Saturday, August 31, 2019

Those We Missed August 1979

Led Zeppelin : Fool in the Rain

The biggest album we missed in August is the In Through The Out Door, the final album Led Zeppelin released before drummer John Bonham's unexpected death meant the party was over. Synthesizers were in play and Bonham's drumming was as funky as ever, but the band couldn't muster enough power to go out on a great note. That said, it did  top the Creem Readers poll for best album

CREEM Readers Poll Top 20 Albums

1. In Through The Out Door (Led Zeppelin)
 2. Candy-O (The Cars)
 3. Dream Police (Cheap Trick)
 4. Live At Budokan (Cheap Trick)
 5. Rust Never Sleeps (Neil Young + Crazy Horse)
 6. Squeezing Out Sparks (Graham Parker + the Rumour)
 7. The Kids Are Alright (The Who)
 8. Van Halen II (Van Halen)
 9. Low Budget (The Kinks)
10. Get The Knack (The Knack)
11. The Clash 
12. Dynasty (Kiss)
13. Fear Of Music (Talking Heads)
14. Armed Forces (Elvis Costello)
15. Labour Of Lust (Nick Lowe)
16. Highway To Hell (AC/DC)
17. B-52's 
18. Breakfast In America (Supertramp)
19. Night In The Ruts (Aerosmith)
20. Look Sharp! (Joe Jackson)
21. Eat To The Beat (Blondie)
22. The Long Run (The Eagles)
23. Tusk (Fleetwood Mac)
24. Damn The Torpedoes (Tom Petty + the Heartbreakers)
25. You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic (Ian Hunter)

Pat Benatar : Heartbreaker

To my ears Pat Benatar has always come across as a hired hand. She's a commercial jingle singer  whose debut album peaked at U.S.#12 and featured covers of songs by Smokie, Nick Gilder, the Alan Parson Project, Sweet and John Mellencamp.  

Randy Newman : The Story of a Rock and Roll Band

What if Randy Newman told a joke and nobody laughed? That's kind of what happened with Born Again, despite the fun ELO tribute. Still got a B+ out of Robert Christgau.

P-Model : Art Mania

Japanese new wave album produced by Plastics keyboardist Masahida Sakuma. What? We haven't mentioned The Plastics yet? I love the Plastics. They take the New Wave to their very quirkiest extreme (yes, beyond even The B-52's)  Check out "Copy", their debut single also released in 1979 below. 

Giorgio Moroder : Baby Blue

Donna Summer's producer takes listeners to an imagined future where people dance to the sound of Star Wars phasers and vocoder vocals.

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Freak of the Week

Funkadelic : (Not Just) Knee Deep

In August of 1979 Funkadelic released "(Not Just) Knee Deep", a single that would top of the U.S. R+B charts for three weeks in October.  Edited down from its 15 minute running time on the forthcoming Uncle Jam Wants You, the tune features a keyboard line and vocals most famously sampled by De La Soul in their #1 R+B hit ten years later, "Me Myself and I". That's Phillipé Wynne (formerly of the Spinners) on lead vocals.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Cool in the Pool

Holger Czukay : Persian Love

In 1979 Can co-founder Holger Czukay released Movies. At the time it was considered a ground-breaking album because of its sampling of short wave radio broadcasts, beating the Byrne/Eno collaboration My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by nearly two years. The Iranian singer on "Persian Love" was discovered over the radio. Members of Can join Czukay in the studio so, musically, the album has the breezy, lightweight feel of latter day Can. 

