Fear of Music

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Fear of Music
Talking Heads-Fear of Music.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedAugust 3, 1979
RecordedApril 22 – May 6, 1979[1]
Talking Heads chronology
More Songs About Buildings and Food
Fear of Music
Remain in Light
Singles from Fear of Music
  1. "Life During Wartime"
    Released: October 14, 1979
  2. "I Zimbra"
    Released: February 7, 1980
  3. "Cities"
    Released: July 8, 1980

Fear of Music is the third studio album by American rock band Talking Heads, released on August 3, 1979, by Sire Records. It was recorded at locations in New York City during April and May 1979 and was produced by the quartet and Brian Eno. The album reached number 21 on the Billboard 200 and number 33 on the UK Albums Chart. It spawned the singles "Life During Wartime", "I Zimbra", and "Cities".

Fear of Music received favorable reviews from critics. Praise centered on its unconventional rhythms and frontman David Byrne's lyrical performances. The album is often considered one of the best Talking Heads releases, and has featured in several publications' lists of the best albums of all time.

Origins and recording[edit]

Talking Heads' second album More Songs About Buildings and Food, released in 1978, expanded the band's sonic palette.[3] The record included a hit single, a cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River", which gained the quartet commercial exposure.[4] In March 1979, the band members played the song on nationwide U.S. music show American Bandstand.[5] In the days after the performance, they decided they did not want to be regarded simply as "a singles machine".[6] Talking Heads entered a New York City studio without a producer in the spring of 1979 and practiced demo tracks.[7] Musically, the band wanted to expand on the "subtly disguised" disco rhythms present in More Songs About Buildings and Food by making them more prominent in the mixes of new songs.[6] The recording plans were shelved after the quartet was not pleased with the results during the sessions. A decision was taken to rehearse in drummer Chris Frantz's and bassist Tina Weymouth's loft, where the band members played before they signed to a record label in the mid-1970s. Eno, who produced their previous full-length release, was called to help.[7]

Byrne credits the inspiration of the album, especially "Life During Wartime", to life on Avenue A in the East Village.[8]

On April 22 and May 6, 1979, a Record Plant van manned by a sound engineering crew parked outside Frantz's and Weymouth's house and ran cables through their loft window. On these two days, Talking Heads recorded the basic tracks with Eno.[9] Instead of incorporating characters in society like in More Songs About Buildings and Food, Byrne decided to place them alone in dystopian situations.[3] Weymouth was initially skeptical of Byrne's decisions, but the frontman managed to persuade her.[9] She has explained that Byrne's sense of rhythm is "insane but fantastic" and that he was key to the band's recording drive during the home sessions.[6] As songs evolved, playing instrumental sections became easier for the band members.[9] Eno was instrumental in shaping their sound and recording confidence and worked on electronic treatments of tracks once they were all crafted.[10][11]

Promotion and release[edit]

After completing Fear of Music, Talking Heads embarked on their first Pacific region tour in June 1979 and played concerts in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and Hawaii. The album was released worldwide on August 3.[12] The LP sleeve was designed by band member Jerry Harrison. It is completely black and embossed with a pattern that resembles the appearance and texture of diamond plate metal flooring, reflecting the album's urban subject matter.[13] The rest of the artwork was crafted by Byrne and includes heat-sensitive photography created by Jimmy Garcia with the help of Doctor Philip Strax.[11] The final design was one of the nominees for the 1980 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.[14] Harrison suggested the "ludicrous" title to the band. According to Weymouth, it was accepted because it "fit" with the album's themes and the fact that the quartet was under a lot of stress and pressure when making it.[10]

A U.S. tour to showcase the new material was completed during August 1979.[12] At the time, Byrne told Rolling Stone, "We're in a funny position. It wouldn't please us to make music that's impossible to listen to, but we don't want to compromise for the sake of popularity."[15] The band shared the headliner slots with Van Morrison and The Chieftains at the Edinburgh Festival in September and embarked on a promotional European tour until the end of the year.[12] Fear of Music was certified Gold by Recording Industry Association of America on September 17, 1985 after more than 500,000 copies were sold in the U.S.[16]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Fear of Music is largely built on an eclectic mix of disco rhythms, cinematic soundscapes, and conventional rock music elements.[17] Album opener "I Zimbra" is an African-influenced disco track and includes background chanting from assistant recording engineer Julie Last.[6][18] With the song "Mind", Byrne introduces his first use of double-tracking of vocals on an album.[19]

