Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Perfect Songs: The Big Country - Talking Heads

I sang out loud tonight during the drive home. I sang every word of "The Big Country" by the Talking Heads after a long night of bad news. I put the song on repeat and just let it fill the air in my slowly disintegrating car. It was perfect.

And so is this song from the Heads' 1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food. It's the album's closer and something that only somewhat resembles everything that came before it. It's a ramble, a mean but very calculated one that skewers suburbia.

It starts with the country twang of a pedal steel guitar before a hustling beat that seems to get faster and madder takes over. David Byrne's disdain-filled voice sings about maps, restaurants, parking lots, farmlands, kitchens and food in between a chorus that rejects them all.

"I wouldn't live there if you paid me.
I couldn't live like that, no siree!
I couldn't do the things the way those people do.
I couldn't live there if you paid me to."

It's a controlled anger, tempered by the desire to escape the claustrophobic sameness in suburban and city life and the will to make it a reality. Byrne looks down on domesticity, the song's point of view is from an airplane, though he acknowledges the need to belong to something, to be static ... "I want to be somewhere." The song rejects the homogenization of our big country and yearns for a place that's not like the others, a place that's real, not a copy.

The song finds this place in a nonsense ending with Byrne scatting "Goo Goo, Ga Ga Ga" as the driving beat goes off the rails and a bouncy guitar riff closes it out. After a day of work or daily drudgery this song is like a mental breakdown that shakes you back to life. It's a perfect song.

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