The album has grown in reputation, even posting at #98 on Sounds All-Time Top 100 Albums list published in the 1980's as well as ranking among 27 albums from 1979 selected for the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

I Wanna Be Your Lover

Prince : I Wanna Be Your Lover

In August of 1979 Prince released " I Wanna Be Your Lover". His breakout hit, "I Wanna Be Your Lover" would sell two million copies, topping the R+B charts for two weeks in December and peaking at U.S. #11 on the pop charts.  Pitchfork's Jason Heller calls this Prince's "Hail Mary", following the commercial failure of Prince's debut album, For You:

Immaculately sculpted and emotionally cool, the song spotlighted everything the burgeoning genius had on tap: skills, hooks, precocious sex appeal, and a preternatural sense of his pivotal place in history. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” is a thing of its era—supple, sleek, and disco-esque—yet it points toward lusher, more ambitious triumphs to come. And as a dance floor jam, then and now, it simply slays. But it’s also the apotheosis of ’70s funk, boiling down a decade’s worth of musical upheaval and innovation to one essential exit track; after this, pop would never be the same.

In the video Prince is seen playing all the instruments and singing in a leopard skin leotard. On the album, the song goes on for two minutes longer than the single with Prince jamming on various synthesizers. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Back On The Van

Van Morrison : Bright Side of the Road

In August of 1979, Van Morrison released the critically acclaimed Into The Music, an album that takes listeners "from the dark end of the street/To the bright side of the road". "I suspect it's Van's best album since Moondance", wrote Village Voice critic Robert Christgau. Recorded in the same Sausalito studio where Fleetwood Mac made Rumours, Into The Music sounds like a joyous, sunny somewhat Christian celebration on Side One. Side Two is more ambitious, intimate and romantic and works as a four song cycle. Side One revisits the moods of Moondance. Side Two, those of  Astral Weeks.

The album as a whole reminds me of what Morrison told Cameron Crowe in 1977:

“Success, to me, is not album sales. It’s being happy with what I’m doing. Every artist, of course, wants the album to sell if they’re going to stay up late at night and I work on it and think about it and come up with the songs… of course, he wants it to sell. But what’s important to me is just being able to sit here and dig everything for exactly what it is, and feel good about it. To sit here and look at the Pacific and think, “That’s okay, That feels good,’

From Robert Christgau who graded the album an A, and ranked it as his fourth favorite album of 1979:

The rockers are a little lightweight, the final cut drags halfway through, and that's all that's wrong with this record, including its tributes to "the Lord." You might get religion yourself if all of your old powers returned after years of failed experiments, half-assed compromises, and onstage crack-ups. Like that other godfearing singer-songwriter, Morrison has abandoned metaphorical pretensions, but only because he loves the world. His straightforward celebrations of town and country are colored and deepened by his musicians--especially sprightly violinist Toni Marcus (feh on Scarlet Rivera)--and by his own excursions into a vocalise that has never been more various or apt. The only great song on this record is "It's All in the Game," written by Calvin Coolidge's future vice-president in 1912. But I suspect it's Van's best album since Moondance

In that Into the Music is brave and unexpected and reflective, it’s much of a piece with all of Morrison’s previous work. He’s taken us on some pretty treacherous journeys, full of dark routes, deep magic, bleak despair. No reason not to settle with him, for a time, in the region of light. One of the singer’s most abundant gifts has always been his ability to be a sort of Gaelic shaman and guide. No matter how obscure things got — whether listening to the lions or watching the ballerina or figuring how Linden Arden stole the highlights — he could always make them seem familiar. You recognized the neighborhood right away, even if you couldn’t find the exact address of Madame George’s. He makes the new territory on Into the Music no less vital, and no less like home.

Monday, August 26, 2019

U.K. Top 10 Singles, August 26, 1979

Cliff Richard : We Don't Talk Anymore


On August 25, 1979 Cliff Richard's "We Don't Talk Anymore" spent its second week in a row at the top of the U.K. charts. The single, which seems to owe a big a debt to Hall and Oates, sold 4 million copies worldwide and was Richard's tenth #1 hit. 






Sunday, August 25, 2019

U.S. Top 10 Singles, August 25, 1979

The Knack : My Sharona


On August 25, 1979 The Knack topped the U.S. charts with "My Sharona". The New Wave smash would hold the #1 spot for six weeks before Robert John's "Sad Eyes" finally knocked it off the peak.

