If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Talking Heads

Happy Wednesday! It’s time to prepare for another imaginary desert island trip. As usual, this means I need to figure which one song to take with me.

In case you’re new to this weekly recurring feature, there’re a few other rules. My pick needs to be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all to date. I’m also doing this exercise in alphabetical order, and I’m up to “t”.

There are plenty of artists (last names) and bands whose name starts with the letter “t”. Some include Taj Mahal, Tears For Fears, Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Temptations, Thin Lizzy, Pete Townshend, Tina Turner, Toto, Traffic, T. Rex and The Turtles. And then there’s the group I decided to pick: Talking Heads. My song choice: Burning Down the House.

Burning Down the House, credited to all four members of the band, David Byrne (lead vocals, guitar), Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Tina Weymouth (bass, backing vocals) and Chris Frantz (drums, backing vocals), first appeared on their fifth studio album Speaking in Tongues released in June 1983. It also became the record’s first single and the group’s highest-charting song in North America, climbing to no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 8 in Canada. It did best in New Zealand where it peaked at no. 5. In Australia, on the other hand, it stalled at no. 94.

The origins of Talking Heads go back to 1973 when Rhode Island School of Design students David Byrne and Chris Frantz started a band called the Artistics. The following year, fellow student and Frantz’s girlfriend Tina Weymouth joined on bass after Byrne and Frantz had been unable to find a bassist. At that point, all three had relocated to New York.

In early June 1975, the group played their first gig as Talking Heads, opening for the Ramones at renowned New York City music club CBGB. After signing to Sire Records in November 1976, Talking Heads released their first single Love ‚Üí Building on Fire in February 1977. The following month, Jerry Harrison joined, completing the group’s lineup ahead of recording their debut album Talking Heads: 77.

While Talking Heads: 77 enjoyed moderate chart success, it was voted the year’s seventh-best album in The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop critics’ poll. Subsequently, it was ranked at no. 291 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It didn’t make the most recent revision published in 2020. Until their break-up in December 1991, Talking Heads released seven additional albums. Also noteworthy is the acclaimed concert film Stop Making Sense shot over three nights in December 1983 during the tour that supported the Speaking in Tongues album.

After their disbanding, David Byrne launched a solo career, while the three remaining members toured in the early ’90s, billed as Shrunken Heads. In October 1996, they released an album, No Talking, Just Head as The Heads. Byrne wasn’t amused and took legal action to prevent the band from using the name The Heads. Talking Heads reunited one more time in March 2002 for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hame of Fame. During an induction performance, they were joined on stage by former touring members Bernie Worrell and Steve Scales.

Following are a few additional tidbits on Burning Down the House from Songfacts:

Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz and bass player Tina Weymouth, married since 1977, are big fans of funk. When they went to a P-Funk show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the crowd started chanting, “Burn down the house, burn down the house” (this is before “The Roof Is on Fire”), which gave Frantz the idea for the title...

…With a lot of help from MTV, who gave the video a lot of play, this song became Talking Heads’ biggest hit. It didn’t get a great deal of radio play at the time, but has endured as an ’80s classic and is often used in movies and TV shows, including Gilmore Girls, 13 Going on 30, Six Feet Under, Revenge of the Nerds and Someone Like You…

…The music video was directed by David Byrne and was the first Talking Heads video to show the full band – their famous “Once In A Lifetime” video is just Byrne. The house seen in the video was located in Union, New Jersey, but it was shot at a New York City club called The World…

…The Talking Heads original recording failed to reach the UK charts. The song only became a British hit in 1999 when Tom Jones teamed up with The Cardigans for an entirely different version. Released as a single from his album of collaborations titled Reload, it peaked at #7.

There is also a cool cover of Burning Down the House by Bonnie Raitt, which she included on her live album Road Tested that came out in November 1995. Here’s a great clip of her rendition from December 2010. In my completely unbiased opinion, I think Bonnie is stealing the show, truly burning down the house! ūüôā

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

Bonnie Raitt at NJPAC

Bonnie Raitt is one my favorite artists, and I finally got a chance to see her live.

Yesterday (Aug 13), the wait was finally over. It was time to see Bonnie Raitt at New Jersey Performing Arts Center!

During the week leading up to the show, I had listened to her music pretty much whenever I got a chance to get in the mood. And with a 45-year professional career and 17 studio albums, there is a lot to listen to!

A good friend of mine who has been to various Bonnie Raitt concerts over the years had highly recommended that I go see her. He was right – the show was absolutely amazing!

Bonnie presented a mix of new and old songs, including a few of her previous hits. She started off with her cover of the INXS song Need You Tonight, which appears on her latest excellent album, Dig In Deep. Throughout the show, she also played various other songs from that album including¬†Unintended Consequence of Love and¬†Gypsy In Me. Another cover included Burning Down the House, the 1983 hit from the Talking Heads. In my opinion, it’s even better than Need You Tonight.

Perhaps the best known hit songs she played were¬†Something To Talk About and the beautiful ballad I Can’t Make You Love Me, both from Bonnie’s 1991 album, Luck of the Draw. I was a bit surprised and disappointed that she didn’t play material from Nick of Time, such as Thing Called Love, the title song and¬†Love Letter. At least I didn’t recognize any songs from the 1989 Grammy Award winning album. She did perform one of my other favorite songs,¬†Can’t Get Enough (from 1982’s Green Light).¬†

As I had expected, Bonnie’s slide guitar playing was superb! But I have to say I was even more intrigued by the songs she played on acoustic guitar. The highlight in this context and perhaps of the entire night was Angel from Montgomery, from her fourth studio album¬†Streetlights, released in 1974. BTW, Bonnie’s voice live sounds just as great as recorded.¬†I would also like to acknowledge her fantastic band: Ricky Fataar (drums), George Marinelli (guitars), James Hutchinson (bass) and Mike Finnigan (keyboards).

Another shout-out is in order for Bonnie’s opening act,¬†Richard Thompson Trio. Thompson, a founding member of the Fairport Convention, is an outstanding British electric and acoustic guitarist.¬†I have to admit I’m not familiar with his music, but I certainly enjoyed what I heard! The drummer and bassist who performed with Thompson were excellent as well.

Notably, Bonnie asked Thompson to come back to the stage and play a song with her. You could clearly see the admiration she has for him. I think the gesture also shows what a class act Bonnie Raitt is when it comes to acknowledging other artists.

Here’s a clip of Raitt’s entire gig.

Set List

Need You Tonight (INXS cover)

Used to Rule the World (Randall Bramblett cover)

No Business

All Alone with Something to Say

Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes (Los Lobos cover)

Not the Only One (Paul Brady cover) (with Richard Thompson)

Round and Round (J.B. Lenoir cover)

I Feel the Same (Chris Smither cover)

Hear Me Lord (Oliver Mtukudzi cover)

Something to Talk About

The Comin’ Round Is Going Through

Angel From Montgomery (John Prine cover)

Don’t Answer the Door (B.B. King cover) (Mike Finnegan, vocal)

Gypsy in Me

Unintended Consequence of Love

I Believe I’m in Love With You (The Fabulous Thunderbirds cover)

What You’re Doin’ to Me

Encore:

I Can’t Make You Love Me (Mike Reid cover)

Burning Down the House (Talking Heads cover)

Louise (Paul Siebel cover)

Your Sweet and Shiny Eyes

Note: This post was updated on November 15, 2020 with above clip and setlist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Setlist.fm; YouTube