Photo: Lynn Goldsmith


1. “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”

“Ah!” David Byrne yelps in the opening seconds of Remain in Light, kicking it off with a flourish like that of a magician whipping away a cloth to reveal some magic underneath. And what a lot there is to behold. If the previous year’s “I Zimbra” was the Afro-beat template for what was to come, then “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” is Talking Heads finding the perfect balance between their inherent nervousness and their cultural thievery.

“Take a look at these hands!” Byrne yowls several times in the song’s opening half, the sound of an acid trip turning bad – only to become even worse when it turns out not to be a trip at all, but pressurised reality. He’s at the centre of a circle of punishment brought on by daily strain of living in the US of A. He’s a tumbler, he’s a government man – he’s so thin.

While Byrne’s agitated words and shrieks are the focal point of “Born Under Punches”, there is a deep and satisfying groove happening underneath. Weymouth’s stabbing bass interlocks excellently with her husband’s dextrous African-influenced beat, while the classic Heads rhythm guitar is chugging through the centre. Guest guitar ace Adrian Belew drops in to add a warped-to-fuck guitar solo that somehow glues together Byrne’s erratic neuroticism and the steady instrumentation of all those around him.

And then there’s the hooks. They’re almost hidden amid everything else going on in “Born Under Punches”, but some mixture of “the heat goes on” and “all I want is to breathe” is what will be stuck in your head after the track fades. These interwoven vocal melodies are the human patchwork under the metropolitan bustle of the instrumentation – they are the last of Byrne’s psyche trying to wrestle him back to sanity. They are there to remind him, and the listener, to just breathe. There’s a long way to go yet.

Rob Hakimian

2. “Crosseyed and Painless”

The brilliance of “Crosseyed and Painless” lies in its ability to create a precise mood from the start. The urgent rhythms brought to life by the track’s percussion, bass, and (yes) cowbell; the razor-sharp guitar shreds that cut through the song like sirens; add on David Byrne and Brian Eno’s brilliantly detailed lyrics that offer a first-hand account of an urban man’s nervous breakdown. The result is a track that’s at once catchy, intriguing, and disorienting.

Yet “Crosseyed and Painless” also examines a more primal fear: the loss of control. “Lost my shape, trying to act casual,” Byrne’s first words, reveal his losing battle for composure. He sings over repetitive, anxious guitar and chirping synth that contributes to the building mania.

This builds to a peak with Byrne’s rapping on the track’s final verse. “Facts are simple and facts are straight / Facts are lazy and facts are late.” He wants facts to work for him, but they don’t. Nevertheless, there’s potential to bend them to his will: “Facts are nothing on the face of men,” the verse’s last line, acknowledges that without context, facts can be used to prove anything.

Forty years later, the distrust and malleability of facts have never been so prevalent. People choose the facts they want to believe, ignore the ones they don’t, or just make shit up. How could a song so accurately predict our current moment? Perhaps the answer is quite simple: “Crosseyed And Painless” has always been timeless.

Carlo Thomas

3. “The Great Curve”

If it hasn’t been made clear after 40 years, Remain in Light is a living, breathing creature convulsing to every rhythm and beat that flows through it. And at the core of this unassuming, albeit, multi-faceted dance-punk monster, is a heart that throbs in polyrhythms, pointed in praise toward a divine feminine creator. Three tracks into Talking Heads’ magnum opus, arrives the constant-moving, six-minute “The Great Curve.” With the equally frenetic “Crosseyed and Painless” to preface and the iconically confused “Once In A Lifetime” to follow, “The Great Curve” is the dynamic apex to a three-track run whose energy is matched by few.

Though Remain in Light is an album ridden with anxiety, “The Great Curve” is often left out of discussions when gauging this monster’s toiling mind. In reality, this no-holds-barred moment is the truest manifestation of this records’ distress, as it pushes listeners to dance with urgency and purpose. Amidst its infectious immediacy, however, this track pins David Byrne and the gang on the verge of some vital mission: “She is moving to describe the world / (Night must fall, now! Darker! Darker!) / She has got to move the world, got to move the world, got to move the world.”

There’s purpose in the fear here, and in its organized chaos. There are discussions had between our charismatic vocalist and the skittering Afro-inspired drums that jump and shout whenever a freaked-out Byrne does so. Though frantic yelps, dizzying polyrhythms, and Adrian Belew’s squealing guitar licks combine for what should be on paper, an overwhelming experience, the result is quite the opposite. “The Great Curve” moves with fervor, but does so in a way that is never in your face. The drums are urgent, yes, and the guitars are immediate, but Byrne and the gang pile on these layers and small textural nuances gradually, painting a vividly colorful world right before us.

If you’ve ever heard someone call Byrne and Talking Heads “world-builders,” “The Great Curve” is the defining example of what that means. In fact, right before it reaches its final moments, “The Great Curve” is a totally different song from where it started six minutes earlier. It’s a song that, simply put, keeps building, and thus, keeps getting better.

Kyle Kohner