1 2 MY SHARONA –•– The Knack (Capitol) (1 week at #1) 
2 1 GOOD TIMES –•– Chic (Atlantic) 
3 3 THE MAIN EVENT / FIGHT –•– Barbra Streisand (Columbia) 

4 5 AFTER THE LOVE HAS GONE –•– Earth, Wind and Fire (ARC)
5 4 BAD GIRLS –•– Donna Summer (Casablanca)
6 14 DON’T BRING ME DOWN –•– Electric Light Orchestra (Jet) 
7 8 THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA –•– The Charlie Daniels Band (Epic)

8 13 LEAD ME ON –•– Maxine Nightingale (Windsong)
9 10 MAMA CAN’T BUY YOU LOVE –•– Elton John (MCA)
10 12 SAD EYES –•– Robert John (EMI-America)

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Swimming To My Destiny

Modern English : Drowning Man

In August of 1979, three years before "I Melt With You", Modern English released their debut single, "Drowning Man", on their own Limp Records label. The glum, somewhat gothic post-punk tune earned the band enough attention to get signed to 4AD a year later where they would release more bleak singles and an album before scoring their worldwide pop hit.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Killing Time

Fashion : Killing Time

In August of 1979, Birmingham new wave band Fashion released Product Perfect, their debut album ( As Fàshiön Music). The band is made up of three members who only have one name, the nearly 7 foot tall Lûke on guitar and vocals, Mulligán on bass and synth, and Dïk on drums and vocals ( or should that be vöcäls?) You can hear elements of punk, dub, Krautrock and new wave on just about every track. They would tour with IRS label mates The Police, lose Lûke and gain other members, earn a minor hit in 1982 and be completely overshadowed by their Birmingham brethren, Duran Duran.

The album scored an A- grade from Robert Christgau who wrote:

Order of topics on first side: consumerism, imperialism, racism, sociopathy, "rock culture," apathy (right-wing), apathy (left-wing). Sounds predictable but it isn't--all of these songs are based on post-Marcusian cliches sophisticated enough to get the average rock fan thinking hard, and some of them are based on post-Marcusian ideas sophisticated enough to get the average post-Marcusian thinking hard. Sounds unmusical but it isn't that either--the singing is clever and impassioned, the punkish, futuristic reggae-synthesizer fusion often catchy and always apt. If only I were a post-Marcusian myself I'd be in heaven. And a second side as good as the first might convert me.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

It's The Only Way To Live

Gary Numan : Cars

On August 21, 1979 Gary Numan released "Cars", the biggest single of his career and one of the definitive songs of the New Wave era. Numan says the lyrics were inspired by a road rage incident: 

I was in traffic in London once and had a problem with some people in front. They tried to beat me up and get me out of the car. I locked the doors and eventually drove up on the pavement and got away from them. It's kind of to do with that. It explains how you can feel safe inside a car in the modern world... When you're in it, your whole mentality is different... It's like your own little personal empire with four wheels on it.

Sounding like a singing dalek swept up in a wash of synthesizers and a catchy bass line, Numan drove "Cars" to #1 in the U.K and Canada and peaked at US#9 in 1980. His Pleasure Principle album also hit #1 in the UK and peaked at #16 in the US. His fans may have been thrilled but David Bowie was not so amused at what he thought was a copycat act. Bowie had Numan thrown off the set of a Kenny Everett's holiday Special. 

 "Before then I thought he was a god," Numan told the Independent. "I used to get into fights at school protecting his name. Then, all of a sudden, this bloke I'd adored for years was throwing me out of a building because he hated me so much. It really upset me at the time, especially when I thought of how many thumps I'd taken for him. I can only imagine he was going through an insecure patch. At the time I was outselling him about four to one."

