When MTV ran the world in the 1980s and a few years after, it was de rigueur for bands to release VHS video compilations. The Police had one, Duran Duran had one, ZZ Top had one, you know Madonna had one. Typically, They Might Be Giants decided to name theirs Video Compilation.
Talking Heads were unquestioned pioneers of the music video form, so it would be only proper for them to release such an item. The band’s last studio album was Naked in 1988, the same year that Storytelling Giant, their video comp, came out. The band would wait until 1991 until announcing that they had broken up, but it seems likely that everyone knew the writing was on the wall, so Storytelling Giant can be seen as a quasi-conscious capper to their career as music video artists.
Here’s the (slightly bizarre) writeup of the compilation from the back of the VHS box:
“Storytelling Giant” is a work composed of all ten Talking Heads videos made over the past decade. They are connected by random, unrehearsed, spontaneous footage of real people talking. None of the people are actors, and all of them are wearing their own clothes. Many of them know nothing of the Talking Heads, and sometimes they tell stories that have nothing to do with the band’s music. Yet, somehow, their stories bring the Talking Heads music into another place. A place of giant lizards. . . A place where little girls sit on clouds. A place where everyone has enough to eat. . . And the government provides hairdressers if you can’t afford one. A giant man walks into a bar. He begins to wrestle with three nuns. A man with a toupée stops them, and they begin to speak.
The compilation is very effective in that cerebral Talking Heads way—the interstitial spoken-word bits are interesting but generally short—most of the time you’re hearing a bit out of context and you’re never really supposed to know what they’re talking about, it’s all about generating arbitrary connections.
A few notes about the videos. I’d forgotten that John Goodman is in the video for “Wild Wild Life.” That song is off of True Stories, and Goodman’s rendition of “People Like Us” is probably the high point of that movie, so that makes sense. Interesting to see him here, before he became famous.
The most pleasant surprise on this compilation, for my money, is “And She Was,” which was directed by Jim Blashfield, who has mentioned Terry Gillam’s cutouts as an influence. That makes total sense—the video kind of a 1980s version of the “Eleanor Rigby” sequence from Yellow Submarine using moving cutouts, and it’s dated extremely well in my opinion. I didn’t realize that Jim Jarmusch had directed a Talking Heads video, but there’s a reason for that, “The Lady Don’t Mind” is one of the less interesting videos here.
There’s a curious feature to this YouTube upload. All of the versions on Discogs—all seven of them—list 10 songs. This video must have been a slightly later re-release because it includes videos for two tracks off of Naked, those being “Blind” and “Flowers (Nothing But),” as well as a video for “Sax and Violins,” which was on the soundtrack for Wim Wenders’ 1991 movie Until the End of the World. Anyway, this has 13 videos on it. I think this upload has the regular 10 videos.
Once In A Lifetime
Wild Wild Life
Stay Up Late
Crosseyed And Painless
Burning Down The House
And She Was
Sax and Violins
This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)
The Lady Don’t Mind
Love For Sale
Flowers (Nothing But)
Road To Nowhere