The lyrics of "I Zimbra" are based on a nonsensical poem by Dadaist writer Hugo Ball.[11] The sound of lyrics, together with the tribal sound of the song, enhanced by guest star virtuoso guitarist Robert Fripp, gave it an "ethnic" style; Jerry Harrison has said that this song influenced what the band was to do on their next album, Remain in Light. "Cities" details a search for the perfect urban settlement to live in and was born out of Talking Heads' preferences for urban homes, especially in Manhattan.[9] "Paper" compares a love affair with a simple piece of paper.[7] In "Life During Wartime", Byrne cast himself an "unheroic urban guerrilla", who renounced parties, survived on basic supplies like peanut butter, and heard rumors about weapons shipments and impromptu graveyards. The character is only connected to the imminent collapse of his civilization. Byrne considered the persona "believable and plausible".[3] "Air" is a protest song against the atmosphere, an idea Byrne does not consider "a joke". Inspired by The Threepenny Opera, the lyricist wanted to create a melancholic and touching track about a person who feels so depressed that even breathing feels painful.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[20]
Chicago Tribune3/4 stars[21]
Christgau's Record GuideA−[22]
Consequence of SoundA+[23]
The Irish Times5/5 stars[24]
Mojo5/5 stars[25]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4.5/5 stars[27]
Spin Alternative Record Guide9/10[28]

The album was well received by reviewers. Jon Pareles, writing in Rolling Stone, was impressed with its "unswerving rhythms" and Byrne's lyrical evocations; he concluded, "Fear of Music is often deliberately, brilliantly disorienting. Like its black, corrugated packaging (which resembles a manhole cover), the album is foreboding, inescapably urban and obsessed with texture."[19] John Rockwell of The New York Times suggested that the record was not a conventional rock release,[30] while Stephanie Pleet of The Daily Collegian commented that it showed a positive progression in Talking Heads' musical style.[31] Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, praised the album's "gritty weirdness", but noted that "a little sweetening might help".[32] Richard Cromelin of the Los Angeles Times was impressed with Byrne's "awesome vocal performance" and its nuances and called Fear of Music "a quantum leap" for the band.[33] Tom Bentkowski of New York concluded, "But what makes the record so successful, perhaps, is a genuinely felt anti-elitism. Talking Heads was clever enough to make the intellectual infectious and even danceable."[34]

AllMusic's William Ruhlmann claimed that Fear of Music is "an uneven, transitional album", but nonetheless stated that it includes songs that match the quality of the band's best works.[20] In the 1995 Spin Alternative Record Guide, Jeff Salamon called it Talking Heads' most musically varied offering.[28] In a 2003 review, Chris Smith of Stylus Magazine praised Byrne's personas and Eno's stylized production techniques.[35] In The Rough Guide to Rock published the same year, Andy Smith concluded that the album is a strong candidate for the best LP of the 1970s because it is "bristling with hooks, riffs and killer lines".[36]


Fear of Music was named as the best album of 1979 by NME ahead of Public Image Ltd's Metal Box,[37] by Melody Maker ahead of Ry Cooder's Bop till You Drop,[38] and by the Los Angeles Times ahead of Pere Ubu's Dub Housing.[39] The New York Times included it in its unnumbered shortlist of the 10 best records issued that year.[40] Sounds placed the album at number two in its staff list behind The Specials' eponymous release.[41] It featured at number four in the 1979 Pazz & Jop critics' poll run by The Village Voice, which aggregates the votes of hundreds of prominent reviewers.[42] The band Living Colour covered the song 'Memories Can't Wait' on their 1988 debut album Vivid.

In 1985, NME named Fear of Music at number 68 in its writers' list of the "All Time 100 Albums".[43] In 1987, Rolling Stone placed it at number 94 in its list of the best albums of the previous 20 years.[44] In 1999, it was included at number 33 in The Guardian's list of the "Top 100 Albums That Don't Appear in All the Other Top 100 Albums of All Time".[45] In 2004, Pitchfork featured the record at number 31 in its "Top 100 Albums of the 1970s" list,[15] while in 2005, Channel 4 ranked it at number 76 during its "100 Greatest Albums" countdown.[46]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by David Byrne, except where noted.

