cut in 1977.
In the liner notes for Sand in the Vaseline, Tina Weymouth recounts how one record company guy had taken an interest in them, occasionally seeing them perform. He suggested that they could polish their sound if they recorded themselves and listened to the tapes objectively. They got two hours in a studio and ran through two versions each of 15 songs. These were songs that appeared on their first two albums, and a few that got dropped from the repertoire. They didn't have anything to play the tapes on, though, so the exercise was fairly fruitless. A couple of the cuts made it onto the Sand collection, and I have a set of 15. I'm not sure if the ones on Sand are ones I have, though.... even if they're different, I doubt they'd be very much so.
While demos often show a completely different or undeveloped idea of a song, these show that Talking Heads usually have an idea of where they want a song to go from the outset, but may have to do a few tweaks on the way there. I'll start with the first song recorded, Psycho Killer. While most of you may know the electronic version with the whole band and the live acoustic version that Byrne did solo, you'll now hear how the song started... as a combination of those two ideas.
Next I have one of the songs that disappeared. It's a great companion piece to Psycho Killer, since it also comes from the point of view of someone who's about to go over the edge. That similarity is probably why they dropped it, but I think it's a cool song. It's called I Wish You Wouldn't Say That.
Rounding it out is the first version of their first single Love Goes to a Building on Fire, but they hadn't quite settled on that title yet. This version is called Love is Like a Building on Fire.
Talking Heads is one of those bands that I'm very sorry to say I missed in concert. It was their concert film Stop Making Sense that really got me into the band, but that unfortunately chronicled the last tour they would do. Like so many great bands, success and ego tore them apart.
How wonderful that they can still be rediscovered via the Underground.