Wednesday, October 8, 1980

Talking Heads released Remain in Light: October 8, 1980

First posted 10/8/2013; updated 12/13/2020.

Remain in Light

Talking Heads

Released: October 8, 1980

Peak: 19 US, 21 UK, 6 CN, 25 AU

Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, 0.1 UK, 0.83 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: alternative rock/Afropop


Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)
  2. Crosseyed and Painless (36 CL, 27 CO)
  3. The Great Curve
  4. Once in a Lifetime (2/2/81, 91 US, 82 CB, 1 CL, 14 UK, 28 CN, 23 AU)
  5. Houses in Motion (5/9/81, 30 CO, 50 UK)
  6. Seen and Not Seen
  7. Listening Wind (16 CO)
  8. The Overload

Total Running Time: 40:10

The Players:

  • David Byrne (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion)
  • Jerry Harrison (guitar, keyboards, percussion, backing vocals)
  • Tina Weymouth (bass, keyboards, percussion, backing vocals)
  • Chris Frantz (drums, percussion, keyboards, backing vocals)


4.249 out of 5.00 (average of 21 ratings)

Quotable: A “New Wave watershed” – Rolling Stone and “a quintessential snapshot of world music” – Michael Roffman, Consequence of Sound

Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

“David Byrne might be the last true genius in music experimentation…Even if you don’t understand the Talking Heads, which you will (it just…hits you), you can’t help but appreciate it. Why? Because you appreciate something that’s unique, original, and, above all, bizarre.” CS This may be “the best art-rock album ever.” ZG

“New Wave had far more to it than just being those few years after punk when everyone danced a little better. And from that era” SL Remain in Light “serves as a timeless signpost of a period when artists were not only unafraid to experiment within the idiom of the pop song, they were practically expected to.” SL Talking Heads “took what was being increasingly regardes as a generally cerebral extension of punk and turned it into something far more global in musical and lyrical scope.” SL This was “head music…with an unexpected warmth, and deep, deep soul.” VH1

PopMatters’ Eric Klinger asserts that the album is “100% impossible to dislike.” PM His cohort, Jason Mendelsohn says “there are quite a few ‘music fans’ who might find the obtuse lyrical content and incessant, droning, poly-rhythmic nature of this album to be baffling. But then these people are morons.” PM

In 1980, “Talking Heads fans were pleasantly stunned to hear Remain in Light,” AZ “a fuller, funkier sound nobody imagined they had in them.” AZ “Who knew that geeky former art student had this much soul?” BL Byrne and “Talking Heads were always bursting with nervous energy and interesting ideas,” BL but their fourth album offered an adventurous leap forward. They “made it to the intersection of rock and electronic dance nearly twenty years before anyone else could come close to matching it.” PM

“The album can be genuinely disorienting; there are so many layers of sound, insistent percussion…and the juxtopsotion between Byrne’s voice and Nona Hendryx’s.” PM The “animated David Byrne” CL “chanted and sang his typically disconnected lyrics” AMG which took the listener “out of your standard pop expectations” PM and suggested “just enough to create a definite image and occasionally even an interesting sociological point, but never annoying or heavy-handed.” JA Meanwhile the group was “held together musically by a mathematically precise rhythm section of Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums).” CL

Division Amongst the Band/The Recording Process

Things were not idyllic as the band prepped for recording. Frantz and Weymouth considered leaving because of Byrne’s controlling ways. CS Byrne had openly considered firing Weymouth RS and Byrne wasn’t that interested in recording with the band again.

However, Frantz and Weymouth had made a trip to Jamaica and their discovery of “new avenues of percussion” CS provided some revitalization. When they started jamming together, “songs started materializing before their eyes.” RS By “adding horns and guest performers to their intellectually based muse” CL the group “married their new-wave idiosyncrasies” BL of “what they already did well – those sharp guitar spikes and pummeling up-and-down backbeats – ” TM “to Afro-funk beats and grooves that drew on everything from James Brown to Fela Kuti to disco.” BL

Frantz said, “We were interested in creating sounds that would take us deeper and far beyond what people had come to expect from us.” RS Byrne said they were listening to “African pop music…like Fela Kuti and King Sunny Adé…But we didn’t set out to imitate those…We didn’t get it quite right, but in missing, we ended up with something new.” RS Because the album “takes its cues from African music, the steady groove that keeps winding along becomes something hypnotic.” PM Suddenly “the avant-punk avatars became polyrhythmic pop magicians.” RS500

“The recording behind this album reads like a James Bond film gone overbudget.” CS The band started recording in July 1980 at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, TB then went to New York City, and eventually Los Angeles. Byrne headed to Africa at one point to confront “a case of writer’s block with a portable tape player and some nonsensical phonetics.” CS

Brian Eno

They also owed their newly developed sound to “state of the art equipment, some of which created new sonic environments and platforms to explore in.” CS Credit also goes to “the studied adventurousness” RS500 of Brian Eno as producer, performer, and co-writer of all eight tracks on the album. He had worked earlier on some of David Bowie’s records, but the Talking Heads “are an even better foil for him” JA as they go for “full-blown sound collages.” JA

The songs “started life as lengthy, percussive, full-band jams; the tapes of these performances were manually sliced up and reconfigured as looped grooves and then padded out with additional instrumentation and Byrne’s expansive vocal melodies.” TB “Eno’s formula includes choppy funk bass, weird synth noises, dense layers of polyrhythmic percussion, and repetitive song structures that after a while lull the listener into a near trance.” JA His work “nudges this record from straight, upbeat rock, to the borderlands of electronica.” PM

Guest performers were brought in as well, including Nona Hendryx as a backing vocalist, Jon Hassell on trumpet, and guitarist Brian Eno, who’d worked with Frank Zappa and David Bowie.

“Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”

“From the mystical, opening notes of Born Under Punches, it’s clear that virtually everything about the Talking Heads’ enterprise is different. Less spastic. More streamlined. Reborn as a groove machine with libido-enhancing powers, the rhythm section…kicks out a cryptic code that’s reinforced by the overlapping rhythm guitar circuits of Jerry Harrison and…Belew.” TM His “Stratocaster sounds more like a malfunctioning computer on the Starship Enterprise than any stringed instrument.” SL

“The pulse becomes so strong, it sweeps even the congenitally uptight Byrne into the dance.” TM The song “percolates along nicely, but what draws you into its world is the carnival barker/ranting street preacher persona that seems to take Byrne over.” PM

“Crosseyed and Painless”

“Born Under Punches” and the next two songs “are long, layered, full-body dance parties, with incessantly repeated phrases (musical and lyrical), and increasingly catchy melodic hooks that won’t let go for days.” AZ On “the dreamy, energetic Crosseyed and Painless,” Byrne even raps, showing how the band “truly had their fingers on the metronomic pulse of modern culture.” SL

“The Great Curve”

Belew’s wacky guitar solo on The Great Curve “swoops, careens, and glides like a thrill-seeking pilot at an air show.” SL This was a “Hendrix-on-the-moon guitar solo. Fractured, half-chanted lyrics. David Byrne had ditched his early, mannerist quirkiness for something evern stranger, a radical alienation that might’ve appearled to any adolescent.” VH1

“Once in a Lifetime”

“The exquisite Once in a LifetimeCL is “the greatest song Byrne will ever write.” RC The single flopped initially, but “a striking video” AMG featuring the “sweaty, nervous David Byrne twitching and jerking against that stark white background” PM “introduced Talking Heads to a generation of MTV viewers.” RS

Lyrics like “You may ask yourself” and “How did I get here?” “resmembes more an evangelist’s rant than a pop lyric.” SL Byrne said they “struck a nerve with people and became very memorable.” RS The song did scrape the bottom of the charts after a live version was released in support of their 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense.

Musically, it is “framed by the simplest of grooves (Weymouth’s two-note bass line and Frantz’s fairly funky drum loop) as well as layer upon layer of Harrison’s burbling keyboard, skitch-skitch rhythm guitar, and odd, random noises.” SL It “suggests a pan-international sound without expressing it aurally. Post-modern alienation was never so danceable.” CL

“Houses in Motion”/“Seen and Not Seen”

Then there are “the bizarre horn arrangement” JA and “angular shuffle of Houses in MotionVH1 followed by “the crrepy, Inscrutable recitative Seen and Not Seen.” VH1

“Listening Wind”

“On Listening Wind, trademark ’80s tones coagulate with what sounds like spirits and animals in a far off jungle, all while Byrne croons, ‘He has the knowledge of the wind to guide him…on.’ It’s obscure on paper, but within the world they create, it makes absolute sense.” CS “Socio-political streams of consciousness seem to exist within the lyrics…depicting the efforts of a mail bomber, driven to his actions by ‘The wind in my heart/The dust in my head.’” SL

“The Overload”

And who can ignore album closer The Overload? With its ominous beat and foreboding lyrics,” CS the “spooked crawl” VH1 of the “Eno-like droner” AZ “resonates well these days, in a time where we all complain about how ‘the center is missing.’” CS


The album was a “New Wave watershed” RS500 and “what many critics justly consider to be a quintessential snapshot of world music.” CS It offered evidence that “Talking Heads were connecting with an audience ready to follow their musical evolution” AMG which was “clear-eyed, detached, almost mystically optimistic.” RC

Notes: A CD reissue added the unfinished outtakes “Fela’s Riff,” “Unison,” “Double Groove,” and “Right Start.”

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