Side one
1."I Zimbra"Byrne, Brian Eno, Hugo Ball3:09
2."Mind" 4:13
3."Paper" 2:39
4."Cities" 4:10
5."Life During Wartime"Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth3:41
6."Memories Can't Wait"Byrne, Harrison3:30
Side two
1."Air" 3:34
2."Heaven"Byrne, Harrison4:01
3."Animals" 3:30
4."Electric Guitar" 3:03
5."Drugs"Byrne, Eno5:10
  • The original LP issue credited all songs to David Byrne, except "I Zimbra". After complaints from other band members, the credits were changed to the above on later CD issues.
  • A limited edition UK LP included a live version of "Psycho Killer" and "New Feeling" from Talking Heads' debut album, Talking Heads: 77, on a bonus 7" record.
Expanded CD reissue bonus tracks
12."Dancing for Money" (Unfinished outtake) 2:42
13."Life During Wartime" (Alternate version)Byrne, Frantz, Harrison, Weymouth4:07
14."Cities" (Alternate version) 5:30
15."Mind" (Alternate version) 4:26
  • The remastered reissue was produced by Andy Zax, with the help of Talking Heads, and was mixed by Brian Kehew.
  • The DVD portion of the European reissue contains videos of the band performing "I Zimbra" and "Cities" on German music show Rockpop in 1979.


Those involved in the making of Fear of Music were:[11][47]


Sales chart performance for Fear of Music
Chart (1979) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[48] 35
Billboard 200 (U.S.)[12] 21
Canadian Albums Chart[49] 27
UK Albums Chart[12] 33
New Zealand Albums Chart[50] 11

Certifications and sales[edit]

Sales certifications for Fear of Music
Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[51]
2006 release
Silver 60,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[52] Gold 500,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Release history[edit]

Release formats for Fear of Music
Region Year Label Format(s) Catalog
United States and Canada 1979 Sire Records LP, cassette 6076[11]
United Kingdom
Rest of Europe WEA 56707[53]
United States and Canada 1984 Sire Records CD (2–)6076[20]
United States and Canada 2006 Rhino Records Expanded CD, digital download 76451[20]
Europe Warner 8122732992[47]
Japan 2009 WPCR-13291


