The pop music scene, in general, remains segregated. Whether new wave or heavy metal, white musicians perform primarily for white audiences; whether R&B, soul or disco, black artists play mostly for black audiences.
But two new albums are breaking down this traditional racial barrier: one by the Bus Boys, a predominantly black band inspired by the goofy humor of the Ramones' punk rock; the other by Talking Heads, a white rock group looking to the continent of Africa.
Comprising of five blacks and one Mexican American, the Bus Boys gained a loyal following on the Los Angeles club circuit by ridiculing Uncle Tom stereotypes. Like Richard Pryor, however, they use sterotypes in their act to establish rapport. On songs such as "KKK" ("Wanna join the Ku Klux Klan and play in a rock 'n' roll band") and "There Goes the Neighborhood" ("The whites are moving in, they'll bring their next of kin"), the band goodnaturedly reverses roles as if to say that the joke belongs to everybody, regardless of race.
Unfortunately, the Bus Boys have often been categorized as a comedy emsemble -- tagged with a Frank Zappa-meets-the-Coasters label. But their debut album, "Minimum Wage Rock & Roll" (Arista AB 4280), shows that this is far from the truth. Like the English ska revival bands, they are concerned with creating music especially for dancing. For all the satire, their album includes numerous songs wholeheartedly designed as jukebox hits.
"Johnny Soul'd Out" refashions Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" into a self-conscious tale about a black artist abandoning his roots for rock 'n roll. sOn "Respect" (an update of the Stones' "Satisfaction"), they demad not just racial but musical respect as well.
Sometimes sounding like Funkadelic preaching Armageddon ("D-Day") or the B-52's finger-snapping with the Village People ("Did You See Me"), the Bus Boys have amply earned that respect. No more tongue-in-cheek novelty act would be caught dead singing the tastefully sentimental "Tell the Coach," a song in the Steely Dan mold and a touching tribute to athletic teamwork -- a perfect theme for "The White Shadow."
Talking Head's delectably funky new work, "Remain in Light" (Sire SRK 6095), isn't as pshchotic as last year's "Fear of Music" or as whimsically detached as their first two albums. Instead, it's complex and intellectually satisfying. The concept for the record grew from an interest in the interlocking sensibility of African rhythms, and the band's mechanics of creation bear this out.
Initially the songs were improvised instrumental tracks. Later, lead vocalist-songwriter David Byrne and producer Brian Eno added and subtracted instruments, laying vocal lines and harmonies on top to fit with the groove. Most funk bands construct their music in a similar manner; the difference here is that it evolved into a thematic idea -- life as transformation.
On "Remain in Light," everything changes, nothing remains the same. The lyrics support the theme ("divide and dissolve," "I'm changing my shape -- I feel like an accident"), and the album's musical structure also constantly shifts and changes. Talking Heads have changed their own shape to include Eno, trumpeter Joh Hassell and singer Nona Hendryx; in concert (they will be at the Warner on Tuesday) they have even appeared as a 10-member Afro-funk unit. To maintain the communal spirit, musicians don't always play their given instruments and often exchange roles.
All this experimentation has improved the Heads' music 100 percent. Their current LP is a happy maelstrom of warm chants and giddy motion that dances to the beat of a contented cosmos. Nowhere is that metamorphosis more clearly manifested than on "Listening Wind." It is the story of Mojique, an African who watches as Americans infiltrate his village. He does not trust them; trusts only the wind. "the song's refrain guides us into Mojique's soul: "The wind in my heart/The dust in my head/Drive them away/Drive them away." For the Heads, Mojique is the African voice personified; like him, they have felt the presence of the African wind. "Remian in Lignt" comes alive with the Talking Heads' newly discovered passion and turns with the world they no longer ignore.