New York’s Talking Heads are one of my favourite bands of the new wave era. David Byrne was the nervy frontman, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth were a funky rhythm section, while Jerry Harrison filled out their sound on keyboards and guitar. Despite my affection for classic albums like Remain in Light and singles like ‘Burning Down the House’, their debut album has never been a favourite. The single ‘Psycho Killer’ is a great career opener, and I enjoy the cheerful opener ‘Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town’ with its steel drums, but largely it’s a promising prelude to a sequence of great work between 1978 and 1983.
Part of the problem is the production – the group would shortly link up with Brian Eno, who would furnish them with a darker, more enigmatic sound. On Talking Heads ’77 they worked with Tony Bongiovo, the second cousin of Jon Bon Jovi. Even though he worked with The Ramones in the same era, Bongiovi seems like an odd fit for Talking Heads.
Bongiovi was alternately dissatisfied and dismissive of the group’s music, and the conflict boiled over when Bongiovi attempted to get Byrne in the proper headspace to record ‘Psycho Killer’ .Bongiovi beloved Byrne should inhabit the song, instructing him to add more emotion and infliction in his vocal performance. To illustrate this, Bongiovi went to the studio’s kitchen a pulled out a knife, placing it in Byrne’s hands and instructing him to embody a killer.https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/talking-heads-first-love-song-story-uh-oh-love-comes-to-town/
Similar tensions occurred with the b-side of ‘Psycho Killer’, ‘I Wish You Wouldn’t Say That’. Jerry Harrison wrote in the liner notes to the anthology Sand in the Vaseline that “I’m glad we persuaded Tony [Bongiovi] and Lance [Quinn] that the version with the cellos shouldn’t be the only one.”
The Talking Heads have more sophisticated songs than ‘I Wish You Wouldn’t Say That’ – even at two and a half minutes, it runs out of steam. But it fits well with the lighter, more mainstream sound of Talking Heads: 77. Byrne has a clear debt to Jonathan Richman, whom Harrison played with before joining the Talking Heads, and it’s especially pronounced here. The acoustic arrangement and the use of a first name (“I thought I’d have to make it clearer/Now Jimmy’s coming over”) – make it more like a Richman song than anything else the Talking Heads recorded.
“Great B-side” is maybe hyperbolic for ‘I Wish You Wouldn’t Say That’, but it outclasses much of Talking Heads: 77 for my money, and it deserves its place on the compilation Sand in the Vaseline. It also appears to be the only non-album B-side in the Talking Heads’ entire discography.