Talking Heads : Chronology

Written by Chip Schramm

June 3, 2012

Chronology  follows Talking Heads from their early days in the mid-’70s through the rise in popularity in the early ‘80s, and finally to their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction performance in 2002.  The 18 primary tracks are all over the board, from short snippets of performances in clubs to entire renditions of songs played on TV. While it isn’t in exact chronological order, the rough approximation doesn’t hurt the flow.  Perhaps the most interesting part of the DVD is the bonus material, particularly the South Bank Show which is a 35 minute segment including performances of seven songs, interwoven with off-the-cuff interview segments with each band member

The first four tracks are gritty and rough, recorded in black and white. While they won’t win any awards for cinematography, they are a good jumping off point, highlighting Talking Heads’ humble beginnings as a bar band in New York City playing places like The Kitchen and CBGB.  By the time they get to “The Girls Want to be with the Girls,” the performances are becoming noticeably tighter, and David Byrne is starting to become more animated onstage.

A performance of “Don’t Worry About The Government” recorded for a British TV show in 1978 shows the band becoming more polished and professional, although, based on some of the comments in the later interviews, you wonder if that was perhaps by coincidence more than by design. I found myself joking that some of the TV shows must have had a great wardrobe and makeup crew because the band cleaned up pretty well. That said, their appearance on Saturday Night Live of “Artists Only” was so painful to watch that Joan Rivers and the fashion police should have arrested them immediately after they walked off stage.  Sure, it was 1979, but still …

In contrast to the SNL performance, the American Bandstand rendition of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River” is smooth and relaxed.  And much like the interview segments later in the bonus material, Dick Clark’s attempt to interview David Byrne was comic relief at its best. “Crosseyed and Painless” is perhaps the best track on the DVD, and by this point the band has a full accompaniment of backing vocals and supporting musicians including Bernie Worrell on keyboards.

The bonus material adds an extra dimension to the DVD that would have been sorely missed if it was left off, specifically the South Bank Show. That segment boasts quality music as well insight into the band through the interviews. From Chris Frantz talking about how he approached life on the road to Byrne talking about his attitude towards morality, it shows how humble and genuine the members of the band were, at least in comparison to other so-called celebrities. Jerry Harrison’s rap about going to Harvard segues nicely into Frantz talking about losing interest in academics and Tina Weymouth discussing the band’s beginnings as a trio formed at the Rhode Island School of Design. Weymouth also shares the nugget that the band name was picked out of TV Guide. Byrne’s sincerity is unquestionable when he confesses that, unlike other bands, he just doesn’t have the motivation to keep his clothes ironed or cleaned.

Chronology has some great moments, and is definitely a must-have for fans of the Talking Heads and others looking to explore the band’s musical evolution.

Chronology is out now on Eagle Rock Entertainment.