Talking Heads - Houses In Motion
Sometimes it takes a listen or two for a song’s lyrics to really sink in, but when you do, there’s always that moment of revelation… a “holy shit” moment involved, once the meaning of the song sets in.
That said, once you listen to Devo a few times and start to pick out the lyrics, and couple them with their music videos, that realization hits…
Devo’s songs are dark as FUCK. And their fourth and fifth albums, “New Traditionalists” and “Oh, No! It’s Devo”, are probably their darkest works. As if the video for” Peek-A-Boo!” doesn’t drive that point further!
1981 was quite a busy year for our boys from Düsseldorf! Kraftwerk had released their fifth canon album (as they put it), Computer World (German: Computerwelt) in May of that year, spent some time beforehand completely revamping their studio so as to become entirely portable (they essentially packed up nearly all of Kling Klang, their studio, to take with them on tours), and launched a huge tour for the new album. Computer World would go on to be one of their most influential albums, and for myself, it’s one of my favorite albums of all time.
Computer World also spawned three singles, one of which is “Pocket Calculator”, the subject of today’s article.
"Pocket Calculator", in keeping with the theme of the album itself (the prevailance of computers and their rise in society), was released in several languages: German ("Taschenrechner"), French ("Mini Calculateur"), Italian ("Mini Calcolatore"), English, and Japanese (“Dentaku,” or 電卓). The song itself features Ralf Hütter’s lyrics, “I’m the operator with my pocket calculator!”, suggesting the whimsy of the wonderful sounds one can make with a calculator’s bleeps and bloops. During the song, Ralf also sings, “By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody!”, followed by a cheerful little bleepy tune from the calculator. It’s also silly, melodic fun, and is also toe-tappingly addicting!
In the USA, “Pocket Calculator”, backed with the Japanese version, “Dentaku”,was released as a single by Warner Bros. Records as both a 7” and a 12” single; the 7” versions are pressed on yellow vinyl. The 12” single was only released for promotional purposes in the USA, but during one of my excursions to go record hunting in New York, I managed to snag a copy of the 12” single for a cool $4. It now proudly graces my vinyl library, as well as my turntable whenever friends drop by!
Years later, “Dentaku”, along with “Pocket Calculator”, were vastly revamped and remixed for Kraftwerk’s 1991 remix album, The Mix.
I leave you tonight with a parting gift: the complete version of “Dentaku” for your listening pleasure. Until next time, keep the tunes spinning!
David Byrne is best well known as one quarter of the synergy of the 70s/80s post-punk/new wave/art rock band Talking Heads. Hell, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when many people hear his name. But to stop there is to also do him quite an injustice. Yes, Talking Heads is where he got his start, and undoubtedly they’re one of the most important and influential bands of the era. But Byrne was never one to rest on his laurels! He also has a massive body of solo works under his belt: beginning in 1981, when he composed music for Twyla Tharp’s dance project The Catherine Wheel, he then went on to release albums such as My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (with Brian Eno, who helped produce three Talking Heads albums), Music for The Knee Plays, the soundtrack for Robert Wilson’s play "the CIVIL warS", and the subject of this article of The Vinyl Spinner: the soundtrack to David Byrne’s 1986 movie True Stories.
While Talking Heads did release an album called True Stories right around the time that the movie came out, it wasn’t really a proper soundtrack album per se, but instead was composed of Talking Heads versions of many of the songs featured in the movie. A later deluxe release of that album in 2005 added in two additional tracks: the version of “Papa Legba” as song by Pops Staples, who played the kindly voodoo practitioner Mr. Tucker, and Tito Larriva’s (Ramon in the movie) version of “Radio Head”.
That leaves Sounds From True Stories to contain all of the incidental and orchestrated pieces from the movie within itself, along with a few additional songs. The soundtracks covers country, Tejano, ambient, rock, and even “muzak” (yes, there is an entire muzak track on this album!), but like the movie it accompanies, is cool, quirky, and quite fun to listen to!
The album’s track listing is as follows:
1) “Cocktail Desperado” - Terry Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band
2) “Road Song” - Meredith Monk
3) “Freeway Son” - David Byrne
4) “Brownie’s Theme” - David Byrne
5) “Mall Muzak” - Carl Finch (in 3 parts: Building A Highway, Puppy Polka, Party Girls)
6) “Dinner Music” - Kronos Quartet
7) “Disco Hits!” - David Byrne
8) “City of Steel” - Talking Heads
9) “Love Theme from True Stories" - David Byrne
10) “Festa para um rei negro” - Banda Eclipse
11) “Buster’s Theme” - Carl Finch
12) “Soy de Tejas” - Steve Jordan
13) “I ♥ Metal Buildings” - David Byrne
14) “Glass Operator” - David Byrne
Of all of the tracks, two are different renditions of Talking Heads songs: “City of Steel” is “City of Dreams”, with the addition of a steel guitar, and of all the tracks, the only one featuring all the member of Talking Heads, and “Glass Operator” is a rendition of “Dream Operator” opened with the sounds of a glass harmonica. Both “City of Dreams” and “Dream Operator” featured on True Stories, and “City of Dreams” played over the closing credits of the movie.
There’s one drawback of the whole album, and that’s its rarity. It only saw a release on vinyl and cassette only, and was never issued on CD. This will make it quite hard to find, but fans of Talking Heads and of David Byrne’s solo works owe it to themselves to add this album to their collection. Tracks like “Road Song” and “Freeway Son” are beautiful and mysterious, lending a feel like you’re travelling in a big, wide, wild world, and “City of Steel” and “Glass Operator” go to show just how brilliant Byrne’s musical composition was.
While I haven’t seen one myself, I’m sure that someone out there has a torrent of this album seeding somewhere. While it’s fine to get a torrent to hear it right away, this is an album that you should physically own. Hopefully one day, David Byrne can get all the rights cleared up so he can release this album on CD or even digital download.
Fortunately, a kind soul has uploaded the entire album to YouTube, so you can hear it for yourself, vinyl pops and hisses and all. Here’s a link to “Cocktail Desperado”, the first track of the album, as a parting gift for tonight. Till next time, keep the tunes spinning!