Maybe next time, don't rip of "Warsawa" on the B side of your hit single? 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

You May Call Me Bobby

Bob Dylan : Gotta Serve Somebody

On August 20, 1979 Bob Dylan stunned the music world by releasing his born-again Christian album, Slow Train Coming. Recorded at Muscle Shoals , the album sounded great, thanks to producer Jerry Wexler and guitarist Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Neither knew that Dylan believed Jesus Christ visited his Tucson hotel room in November of 1978 and had then joined T Bone Burnett's Christian organization, the Vineyard Fellowship where he spent three straight months in bible study. He became convinced we were all living in the end times, telling audiences :

I told you 'The Times They Are A-Changin' ' and they did. I said the answer was 'Blowin' in the Wind' and it was. I'm telling you now Jesus is coming back, and He is! And there is no other way of salvation ... Jesus is coming back to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem for a thousand years."

Wexler would help Dylan win a Grammy for the single "Gotta Serve Somebody", but he wasn't ready to convert just to make a decent album.

 "Naturally, I wanted to do the album in Muscle Shoals - as Bob did - but we decided to prep it in L.A., where Bob lived", recalled Wexler. "That's when I learned what the songs were about: born-again Christians in the old corral... I like the irony of Bob coming to me, the Wandering Jew, to get the Jesus feel... [But] I had no idea he was on this born-again Christian trip until he started to evangelize me. I said, 'Bob, you're dealing with a sixty-two-year-old confirmed Jewish atheist. I'm hopeless. Let's just make an album.'"

This is about as risky and radical a career move as any rock star could make, but Dylan had some critics on his side. Rolling Stone editor in chief Jann Wenner took it upon himself to review the album:

It takes only one listening to realize that Slow Train Coming (Columbia Records) is the best album Bob Dylan has made since The Basement Tapes (recorded with the Band in 1967 but not released until 1975). The more I hear the new album — at least fifty times since early July — the more I feel that it’s one of the finest records Dylan has ever made. In time, it is possible that it might even be considered his greatest.

Robert Christgau gave the album a  B+, noting the anger in Dylan's lyrics:

The lyrics are indifferently crafted, and while their one-dimensionality is winningly perverse at a time when his old fans will take any ambiguity they can get, it does serve to flaunt their theological wrongheadedness and occasional jingoism. Nevertheless, this is his best album since Blood on the Tracks. The singing is passionate and detailed, and the pros behind him--especially Mark Knopfler, who has a studio career in store--play so sharply that his anger gathers general relevance at its most vindictive. And so what if he's taken up with the God of Wrath? Since when have you been so crazy about the God of Love? Or any other species of hippie bullshit?

Slow Train Coming climbed the album charts all the way to #3, selling platinum. But Dylan followed it with two more albums featuring born again lyrics, but less interesting songs and production, audiences stopped buying what Bob was selling. With the exception of the Knopfler produced Infidels, the 80's would not be a good decade for Dylan.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Your Future's A Clam

The Jam : When You're Young

On August 19,1979, The Jam entered the U.K. charts at #25 with their second stand alone single , "When You're Young" b/w the rock version of "Smithers-Jones". The A-side is a straight up Jam rocker. For the video, Weller breaks the news to a some freshly-scrubbed children that the world has "got you in its grip before your born/ It's done with the use of a dice and a board /They let you think you're king, but you're really a pawn", but still manages to get them to sing along at one point.

Steve Bush of Smash Hits was a fan of the new single, writing:

Now, this is better. The Jam aren't trying to be clever or trying to confuse us. Their familiar sound and distinctive vocals, great guitar, and the lyrics a little less contrived than usual. A biggie.

Well, not that big. The single peaked at U.K.#17.