  1. ^ Fear of Music (CD release, back cover). Talking Heads. Sire Records. 1979.
  2. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2005). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. Penguin. p. 163.
  3. ^ a b c Pareles, Jon (May 1982). "Talking Heads Talk". Mother Jones. p. 38.
  4. ^ Charone 1979, p. 27.
  5. ^ Bowman 2001, p. 145.
  6. ^ a b c d Charone 1979, p. 28.
  7. ^ a b c Bowman 2001, p. 146.
  8. ^ Moss, Jeremiah (2017). Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul. p. 17.
  9. ^ a b c d e Bowman 2001, p. 147.
  10. ^ a b Charone 1979, p. 30.
  11. ^ a b c d e Fear of Music (LP sleeve). Talking Heads. London: Sire Records. 1979.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  12. ^ a b c d e Rees, Dafydd; Crampton, Luke (1991). Rock Movers & Shakers. Billboard Books. p. 519. ISBN 0-8230-7609-1.
  13. ^ Bowman 2001, p. 158.
  14. ^ "Grammy Award Nominees 1980 – Grammy Award Winners 1980". Awardsandshows.com. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  15. ^ a b Pitchfork staff (June 23, 2004). "Top 100 Albums of the 1970s". Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on January 17, 2013. Retrieved September 23, 2009.
  16. ^ "RIAA: Gold & Platinum". Recording Industry Association of America. Archived from the original on June 26, 2007. Retrieved September 22, 2009. Note: User search required.
  17. ^ Charone 1979, p. 29.
  18. ^ Charone 1979, p. 31.
  19. ^ a b Pareles, Jon (November 15, 1979). "Fear Of Music". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  20. ^ a b c d Ruhlmann, William. "Fear of Music – Talking Heads". AllMusic. Retrieved September 23, 2009.
  21. ^ Kot, Greg (May 6, 1990). "Talking Heads On The Record". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
  22. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "T". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor and Fields. ISBN 0-89919-026-X. Retrieved March 9, 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
  23. ^ Cudmore, Libby (August 31, 2019). "Talking Heads Dance Away Our Fear of Music". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  24. ^ Courtney, Kevin (January 13, 2006). "Talking Heads: 77/More Songs About Buildings and Food/Fear of Music/Remain in Light (WEA)". The Irish Times. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  25. ^ Cameron, Keith (July 2020). "New Feelings". Mojo. No. 320. pp. 68–69.
  26. ^ Greene, Jayson (April 23, 2020). "Talking Heads: Fear of Music". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  27. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2004). "Talking Heads". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 802–03. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  28. ^ a b Salamon, Jeff (1995). "Talking Heads". In Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig (eds.). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. pp. 394–95. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  29. ^ Gill, Andy (August 2015). "Buyers' Guide". Uncut. No. 219. p. 40.
  30. ^ Rockwell, John (August 3, 1979). "The Pop Life: Talking Heads strikes again". The New York Times. p. C19.
  31. ^ Pleet, Stephanie (October 24, 1979). "'Fear of Music': not just a tete-a-tete". The Daily Collegian. p. 8.
  32. ^ Christgau, Robert (October 8, 1979). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  33. ^ Cromelin, Richard (September 23, 1979). "The Talking Heads' Fears, Fixations". Los Angeles Times. p. O83.
  34. ^ Bentkowski, Tom (December 10, 1979). "State of Heads". New York. pp. 135–136.
  35. ^ Smith, Chris (September 1, 2003). "On Second Thought: Talking Heads – Fear of Music". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on July 1, 2013. Retrieved September 23, 2009.
  36. ^ Smith, Andy (2003). "Talking Heads". In Buckley, Peter (ed.). The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides. p. 1054. ISBN 1-84353-105-4.
  37. ^ NME staff (December 15, 1979). "Best Albums of 1979". NME. p. pull-out section.
  38. ^ Melody Maker staff (December 15, 1979). "1979 Melody Maker Albums". Melody Maker. p. pull-out section.
  39. ^ Los Angeles Times music staff (January 6, 1980). "The 10 best albums of 1979". Los Angeles Times. p. 68.
  40. ^ Rockwell, John (December 21, 1979). "The Pop Life: A critic picks top 10 for '79". The New York Times. p. C20.
  41. ^ Sounds staff (December 15, 1979). "The Best of 1979". Sounds. p. 30.
  42. ^ "The 1979 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. January 28, 1980. Retrieved September 23, 2009.
  43. ^ NME staff (November 30, 1985). "All Time 100 Albums". NME. p. 16.
  44. ^ Rolling Stone staff (September 3, 1987). "Top 100 Albums Of The Last 20 Years". Rolling Stone. p. 56.
  45. ^ The Guardian music staff (January 29, 1999). "Top 100 Albums That Don't Appear In All The Other Top 100 Albums Of All Time". The Guardian. p. Features insert.
  46. ^ "The 100 Greatest Albums". Channel 4. February 26, 2009. Archived from the original on March 6, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2010.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  47. ^ a b Fear of Music (CD booklet and case back cover). Talking Heads. London: Warner. 2006.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  48. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 304. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  49. ^ "RPM 50 Albums". RPM. Toronto: RPM. 32 (12). December 15, 1979.
  50. ^ "Talking Heads – Fear Of Music". Ultratop. Retrieved September 22, 2009.
  51. ^ "British album certifications – Talking heads – Fear of music". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  52. ^ "American album certifications – Talking heads – Fear of music". Recording Industry Association of America.
  53. ^ Fear of Music (LP sleeve). Talking Heads. London: WEA. 1979.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)


  • Bowman, David (2001). This Must Be the Place: The Adventures of Talking Heads in the Twentieth Century. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-380-97846-6.
  • Charone, Barbara (October 1979). "More Songs About Typing and Vacuuming". Creem. pp. 27–33.

External links[edit]