My Top 1000 Songs #391: Listening Wind

[I've been writing up my Top 1000 songs on a daily basis--you can see them all in descending order by hitting the All My Favorite Songs tag.]

Talking Heads' remarkable 1980 album Remain In Light, for all its undeniable greatness, is a little schizophrenic. The first 2/3 of the album is upbeat and even frenetic, ranging from the skewed yet catchy art-pop of "Once In A Lifetime" to the more dance-friendly "Crosseyed and Painless" and "The Great Curve." But midway through side two of the original vinyl, the LP pivots into much headier space. (In that respect the Heads/Brian Eno collaboration resembles Eno's prior work with David Bowie, most notably 1977's Heroes and Low, which likewise lead with Bowie-dominated art-pop before shifting into Eno's ambient instrumental soundscapes.)

Remain In Light's closing trio is a dense, headphone-ready sonic experience. "Seen And Not Seen" is an amusing, disorienting narrative over an electronic groove, still fascinating after multiple listens; album closer "The Overload" is a moody, downright apocalyptic drone, supposedly indirectly influenced by Joy Division. And right in the middle comes "Listening Wind," the one I find most stunning, just unbelievably emotional, one of those songs I only visit periodically to avoid diminishing its power.

There's an African tribal beat, primitive and spooky, with a haunting groove overlaid. Guitarist Adrian Belew adds some jagged textures. But it's ultimately the David Byrne show, a first-person narrative about a terrorist detonating explosives among the American colonialists, but told from the perspective of young bomber Mojique. It's surprisingly non-judgmental, almost sympathetic. It's a song that demands that you sit on the couch with the lyric sheet and single-mindedly focus as Byrne and company transport you to distant land and visits the sins of America on your head. I find it a devastating piece of art, something that stays with me long after it ends.

"Mojique buys equipment in the market place. Mojique plants devices in the free trade zone. He feels the wind is lifting up his people; he calls the wind to guide him on his mission. He knows the wind is always standing... by."

There's something so unexpected about the way Byrne phrases that stand-alone "by" at the end of the stanza... as he does with each stanza... that only enhances the oddness and creepiness of the whole affair.

Lyric video:

Incredible reggae-fied cover from UK's Specials:
Peter Gabriel cover:
Phish's version from their 1996 cover-to-cover performance of Remain In Light:
Angelique Kidjo version:
Talking Heads themselves never played the song live, but David Byrne has: