David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 253: Talking Heads (The Great Curve)

May 22, 2023

After my last entry, my foray into uncharted waters (for me), perhaps called "The Freak Zone," I decided I needed to fall back onto something very comforting and welcoming. Since my son recently bought me Talking Heads' Remain In Light (requested as I try to fill in my CD collection), they seem a fitting next entry.

First off, you may wonder why it took so long for me to add Remain In Light to my CD collection. Most of the best songs were on my copy of Sand In The Vaseline, the 1992 two CD-set that basically closed the final chapter on the Talking Heads. Today, I feel shame even admitting that Talking Heads only existed on the peripheries of my music collection until I stumbled into a theater to watch Stop Making Sense sometime in 1984. I didn't even own a Talking Heads album at that point, then spent the rest of the 80s getting caught up to speed. I have a feeling, though, that Stop Making Sense did that for a lot of us. 

Remain In Light's greatest track is one not on the 1992 "best of" collection. Someone explain to me how "The Great Curve" failed to make Sand In The Vaseline. Upon hearing it on this recently acquired CD, I reveled in its boundless energy, infectious danceability, and purest hook. While I am tempted to say I am cleansed of my freak, having reverted to music I can understand and appreciate in ways that I can't for Missy Elliott, that would be a lie.

Let's face it, "The Great Curve" is part of a loop, one as repetitive and addicting as the 6-beat Punjab structure of "Get Ur Freak On." David Byrne sought musical influences from the southern hemisphere too, relying on African rhythms as much as Elliott (or Timbland) rely upon Asian rhythms. "The Great Curve" achieves its own relentless, driving loop: bongo drum, bass guitar, percussion. Given that the Talking Heads' previous album had been called Fear of Music, "The Great Curve" (along with most of Remain In Light) may have told us that sometimes we have to face our fears. I am sure there were just as many people who didn't get "The Great Curve" as there were who didn't get "Get Ur Freak On."

It is amazing how easily one can find similarities between these songs, despite the generational, racial, and perhaps even gender-al differences for their composition. There is something fascinating going on with the the additional vocals in both songs (one is hesitant to call either "background vocals"), which seem to come from their own channel, not necessarily providing harmony or texture to, in this case, Byrne, but instead some kind of chant befitting Byrne's description of an earth-goddess. In fact, Byrne's lead vocals seem swallowed up, as if by the big snake that goes on and on with "Darker, Darker," or later, "So say so, so say so." Even just typing these words, that final chant is stuck in my head. Not that I am complaining, mind you.

Trying to penetrate the musical layers of "The Great Curve" to decipher the lyrics is not easy. As when listening to Elliott's track, with the chorus the only lines that break through cleanly, here Byrne's claim that "the world moves on a woman's hip" becomes the unforgettable line. Is that sexual? Is that sexist? (What's the difference? Spinal Tap might ask.) The line might not be original to Byrne, as he is said to have come up with it after reading an art historian's book on African Art (a white art historian, so maybe I have to ask if it is racist? Or is it racy?) Would Missy Elliott and her disciples like this line/idea? Despise it? Either way, I suppose hips don't lie.

"The Great Curve" also featured another artist, much as "Get Ur Freak On" does. In fact, Talking Heads add two significant musical "features" to their song, both Brian Eno (perhaps the precursor to Timbaland), credited as co-writer on the song; and Adrian Belew, whose synth-guitar brings ecstatic moments to the endless loops and the on-going conflicting chants of Byrne with backing singers. Belew's guitar for the outro of the song is exquisite. Byrne may claim the world moves on a woman's hip; it moves on a vibrating guitar string, if you ask me.

The curve of a note, the curve of the earth, the curve of a woman's hip. In the end, who cares? This curve is great. After all, who wants to live a life that is a straight line? Where's the fun in that?

Talking Heads. "The Great Curve." Remain In Light. Sire. 1980. Link here.

Day 252: Missy Elliott "Get Ur Freak On"

Day 254: Loggins & Messina "Your Momma Don't Dance"

See complete list here.