Talking Heads

Cities

Composed by David Byrne

Song Review by

Like mid-'70s Rolling Stones or David Bowie, Talking Heads convincingly incorporate funk, R&B, and other dance music influences into their sound on their third LP, Fear of Music (1979). "Cities" anticipates the highly rhythm-centered and densely textured directions the band would take on the landmark Remain in Light LP (1980), with jittery, clean electric guitar parts, keyboards playing a relaxed counter-riff over the 16th-note strums of the guitar, and Robert Fripp's guest appearance providing dive-bombing and slip-sliding guitar noises, as Adrian Belew provided for a few groups. The forceful rhythm section of Chris Frantz -- holding down the fort with his steady Charlie Watts-like 4/4 beat -- and Tina Weymouth's melodic, funky bass line (almost a lead part in its prominence in the mix) propel the song with an infectious, incessant groove. The song modulates keys in the pre-chorus, adding a shifting, off-balance atmosphere to the song. David Byrne's alternately deadpan and animated delivery of "Cities"' uniquely slanted lyrics demonstrate why his style was so influential to bands like the Pixies; his off-kilter sensibilities and often humorous, stream-of-consciousness observations are spoken/sung with a heavily stylized new wave quirkiness that indicates a narrator slightly off. The song fades in as if already in progress, adding to the relentless feel of the rhythm and to the idea of the song as an ongoing travelogue: "There are a lot of rich people in Birmingham/A lot of ghosts in a lot of houses/Look over there/A dry ice factory/A good place to get some thinking done/Did I forget to mention, to mention Memphis/Home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks/Do I smell? I smell home cooking/It's only the river, it's only the river/I'm checking them out/I'm checking them out/I got it figured out/I got it figured out/There's good points/And bad points/Find a city/Find myself a city to live in." "Cities" fades out as it had started, the aggressive funk groove continuing on to the album's next track, the paranoid, highly danceable "Life During Wartime."

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Fear of Music 1979 Rhino / Warner 4:14
No Image 1979 HVN
The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads 1982 ATG / Atlantic 5:01
No Image 1984 Warner Bros.
No Image 1985 Blue Lake
The Best of Talking Heads: Once in a Lifetime 1992 EMI Music Distribution
No Image 2000 Imtrat 4:31
Once in a Lifetime 2003 Rhino / Sire/Warner Reprise Video 5:27
Once In A Lifetime: The Talking Heads Box (US Release) 2003 ATG / Atlantic 5:26
Talking Heads [DualDisc] 2005 Rhino 4:05
Live in Rome 2008 Atipica / SBP / Top Tape
Same as It Ever Was 2009 Hear Music
Burning Down Rome 2010 Lighthouse Records
Chronology 2011 Eagle Rock
Remain in Light/Speaking in Tongues/Fear of Music Sire 4:10
Saratogo Psycho: US, 1973 Good Ship Funke 5:00
The Boston Tea Party Sonic Boom 5:08
Vol. 1-3 For 1 Box Set Sire
blue highlight denotes editor's pick