Music Video of the Day: Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads (1985, directed by David Byrne and Stephen R. Johnson)

“I wanted to write a song that presented a resigned, even joyful look at doom … At our deaths and at the apocalypse… (always looming, folks). I think it succeeded. The front bit, the white gospel choir, is kind of tacked on, ’cause I didn’t think the rest of the song was enough… I mean, it was only two chords. So, out of embarrassment, or shame, I wrote an intro section that had a couple more in it.”

— David Byrne on Road to Nowhere

Happy new year!

I want to start 2020 by sharing a video from one of my favorite groups, Talking Heads.  Road to Nowhere is the type of cryptic but joyful song that could only have been done by this group.  The music video features everything from David Byrne running in place to Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz aging before our eyes.

The video was co-directed by David Byne and Stephen R. Johnson.  Johnson would later direct three of Peter Gabriel’s best-known videos, Sledgehammer, Steam, and Big Time, all of which would make use the stop motion animations technique that are briefly displayed in this video.  At the time that Byne and Johnson were directing this video, Byrne was co-written the script for True Stories with actor Stephen Tobolowsky and all of the underwater scenes were filmed in Tobolowsky’s pool.  Tobolowsky has had a long career as a character actor.  He might be best known for playing Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day.

Recognize him now?

Road to Nowhere was nominated for Video of the Year at the 1986 MTV Music Video Awards but it lost to Money for Nothing by Dire Straits.  The award, that year, was presented by Don Henley, who is about as far away from Talking Heads as you can get.


Music Video of the Day: Wild Wild Life by The Talking Heads (1986, directed by David Byrne)

In 1986, David Byrne of Talking Heads directed his very first feature film.  True Stories took place in the fictional town in Virgil, Texas and, as Byrne himself put it, it was “a project with songs based on true stories from tabloid newspapers. It’s like 60 Minutes on acid.”

Some people love True Stories.  I am not one of them.  However, not surprisingly, the film did have a killer soundtrack.  The best known song to come off of the True Stories soundtrack was Wild Wild Life.  The video for Wild Wild Life takes place at what appears to be a karaoke bar, where different performers lip sync to the song while dressed up as their favorite performers.  One person is dressed up like Billy Idol.  Another does Madonna.  Jerry Harrison imitates Prince.  Be sure to keep an eye out for a young John Goodman, who co-starred in True Stories and who damn near steals this video with his energetic performance.

Wild Wild Life subsequently won the award for Best Group Video at the MTV Music Video Awards.

Music Video of the Day: Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads (1981, directed by David Byrne and Toni Basil)

Once In A Lifetime has since become one of the signature tunes of the ’80s but, when the song was first released in 1981, it didn’t even manage to break the top 100 on the US charts, peaking at 103.  (The song did find more success in the UK, where it reached #13.)  At the time, the song was not considered to be “radio friendly.”  Not even the fact that the video was put into heavy rotation during the early days of MTV could change the minds of stubborn programmers who were convinced that the sound of David Byrne considering his life would lead to listeners switching the channel.

The video, which features multiple David Byrnes performing against a white backdrop, was directed by Byrne and the famous dancer/choreographer Toni Basil.  (Basil, of course, had her own hit around the same time with her video for Mickey.)  In the book, MTV Ruled the World – The Early Years of Music Video, Basil discussed making the video with Byrne:

“He wanted to research movement, but he wanted to research movement more as an actor, as does David Bowie, as does Mick Jagger. They come to movement in another way, not as a trained dancer. Or not really interested in dance steps. He wanted to research people in trances – different trances in church and different trances with snakes. So we went over to UCLA and USC, and we viewed a lot of footage of documentaries on that subject. And then he took the ideas, and he ‘physicalized’ the ideas from these documentary-style films … David kind of choreographed himself. I set up the camera, put him in front of it and asked him to absorb those ideas. Then I left the room so he could be alone with himself. I came back, looked at the videotape, and we chose physical moves that worked with the music. I just helped to stylize his moves a little.”

As for the song, Byrne has said that he came up with most of the lyrics while listening to radio evangelists and the song’s plaintive cry of “How did I get here?” should sound familiar to anyone who has ever heard any of the old style preachers going at it.  The song’s signature bassline was developed by Tina Weymouth, who has said that she based it on the sound of her husband (and Talking Heads drummer) Chris Frantz yelling.

As for the song, it may not have charted but it has gone on to become one of the defining songs of the 80s.  The song would also be one of the highlights of the greatest concert film ever made, Stop Making Sense.

A Movie A Day #1: Stop Making Sense (1984, directed by Jonathan Demme)

stop_making_sense_poster_originalA pair of immaculate white sneakers, being worn by the lead singer of The Talking Heads, David Byrne, walk out onto a bare stage while an unseen audience applauds.  Byrne places a radio on the stage beside him and says, “I have a tape I want to play for you.”  Accompanied only by a drum machine and an acoustic guitar, Byrne launches into a performance of Psycho Killer that ends with him lurching across the stage like a marionette that is losing its strings.

So begins the greatest concert film of all time, Stop Making Sense.

As Psycho Killer comes to an end, Byrne is joined on stage by bassist Tina Weymouth.  While Byrne and Weymouth perform Heaven, the black-clad stage crew sets up a drum kit behind them.  Drummer Chris Frantz comes out for the third song, Thank You For Sending Me An Angel.  The fourth member of the Talking Heads, Jerry Harrison, appears on stage for Found A Job and is then followed by several touring members of the band, including legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell, guitarist Alex Weir, percussionist Steve Scales, and backup singers, Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt.  It’s not until the concert’s sixth song, Burning Down The House, that the entire band is on stage.

Pieced together from three separate shows performed at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, Stop Making Sense showcases one of the most important bands of the 80s at their absolute best.  Eschewing any candid footage of the band backstage and only occasionally showing any shots of the audience, Jonathan Demme keeps the focus on the music and David Byrne’s amazing showmanship.  Even more than the music, what really makes Stop Making Sense stand out is Byrne’s physicality.  During one instrumental passage, Byrne even runs around the stage in circles before jumping back to his microphone without missing a beat.

Though the entire band is in great form, Byrne is almost always the focus of attention.  The only time he’s not is when he goes backstage during a performance of Genius Of Love by Weymouth and Frantz’s side project, The Tom Tom Club.  During that time, Byrne is changing into the “big suit,” the costume that continues to define the Talking Heads to this day.

Along with Burning Down The House, highlights include Life During Wartime,


Once in a Lifetime,

and Stop Making Sense‘s most famous moment, David Byrne performing Girlfriend is Better while wearing the iconic “big suit.”

Stop Making Sense is a fun, exhilarating, and sometimes exhausting concert film and, given all the bad feelings that exist between Byrne and the other three members of the band, it’s probably as close as any of us will ever get to experiencing The Talking Heads live.

For tomorrow’s movie a day, I’ll be explaining why Blue Chips always makes me think of England.

Music Video of the Day: Burning Down The House by Talking Heads (1983, dir. David Byrne)

I am in no position to write about this now, but I refuse to let a day go by without one of these posts. Just enjoy this classic Talking Heads song that drives home well that they were former art school students who started a new wave band.

If you want to know who worked on it, then you can look at the listing on IMDb.