Originally titled “Melody Attack” and released 38 years ago this week, “Remain in Light” was the fourth studio album by Talking Heads. Before recording had even started, Byrne was suffering writers block, and the rhythm section had de-camped to the Caribbean to focus on both their marriage and their future in the band. Chris and Tina settled into an apartment next to Compass Point studios in the Bahamas where they were joined by keyboardist Jerry Harrison and eventually the lyrically constipated Byrne. Working on the album started with jamming sessions, rather than the previous method of writing music around David Byrnes pre-written lyrics, mainly because he was yet to write any. Heavy on the rhythm, and reliant on Tina’s bass for melody as well as groove, Chris and Tina became the primary powerhouse driving the bands new direction. Eventually, former producer and collaborator Eno reluctantly joined them at the studio fearing the very worst, but on hearing the demos he was excited and keen to get the band into the studio.
Combining new wave, afro-funk, world-beat and dance music in total cultural isolation whilst on a make or break Caribbean sabbatical, wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a positive working environment, but somehow the Heads pulled it off. By collaborating, and involving a diverse range of musicians to bolster the four piece sound, “Remain in Light” has become one of the most highly regarded albums of the 1980s, and it’s instantly recognisable cover also owes as much to Tina Weymouth as the grooves within.
The cover idea was conceived by Tina and Chris, and it’s design was so advanced for the time, that they called in the design department at MIT, as they were one of the only faculties in the country that had an in house design computer. Calling in art techies from MIT for assistance with an album cover, was practically equivalent to asking NASA for help to change a tyre, but with the assistance of researchers Walter Bender and Scott Fisher, the couple created a collage of warplanes flying in formation. The use of fighter planes was Tina’s idea and were used in honour of her father Ralph, who was an admiral in the US Navy.
The portraits used on what was originally the back cover, are all computer renditions, a process that was slow and tedious in 1980, mainly because of the computers lack of usable memory and its graphics limitations. Back then, one of the MIT computer mainframes would have occupied several rooms, and achieved in modern terms, very little indeed.
Weymouth found in Fisher someone who could translate her ideas for masked portraits into action, and the computer was used to blot out parts of the bands faces in block red. It’s rumoured that Weymouth also snarkily suggested super-imposing Eno’s face over each of the four portraits as well, but decided against it.
The title “Melody Attack” was eventually dropped in favour of “Remain in Light”, and the warplane collage was relegated to the back of the sleeve. The art credits include the acronym C/T for Chris and Tina, and thanks to them, the final cover was one of the first in the world to be designed on a computer. Take that Kraftwerk!!!
Tina Weymouth the bass, the art and the cool.