If you’ve ever wondered what David Byrne sounded like yelling, “A fella tongue kissing my girl on the mouth,” look no further.
As promised, the former Talking Heads frontman went where many drunk karaoke revelers have gone before, covering Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” Tuesday night at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge. The show, sponsored by Content Creators Coalition (CCC), spotlighted the United States policy of not paying artists for radio airplay.
“Mr. Markie didn’t write that tune (although he did probably write the rap),” Byrne wrote in his newsletter before the show. “The drum and keyboard loop was lifted from a Freddie Scott recording, but the song was written by Gamble and Huff, the great songwriting team that wrote for the O’Jays and the Spinners. So chances are Biz Markie didn’t see any royalties from all the radio play that song got.”
The overalls-wearing singer oscillates between surprisingly in-the-pocket rapping and, uh, interpretative spoken word over a live band (including backup vocals by Tift Merritt). With his hands gesticulating as much as your favorite rapper, Byrne turns the song into a storytelling session more akin to a Moth reading, reveling in the cross-genre pollination.
There’s a serious message behind the novelty, as the CCC is petitioning Congress to change royalty laws concerning radio airplay. “The United States has the unfortunate distinction of being the only democratic country in the world whose artists and musicians receive no pay for the terrestrial radio airplay of their music,” states the petition. “The short list of countries that share the United States’ position on this issue includes: Iran, North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Rwanda.”
Still, the image of a young David Byrne, sheepishly enter “door three” of his RISD dormitory and exclaiming “Oh snap!,” is now permanently ensconced in music history.