The gem of the 45 is the B side, Bruce Foxton's "Smither-Jones" might be his best contribution to The Jam. This is the version that should have appeared on Setting Sons instead of the orchestral version below. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Real Dirk Diggler

Dennis Parker : Like An Eagle

If you think the plot of Boogie Nights was crazy, you haven't heard the story of Dennis Parker. He starred in straight porn films like the infamous Barbara Broadcast as Wade Nichols. Then in 1979, he recorded a disco album for Casablanca Records. It was called Like An Eagle and was produced by Village People creator Jacques Morali. Only an actor could pull of the music video below, shot guerrilla style in New York City. Love the reaction of the people behind him. 

After a role playing  Derek Mallory on daytime soap The Edge of Night, Parker would sadly become one of the early victims of the AIDS epidemic.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Just A Spineless Wobbly Jellyfish

XTC : When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty

On August 17, 1979 XTC released Drums and Wires, an extraordinary album that combines the band's eclectic new wave sound with a surprising talent for melody that only had been hinted at in earlier recordings. The  album marks the debut of guitarist Dave Gregory who replaced keyboardist Barry Andrews who would join Iggy Pop's tour, then League of Gentlemen with Robert Fripp before forming Shriekback. 

Red Starr of Smash Hits kicked off his contemporaneous review with the line "This record is so-o-o-o good--a small classic from Britain's most underrated band". 

What the hell. Let's read the rest:

As clever as ever and just as tuneful, humorous and powerful, but slower and more subdued in mood. Two guitarists/no keyboard XTC are also more sophisticated and experimental so this may take longer to penetrate but it is wonderful. Packaging also contains all XTC's vinyl lyrics ever, and early copies also get a free unreleased single. Nuff said--get it. Best trax: "Making Planes for Nigel", "Helicopter" and most of the rest. ( 9 out of 10).

When it was suggested that Drums and Wires is commercial enough to be considered a sell-out, drummer Terry Chambers responded :

When a group gets signed by a record company they have to be a bit fashionable or a little bit 'next year's thing', otherwise the record company won't touch 'em. If you just stick like that ... if, you don't progress with the times, then you become a bit of a dinosaur. Like Budgie or something.

And from Colin Moulding, who wrote the hit single above: 

We just have this basic need to be interesting, but not to be so different as to be out of the game. We're trying to do things that are interesting to ourselves; things with a bit of a tune, a bit of melody. Just...interesting. 

On a personal note, this is the first XTC album I ever bought. I must have heard "Ten Feet Tall" on my college radio station before I started DJ-ing there. I love the whole thing.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

With a Rocksteady Beat

Madness : The Prince


In August of 1979, Madness released their debut single "The Prince" b/w "Madness" on the 2 Tone label founded by Jerry Dammers of The Specials. "The Prince" is a tribute to Jamaican ska singer Prince Buster whose song "Madness" gave the Camden Town band its name and whose "One Step Beyond" would be the follow-up single. The Specials' "Gangsters", climbing the charts at U.K.#14, also sampled Prince Buster. 

This performance on Top of the Pops, with bass former bass player Chas Smith fulfilling his new role as dancer and backing vocalist, won over fans. After scoring a U.K.#16 with the debut single and #7 with "One Step Beyond", Madness would become one of the biggest U.K. bands of the 1980s.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Listen to Me Baby

The Last : This Kind of Feeling

On August 15, 1979, on the heels of The Knack's debut, the Los Angeles power pop band, The Last, released L.A. Explosion on Bomp! Records. Trouser Press called it  "a near perfect debut, marred only by flat production." The band, made up of three Hermosa Beach brothers who updated the sounds of classic 60's pop, inspired the paisley underground scene that gave us The Bangles, The Three O'Clock, The Long Ryders, The Plimsouls and Rain Parade. This album was reissued in 2003 with bonus tracks.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Lovely is the Feeling Now

Michael Jackson : Don't Stop Till You Get Enough

On August 10, 1979 19 year old Michael Jackson released Off The Wall, just weeks after the release of "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough", the first single Jackson wrote himself and the first of his singles to hit #1 in the United States.

