Song of the Day #565: ‘Tiny Town’ – David Byrne

After the unexpected brilliance of Rei Momo, David Byrne’s second solo album was a disappointment. 1992’s Uh-Oh felt far too processed… it lacked the organic feel of his first solo outing.

But, as the saying goes, the worst David Byrne album is still better than most albums, and Uh-Oh does have its share of worthy tracks. The best of them maintain the world music feel of his previous record while leaving room for his signature eccentricities.

And you have to admire the CD cover art, which depicts a Snoopy-like cartoon dog sitting on what appears to be God’s throne in Heaven.

In sampling songs for today’s blog entry, I was a little more impressed by Uh-Oh than I have been in the past. Sometimes listening to old songs with new ears (both in the sense of me being older and in some way different than the last time I heard it, and in the sense that I’m listening with a specific purpose in mind) does them a service.

‘Tiny Town’ is typical of the better songs on Uh-Oh — rich and uplifting and weird. And it probably sets a record for the number of uses of the word “tiny.”

It’s a tiny town, you can hang around with me
It’s a tiny town, and ev’rybody knows what you been doin’
So don’t you mess around, ’cause it’s a tiny town,
Teeny weeny town, tiny town, tiny town
And ev’ry little town, if you look around
Is a tiny town, tiny town, tiny town

Be careful my darlin’
What you say and do
The shit that you make
Comes right back to you

And the whole wide world is a tiny town
Full of tiny ideas
With each tiny heart pumpin’ up and down
Come be tiny with me

Such a tiny town, but we have trouble livin’ with each other
Some would knock you down
And someone else would like to steal your lover
It’s a tiny town and it’s enough to make you lose your mind
Mother nature says – she don’t play that way
So quit your cryin’

Mama still loves you
When you go astray
You don’t need to push
Her in her grave

In my tiny mind you are tiny too
I’ll be tiny tonight
For each tiny me there’s a tiny you
Close your tiny town eyes

And the birds sweetly singing
In the tiny town trees
And the animals ask what you’re doin’
Well it’s as plain as can be

I see your sadness
Like birds in the air
I see them all
Flying away

In each tiny heart in this tiny world
Is a tiny desire
And each tiny boy and each tiny girl
Close their tiny town eyes

And the whole wide world is a tiny town
Full of tiny ideas
With our tiny hearts pumpin’ up and down
Come be tiny with me

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20 thoughts on “Song of the Day #565: ‘Tiny Town’ – David Byrne

  1. Amy says:

    David Byrne is one of those artists I admire more than I ever actually want to hear. Whenever I do listen to one of his songs, I appreciate it. Some of them, I even enjoy. Still, when scanning my CD collection for new music to play, I automatically skip right over his albums. Perhaps he’s too twee ;) He suffers from some of the same pretentiousness that plagues Sting and Elvis Costello (and Paul Simon and Joe Jackson?), but I’m far more eager to listen to music by any of them.

    So… I’m not sure what it is. Any speculation?

  2. Dana says:

    First addressing Amy’s question, I’m not so sure she reaches for any of the other “pretentious” artists she named, with the possibly exception of some Sting and Paul Simon. I think she may eschew these artists in favor of “lighter” fare, perhaps because she finds it to be more of an effort to listen to artists like Byrne, and therefore less fun.

    But here’s the thing about Byrne, much of the time when you actually listen to his songs, they are far more accessible and fun than his reputation might otherwise suggest. Today’s SOTD is, for me, an example of that. I find this song imminently and effortlessly listenable, even danceable if one wanted to just beep bop along to it in the car. While Byrne is musically adventurous, I think he always tries to infuse his songs with the fun, something that goes back to his Talking Head days.

    I’m not really familiar with today’s song or the album from which it came, but it sounds pretty good to me.

  3. Clay says:

    I definitely wouldn’t call Byrne twee. I agree with Dana that Byrne’s music is far more accessible than one might think. He’s actually very playful and almost juvenile at times.

    My theory – which I just came up with this second – is that you gravitate toward warm artists and Byrne is a very cool artist (emotionally).

  4. Amy says:

    Hmmm…. I’m intrigued by that notion. I wonder if that theory would hold up under scrutiny. How do we determine whether an artist is warm or cool? Lyrics? Music? Overall vibe?

  5. Clay says:

    I’d say it’s a combination of vocals and lyrics. Byrne has a very clipped, oddball delivery and he tends to write with clinical detachment. My guess is those qualities don’t draw you in. His music is generally on the “warm” side, I’d say, not unlike Paul Simon’s exploration of world music. But Simon has a very inviting, friendly voice (ie., warm) and writes sensitive lyrics about the human condition.

  6. Amy says:

    Okay… so the voices I most enjoy listening to, say Adam Duritz as a prime and lasting example – would be “warm” and inviting, while those I avoid (Rufus Wainwright?) would be considered cold? Over the years, I’ve been most passionate about and listened most frequently to music by Counting Crows, R.E.M., Indigo Girls, James Taylor, Lyle Lovett, Tracy Chapman, Sting, Paul Simon, John Mellencamp… (I’m trying to think of artists I’ve paid money to see perform in addition to owning and playing their albums)… Elvis Costello (though I don’t reach for his albums), Joni Mitchell… I’m running out of steam.

