Talking Heads' '77' Turns 40: Ranking All the Tracks
Talking Heads photographed in Amsterdam in June 1977
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the NYC punk band’s debut album, let’s attempt the impossible and rank its 11 tracks.
Since its birth 40 years ago, “punk rock” has been progressively watered down. To many, it’s a cliché of chainsaw guitars and scream-singing about The Man at breakneck speed, all while dressed in ripped-and-pinned Hot Topic garb. But back in 1977, “punk” meant something more. Sure, bands like the Ramones, Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks would lay the foundation for that popular conception of the genre, and others, like Patti Smith and Television, would bring a romantic beatnick spirit and an angular guitar style to the sound, respectively. But then there was Talking Heads -- something else entirely.
For Talking Heads, it was hip to be square. Their nerdy, norm-core style was, in a sense, a rebellion to the sound and scene that had become en vogue in the rock underground -- and their debut, Talking Heads 77, released four decades ago Saturday (Sept. 16), was a revelation.
Dressed like four paper-pushing insurance company accountants -- their cardigan-wearing frontman, David Byrne, was a deadringer for PBS’s Mr. Rogers -- the band played funky, colorful rock that explored the limits of the sound a quartet could even produce. Byrne’s lyrics ranged from purposely tame observations about the government and apartment buildings to live-wire tributes to serial killers, shedding his composure like a middle manager on the verge of a mental collapse.
Talking Heads 77 is dancey, funky and definitely a little weird -- it’s arty and fresh, but not overbearing or pretentious. It’s the sound of young art school kids redrawing the borders of “punk” to their own liking. And that’s about as punk as it gets.
In honor of the LP’s 40th birthday, let’s make an attempt at the impossible: ranking its 11 tracks. Here it goes…
1. “Psycho Killer”
2. “Pulled Up”
3. “Don’t Worry About the Government”
4. “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town”
5. “The Book I Read”
6. “New Feeling”
7. “No Compassion”
8. “Tentative Decisions”
9. “Who Is It?”
10. “Happy Day”
11. “First Week / Last Week… Carefree”
Mr. Byrne is apparently hearing voices. Over Tropicalia percussion, tightly-wound electric guitar and a brass section, the singer fesses up: “I heard the voices first last week/ I heard it myself,” sings Byrne. “Made a reference to me. And that’s myself. This report’s incomplete. I see for myself.” He really gets into character, howling “I-I-I-I-I-IIIIIIIIIIIII!!!” and “whoah!-whoah!-whoah!” over and over, and the lounge act, tiki music brings it to a whole new level of unnerving. I heard voices, too -- the sound of Byrne and Talking Heads kicking off a career and all new sound.