Jackson was in rehearsals for The Wiz when he asked Quincy Jones to recommend a producer who could help him score his first hit solo album since Ben. Jones suggested himself and brought in members of The Brothers Johnson and Rufus  to play on the  new album.  Another key ingredient is Heatwave songwriter Rod Temperton ( of "Boogie Nights" fame). In fact, if you listen to "Boogie Nights", you hear the entire blueprint of  Off the Wall. Songs that begin with atmosphere before suddenly lifting off with a funky bass line, repetitive backing vocals and a hook that will send the masses to the dance floor.

Now listen to the title track from Off the Wall:

Temperton also wrote "Rock With You" and "Burn This Disco Out". There are other songwriters involved of course. Paul McCartney's sugary "Girlfriend". Stevie Wonder's " I Can't Help It", Carole Bayer Sager and David Foster's "It's The Falling In Love" ( recorded way back in 1975). But the triumph belongs to Jackson who would sell 12 million copies of this album. Quincy Jones said " All my life I wanted to see an entertainer like Michael really do his thing with no limitations." Off the Wall is the result. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Says She's Henry's Kid

The Stranglers : Duchess

On August 12, 1979 The Stranglers new single "Duchess" entered the U.K. charts at #48.  The song, about a rich girl who's convinced she's a direct descendent of Henry VIII, would peak at U.K.#14 despite the BBC's decision to ban the video for its portrayal of choir boys singing a Stranglers song. A pretty tame Stranglers song compared to some others I can think of. The band's fourth studio album, The Raven, would be released the following month.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Don't Take Her For Granted

J.J Cale : Sensitive Kind

In August of 1979 J.J. Cale ,  the low-key, low profile singer songwriter from Tornado Alley, released his fifth album, 5. It was first album since Eric Clapton took Cale's "Cocaine" to U.S. #30 in 1977. But Cale was in no mood to change his sound and cash in on whatever new notoriety he might have gained. 5 has a cleaner guitar sound than on previous efforts but it is still the same laid-back, swampy mix of minor key blues we've always expected from J.J. Cale. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Not Just Another Slimy Bore

Iggy Pop : I'm Bored


In the Summer of 1979 Iggy Pop made a memorable appearance on the Australian music show Countdown. Fresh off a flight across an ocean, a shirtless Pop appears glassy-eyed, playfully manic, and incapable of sitting in a chair or paying attention to "sensible questions" from host Molly Meldrum. As the program aired a video of David Bowie's "D.J.", Pop wandered off the set but he returned for an energetic lip-syncing performance of the New Values track "I'm Bored".

Many years later Pop would return to Australia where he was taped watching his performance."I coulda gone on there and spat at the guy or whatever. I didn't do that," he said. 

Regarding the performance: "That's a pretty rocking song and it's hard to deliver a rock song solo like that. Harder when it's an audience that doesn't know what planet you landed in - from and wishes you'd go away and wants their daddy to get rid of you or whatever."

Monday, August 5, 2019

Joe Jackson's Top 10 Fave Songs

Joe Jackson : It's Different For Girls

As told to Smash Hits Magazine for their August 23-September 5, 1979 issue via Like Punk Never Happened . That year Joe Jackson released his first two albums, Look Sharp and I'm The Man.

1. Bruce Springsteen: Born To Run
1. The Clash: London's Burning
1. Prince Buster: Al Capone
1. David Bowie: Drive-In Saturday
1. Gregory Isaacs: Mr Know It All
1. Public Image LTD: Public Image
1. Taper Zukie: M.P.L.A.
1. Big Youth: Hit The Road Jack
1. Ray Campi and His Rockabilly Rebels: Teenage Boogie
10.The Legendary Stardust Cowboy: Paralysed

a) "Choosing ten favourites is hard enough; putting them in order is impossible. Anyone who can name their favourite record ever must have narrow musical tastes. Therefore I've chose nine number one's.
b) Number 10 is probably the worst record ever made.
c) Reggae is my favourite music so I've chose four reggae tracks.Next time I do a top ten it'll be four different ones.
d) I didn't choose anything more than three or four years old except Prince Buster-the old favourites are everyone's favourites."

Big Youth: Hit the Road Jack

Taper Zukie :  M P L A

Legendary Stardust Cowboy: Paralysed

Saturday, August 3, 2019

There's a Party in My Mind

Talking Heads : Memories Can't Wait

On August 3, 1979 Talking Heads released Fear of Music, the band's third album. With lines like "I know the animals are laughing at us" and "I got three passports, a couple of visas,/You don't even know my real name", this is the band's most paranoid album. Recorded in Chris and Tina's New York City loft and produced by Brian Eno, it's loaded with one word song titles ("Air", "Paper", "Heaven", "Drugs", "Cities") and a black embossed album cover designed by Jerry Harrison. The album finished 4th in the Village Voice Pazz + Jop Critics poll behind Graham Parker's  Squeezing Out Sparks , Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps and The Clash's US release of their 1977 debut.  

John Pareles wrote the review for Rolling Stone:

Time stands still when you're cracking up. At the brink of mental overload, there's a revelatory instant -- a frozen frame in which everything fits together in new ways. Logic dissolves, paralogic reigns. And in that precarious moment, the world is fixed in place, skewed and renewed. 

 David Byrne's lyrics on Talking Heads' Fear of Music are paralogical visions stated with almost childlike directness: he thinks that air hits him in the face, that animals want to change his life, that "someone controls electric guitar." By itself, this perspective makes Byrne's songs fascinating. But what makes Talking Heads my favorite and probably the best rock band anywhere is that they've invented an audio analog to their view from the brink: rock music that warps and suspends time.

 They use a simple device: repetition. Unswerving rhythms, immobile harmonies. Each tune is a chain of sections linked by rhythm, each section a matrix of interlocking riffs. "I Zimbra" stakes Talking Heads' claim to pure mechanization. One by one, the instruments click into place in a rhythm pattern fleshed out by Afro-futurist harmonies and topped by the meaningless chanted syllables of a poem by Twenties Dadaist Hugo Ball. At composition's end, Robert Fripp's guitar phases through the whole pulsing assemblage like the shuttle of a high-speed loom.

From the A- review by Robert Christgau:

David Byrne's celebration of paranoia is a little obsessive, but like they say, that doesn't mean somebody isn't trying to get him. I just wish material as relatively expansive as "Found a Job" or "The Big Country" were available to open up the context a little; that way, a plausible prophecy like "Life During Wartime" might come off as cautionary realism instead of ending up in the nutball corner with self-referential fantasies like "Paper" and "Memories Can't Wait." And although I'm impressed with the gritty weirdness of the music, it is narrow--a little sweetening might help.

Novelist Jonathan Lethem wrote an in-depth exploration of the album for the 331/3 series. He told NPR how the album impacted him as a teen:

My father was a painter, and I was already an art student myself, and so all the frameworks that seemed to be surrounding this music — the self-conscious brandishing of neuroses and fear, the bookishness, the pretentions to the visual arts, the celebration and anxiety about New York City, the sneaky relationship to black polyrhythms and dance music, but putting kind of a gawky white face on top of that — all of this just made it like a magic trick, I identified with it so totally. It also had narrative elements and language elements, motifs that really mattered a lot to me. It seemed to be kind of dystopian — kind of about that weird way in which everyday life could feel also a bit like a paranoid future. That certain kinds of encroachments of technology, or political paranoia, or the undertow of devastation in the urban environment, all of these could combine to make you feel like you were living in a sort of science fiction novel. And it seemed to me that Fear of Music was saying the same thing about everyday life — that it was both the future and the present all at once, that it was supposed to be totally normal, made up of familiar stuff — "Paper" and "Air" and "Drugs" and "Animals" — but it still had this ominous overtone, that all of these things could seem charged. Like they were grievances, or like they were your enemy in some way simultaneously.