Continuing the chronological presentation of my 25 favorite songs…
‘Magic’ – Olivia Newton-John (1980)
We move into the 80s now, but starting with a song that has one foot firmly planted in the 70s. The 1980 film Xanadu, with its cheesy effects and kitschy “Greek muse on roller skates” vibe, was widely panned, brought down by the anti-disco movement (and the fact that it’s an awful movie).
But despite the movie’s failure, the Xanadu soundtrack was a critical and commercial hit, going multi-Platinum and earning praise for both Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra.
Maybe it’s the David Byrne American Utopia movie released earlier this year, or maybe it’s pandemic-related, but I’ve been really digging on Talking Heads lately.
When today’s song — the opening track of the 1979 album Fear of Music — popped up as a Random Weekend selection, I was positively giddy. With lyrics based on a nonsensical Dadaist poem by Hugo Ball and music inspired by the African rhythms Byrne was increasingly drawn to, this song is unlike anything the band had done to that point, but still perfectly in character.
My second favorite album of 1983 is the fifth album by one of my favorite bands, Talking Heads. Speaking in Tongues followed the critically-beloved Remain in Light and became the band’s top-selling album to date.
In opening track ‘Burning Down the House,’ Talking Heads enjoyed the only Top Ten hit of their career, but this nine-track album boasts many more treasures. Writing for Rolling Stone, David Fricke made the spot-on observation that Speaking in Tongues “obliterates the thin line separating arty white pop music and deep black funk.”
These songs are at once deeply weird and thoroughly groovy.
Here’s a real Random Weekend treat: a clip from Jonathan Demme’s 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense. This movie, and the accompanying soundtrack album, make up one of the greatest live performances ever captured on film or tape.
The creativity and energy of David Byrne and company are at an all-time high in these performances, captured over four nights at the Hollywood Pantages Theater.
This cover of Al Green’s ‘Take Me to the River’ was the top single from Talking Heads’ 1978 sophomore album More Songs About Buildings and Food (I love that title!).
The song hit #26 on the singles chart, making it their third best performer ever, behind ‘Burning Down the House’ and ‘Wild Wild Life.’ The band also released a terrific live version of ‘Take Me to the River’ on their 1984 concert album/movie Stop Making Sense.