on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2015 4 Jul

„The Heat Goes On“

von: Michael Engelbrecht Filed under: Blog | TB | 6 Comments

I was living in the Bavarian Wood when this album came out. In some areas they might have still brought the mail on horses. REMAIN IN LIGHT partly soundtracked my life in the hinterland. Drug therapy with adults at the end of the world.  At least that I’ve told before. I’m a looper. I knew from the two earlier Eno-produced Talking Heads albums that David Byrne was a specialist in dream-inspired imagery that easily suggests lost souls, neurotic townies. But when they produced the album, they were in a studio on the Bahamas with no deadlines and a lot of heat around.

Skilled in undermining any linear story-bound logic, you never know exactly what it’s all about. In that time they, too, studied African polyrhythms and African music theory. They read books. And they learned quickly. One of the mysteries of masterpieces of the pop history: you don’t have to study years and years on a conservatory, to make inspirations work. In this case Jon Hassell was a helping hand, and the „mad scientist“ in the background, the magician with a big bag of living knowledge.

In all the years I have listened to that record, and this song, it was always a song about ego-dumping. Disssolving the routines of defining your own ego. May happen in mental illness, in meditation, in deep listening, in the Outer Hebrides. (Listen to the sounds & words of „A Man Wakes Up“ of the Eno/Hyde-collaboration „Someday World“, it covers similar territory of alienation and fulfilment!) 

In „Born Under Punches“ this kind of ego-dumping is wrapped in motives that suggest fever, paranoia, danger, tropical heat, unrelentless yearning, inner peace, kind of mini-satoris. Hope. Love of life. How’s that? Another trick of the magicians involved. The Known/Unknown territory. A weird mix of strongly contrasting emotions (states of mind) that inspires any form of stop making sense immediately. Liberating. The Bahamas, Africa, come to Europe. It happens every day now. Just go outside. And let the song creep under your skin.

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  1. Bill J.:

    Taking their collaboration with producer/co-writer Brian Eno to new heights, Talking Heads delve into sequencing, African rhythms, and sampling for the groundbreaking Remain in Light LP (1980).

    This dense mix of funk, punk, third-world sounds, and electronica — gelling powerfully on the song „Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)“ — influenced not only rock music, but funk, hip-hop, and other dance and programmed music that came after. This successful blend came at a time in pop music when few artists were experimenting with such cross-pollination.

    As Ken Tucker noted in his Rolling Stone review at the time: „Seldom in pop music history (had) there been a larger gap between what black and white audiences were listening to.“

    David Byrne’s narrator is yet another alienated, lost soul seeing a world filtered through his delusions and paranoia: „A government man/Born under punches/I’m a tumbler..I am not drowning man/And I am not a burning building…I’m so thin.“

    But this narrator — not an atypical one for Byrne — takes on a more menacing edge than even his „Psycho Killer“ protagonist in the context of this new, layered, neo-primitive music; the raw, funk-informed, guitar-based new wave of that former track has been supplanted by a thick menage of polyrhythmic percussion, staccato guitars, popping bass, and Devo-like electronic blips and bleeps, which erupt from one of guest guitarist Adrian Belew’s guitar-synth squalls.

    And it is all, remarkably, in time to the beat. Byrne alternately speaks and shouts his invectives and warnings through a rich reverb effect, slipping his lines in between a call-and-response backing-vocal section.

    The latter serves as a sort of Greek chorus that the singer reacts to (while remaining disjointed) in an internal dialogue: „All I want is to breathe (I’m too thin)/Won’t you breathe with me/Find a little space/So we move in between (I’m a tumbler)/And keep one step of yourself.“

    The backing vocals take on a P-Funk dimension during the last lines of the song: „And the heat goes on/Where the hand has been.“ It is rare for a band to be so experimental and melodically catchy simultaneously. „We wanted to develop an understanding of the African musical concept of interlocking, interdependent parts and rhythms that combine to make a coherent whole,“ Byrne explained to Rolling Stone in 1980.

    The tracks are unrelenting in their assault, but the haunting-but-soothing melodies of the chorus and the exit section rest languidly atop. All of the melodic components merge in a point/counterpoint round as the song draws to a close.

  2. Norbert Ennen:

    … and if you want the best sounding version of this masterpiece. Take the Rhino vinyl reissue.

  3. Michael Engelbrecht:


    Come to the electric room and listen to the 5:1-mix!

    Two ways of heaven.

  4. Norbert Ennen:

    You know I’m a vinyl guy but I’ll try.

  5. Michael Engelbrecht:

    I love vinyl, too. Just ordered the Rhino vinyl edition. Asides from the quality, it’s a funny reminder of the long lost copy from the Bavarian woods, and of course it will sound excellent. You’re always welcome for a visit in our secret studio space in Bergisch-Gladbach. Only 12 people on earth do know the adress.

  6. Michael Engelbrecht:

    From Karl’s diary:

    Into city heat, blacktop switched for the steely twins,
    cruising sunbaked stains & stinks before the rains wash it all
    down the drain. Give me shade & cool, a place I feel calm & human.
    This heat belongs on another island, feel free to take it with you
    when you leave. Thinking cool thoughts.

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