The Talking Heads were arty New York snots whose début, Talking Heads: 77, is pretty much that, the Talking Heads in ’77. Overeducated Cambridge students the Soft Boys released their first a full two years later; this record is called A Can of Bees, and, what d’you know, that’s exactly what it sounds like. Talking Heads: 77 features a warped, turned-on-its head take on pop music which would then go on to inspire legions of new wave bands. A Can of Bees features a warped, turned-on-its-head take on pop music which would then go on to inspire almost nobody – few groups have been so roundly ignored by the world. The Talking Heads record explores urban alienation and paranoia in an age of increasing mechanisation. The Soft Boys tackle such wildly gripping and relevant subjects as the Rat’s Prayer, Leppo and the Jooves, and the Return of the Sacred Crab.
But wait, there’s more. Talking Heads: 77 has a plain red cover with the title splashed across it. A Can of Bees has a plain red cover with the title drawn on it. The most famous song on Talking Heads: 77 is Psycho Killer. The Soft Boys are fronted by Robyn Hitchcock. Hmm, what’s going on here? Chief Talking Head David Byrne plays skronky electric guitar. Hitchcock plays skronky electric guitar too. Byrne would eventually end up dabbling in world music. Robyn Hitchcock’s next band would be called the Egyptians.
Coincidence? Surely not. It should be clear by now to all internet-dwelling record collectors that, for all intents and purposes, the Talking Heads and the Soft Boys are the exact same band; the obvious next step is to start bickering on geek message boards about Which is Better. You can just imagine: unlaid, balding men with bad skin and Petula Clark lapel buttons pinned to their cardigans scratching, biting, and bursting into tears at the first hint of someone mocking their favourite B-side.
Happily, there’s a sweeter way: so, in the red corner, we have David Byrne; in the blue, Robyn Hitchcock. The winner takes it all. For today’s contest, the board of referees has allowed each one a weapon of their choice. David Byrne, then, has brought a selection of James Joyce passages bound in the softest of sheepskins with that careful dash of eau de Cologne on the flyleaf which makes all the difference to a thinking man. Hitchcock has with him a cricket bat.
Uh-oh… this may be a new feeling for Byrne, but his tentative decision to spar with a warm-ale-and-chips-with-vinegar university student isn’t going down well; this isn’t a happy day. Who is it that’ll win this, you may well ask, but there isn’t really a doubt: Hitchcock shows no compassion. This will go down in history, it’ll all be there in a book I’ll read one day. Byrne may not worry about the government, but this is something else: you can’t be carefree when you’re facing a psycho killer who has you pulled up repeatedly, only to give you the pasting of a lifetime all over again. Give it to the Soft Boys.
And the moral of this jolly little tale is this: even the softest boy can make heads roll.
O ho ho ho ho ho. Thank you, I’ll be here all week.