    Any “cold” artists there? I agree with your point that Byrne’s music is warm, or at least, that it’s the aspect of his songs that most draws me in. But I can’t think of a single lyric that resonates with me (though I can sing “Take Me to the River” the hundred times it’s repeated in the song of the same name).

    By the way, I appreciate you offering up a theory that doesn’t have me too shallow and unwilling to expend the “effort” that is required to enjoy these artists.

  7. dana says:

    I wasn!t suggesting you were shallow or unwilling to make the effort, just that you might favor lighter music. I like clay’s warm theory even better though.

  8. Clay says:

    Well, my whole warm/cold theory might not hold much water. I wouldn’t characterize Rufus Wainwright (or his voice) as “cold” by any means. Now of course I’m not suggesting that you must like ALL “warm” artists, but I’m having trouble thinking of other examples of cold ones.

    Rap and heavy metal strike me as two cold genres. Country is a warm one. New wave is cold. Blues is warm. Rock and roll is generally warm but it can be either. Adult contemporary artists like Sade, Anita Baker, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, Tracy Chapman… definitely warm. Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson are on the cold side.

    Romantic songs are warm, cerebral songs tend to be cold. Randy Newman can be very warm and very cold, often on the same album.

  9. Dana says:

    Boy, I totally disagree with you as to your list of adult contemporary artists–I think all of them are warm (Joe Jackson isn’t, but he also should not be classified as adult contemporary–except for some stuff from Night and Day)

    Rufus may be warm, but his voice is just flat out annoying much of the time (in our opinion).

    Maybe “emotional” is an even better word than warm to describe Amy’s taste. And Rufus, even if warm, is really not emotional.

  10. Clay says:

    You disagree that those are adult contemporary artists or that they’re warm? I wasn’t including Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson in the list of adult contemporary… should have split that sentence onto another line.

    And Rufus is absolutely emotional, even when annoying. :-)

  11. Dana says:

    I disagree that the adult contemporary artists you list are cold (particularly Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow)

    And I disagree that Rufus is emotional in his delivery–he is far more of a technical singer with a classic (though annoying:)) voice. But even if you want to consider him emotional (as I could see that his subject matter if not his delivery could be regarded as such), he still lacks passion.

    So, let me further revise the theory. Amy likes PASSIONATE artists–this would explain why she likes Duritz (who you say is whiny, but we would all agree is passionate) and Rufus (whiny without passion)

  12. Clay says:

    I was saying that all adult contemporary artists (including the ones I listed) are warm, not cold.

    I’d disagree about Rufus not being passionate, too. I find him to be one of the most passionate (and emotional) artists in my entire CD collection… it’s one of the reasons I love his music so much. Maybe if you find him annoying it’s harder to hear that other stuff.

    I think Amy likes some passionate artists but I bet she dislikes a whole bunch of them, too. I’m sticking with warm for Amy!

  13. Dana says:

    Oh, I thought you were saying adult contemporary artists were cold. Never mind:)

    But as for Rufus, I really don’t hear the passion in his voice. Again, I’m not suggesting that the content of the songs lack passion, nor am I suggesting that he sings without feeling (he certainly is not monotone or robotic). But, to me, passion goes a step beyind just emotional or with feelings — passion generally includes feelings of anger, betrayal, or sexuality. I just don’t hear that in Rufus, though I do often hear melancholy and resignation. On the other hand, artists like Springsteen, Mellencamp, Billy Joel, Duritz have passion in spades.

    Warmth alone doesn’t cut it (for Amy:)) If it did, she would be reaching for the Sade and Anita Baker more often. Amy likes a little bit of rawness and roughness in her artists:)

  14. Clay says:

    This is getting a bit uncomfortable… :-)

    I see what you’re saying about Rufus, although I think that definition of passion almost narrows it to those who sing rock music.

    One exception I can think of is Fiona Apple, who manages to be very passionate in mostly mid-tempo stuff.

  15. Amy says:

    lol – thanks for this very funny bit of afternoon reading.

  16. Amy says:

    Of course you’ve left entirely out of your discussion the artist who is most important to analyze – and that is Lyle Lovett. As he is my desert island artist, and the one whose albums I reach for most frequently, his temperature seems the most pertinent to this discussion.

  17. Clay says:

    That’s interesting, because I’d generally put him in the ‘cold’ category though, like Newman, he has his warm moments.

  18. Amy says:

    That’s what I was guessing (that you’d categorize him as “cool”) based on your other designations. I don’t think he’s particularly raw or passionate, either. So… we need a new theory :)

    Of course, Newman and Lovett both have the humor thing going for them.

  19. Clay says:

    Incidentally, meant to write this earlier, but ‘Take Me to the River’ is a cover.

  20. Amy says:

    Yeah, I thought it was as I wrote that, but I couldn’t be bothered with looking up who they were covering :) Regardless, it’s his version – and his voice – I can hear over and over, so I figured it was still worth mentioning.

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