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How Talking Heads Avoided the Sophomore Jinx on ‘More Songs About Buildings and Food’

As the saying goes, artists have their entire life to make a debut album, but only a year to record the follow-up. But Talking Heads managed to avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx on their second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food, which was released in July 1978.

The New York quartet had come out of the box a year earlier with Talking Heads: 77 with a mixture of funk, pop and art-school abstractions, all shot through with a dose of downtown-punk energy. Though it impressed critics, the record failed to chart, and its single, “Psycho Killer,” reached only No. 92 on the Hot 100.

But More Songs About Buildings and Food reached the public, in part thanks to a cover of Al Green’s soul classic “Take Me to the River.” The single got as far as No. 26, showing the world that the bridge between Memphis and CGBG takes a detour through the Rhode Island School of Design.

Just as importantly for its long-term prospects, the album began the band’s association with producer Brian Eno, a former member of Roxy Music who was concurrently working with David Bowie on what would be known as the Berlin Trilogy. Eno pushed Tina Weymouth’s bass, which drove many of the songs against David Byrne‘s scratchy electric guitar, to the front of the mix.

Given the disco backlash at the time, it was a risky decision to emphasize the funk in their sound, but it worked, particularly on the “Found a Job” and “Artists Only.” Eno would go on to produce the next two Talking Heads albums.

The album’s cover, a photo mosaic of the band comprised of 529 Polaroids, showed their art-school training hadn’t gone to waste. Neither the band’s name nor the album’s title appear on the cover —  another risky decision, especially given the poor commercial showing of the debut. But people were still able to find the record: It peaked at No. 29 on the Billboard 200 and was eventually certified gold.

A year later, Talking Heads would begin their exploration of world rhythms that exposed them to an even wider audience. But on More Songs About Buildings and Food, they proved themselves to be a band that was in it for the long haul.

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