In the 1970s, David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, and Chris Frantz met as students at Rhode Island School of Design. After moving together to New York and falling in love with its burgeoning music scene, they were signed to Sire and picked up some new members in the form of Jonathan Richman and Jerry Harrison. Thus began a short but glorious career that would produce some of the finest albums of the 20th century. Widely considered as one of the most innovative and influential bands to emerge from the New York punk scene, Talking Heads were a band that could blend R&B with funk, Afrobeat with pop, and not put a foot wrong in the process. Experimental, creative, and way too cool for school, they managed the remarkable, achieving huge popularity while still being the darlings of the critics. Here, we rank the 10 best Talking Heads albums of all time.
10. True Stories
David Byrne has repeatedly dismissed “True Stories” as a mistake. If it is, it’s an acceptable one. Created as an accompaniment to the Byrne-directed movie of the same name, the album chronicles the life and times of the quirky characters of a fictional small town in Texas as they ramp up for the town’s sesquicentennial festival. The album’s not without its flaws – some of the tracks are more filler than thriller, and the slick production leaves a lot to be desired – but it’s not without its highlights either. “Wild, Wild Life” has more bounce than Tigger. “Love for Sale” is Byrne at his acerbic best. “Radio Head” might be lacking in finesse but it inspired the name of another great band, so we’ll leave it alone. Ultimately, it’s not a masterpiece. But it’s not a mistake either.
9. Stop Making Sense
“The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads” may have been Talking Heads’ best live album, but “Stop Making Sense” wasn’t without its merits too. Byrne has rarely sounded in finer voice, particularly on tracks such as “Psycho Killer” and “Take Me to the River.”
8. The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads
“The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads” was Talking Heads’ first live album, and their best. Released in 1982, the album takes us on a journey from 1977 to 1979, a period of immense professional personal growth for the band that’s captured beautifully in these live recordings. Stand-out tracks include a very early version of “Air” and an equally fantastic (and very funky) “Houses in Motion.”
7. More Songs About Buildings and Food
As All Music says, sophomore albums can often end up being a disappointing jumble of songs not used on a first LP and hastily written new material. While the title of Talking Head’s second album address that problem, it’s with more of a wink than a nod. With producer Brian Eno roped in to add a little cohesion, the emphasis moved away from Byrne and onto the bass and drums partnership of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. The result is danceable, listenable, and completely devoid of any signs of second album syndrome.
As ultimateclassicrock.com says, “When things are getting tense, bring in extra musicians – just ask the Beatles.” It worked for them and it worked for Talking Heads on their final album. By 1988, Talking Heads were still on speaking terms but things were getting tense. To help diffuse things, they bought in a truckload of other musicians (over 30 in total, including The Smiths’ Johnny Marr) to help record “Naked.” The result is a fleshed-out, ambitious album with more sparkle than a Christmas tree. Fun, lively, and underscored with Byrne’s typically witty lyrics, it was a great way for the band to say goodbye.
5. Talking Heads: 77
In 1977, Talking Heads dropped their debut studio album, “Talking Heads: 77.” It wasn’t a huge success. The record company may have been talking them up to the max in the months leading up to the release, but this was a band that took a bit of adjusting to. Byrne’s falsetto yelps and strangled cries, the sudden tempo changes, the disconnected lyrics, the weird guitar tuning… it was a lot to handle and in 1977, people weren’t sure they could. But with hindsight, comes benefits. Listening to the album afresh, the band’s quirkiness and creativity is a thing of wonder. If you missed it or dismissed it the first time around, now’s the time to put things right.
4. Speaking In Tongues
After the departure of producer Brian Eno and the stresses of releasing 4 albums in less than 4 years, Talking Heads decided they needed a little break. It ended up lasting 3 years. In 1982, they broke their hiatus with “Speaking In Tongues.” It was their most commercially successful album till that point. Whatever the band had been getting up to on their vacations, it had clearly made them a lot more comfortable with pop culture. “Speaking In Tongues” may not have bought Talking Heads to the mainstream (nothing ever would or could) but it took them as close to it as they’d ever get.
3. Little Creatures
1985’s “Little Creatures” isn’t perfect. The over-stylized 80s production sees to that. But it’s still astonishing. Inspired by the band’s recent tour of America, Byrne takes a deep dive into Americana and doesn’t look back. The addition of steel guitars and accordions on tracks like “Creatures of Love” and “Road to Nowhere” is a masterstroke. “Stay Up Late” might well be Byrne’s greatest lyrical achievement of all times – “The Lady Don’t Mind” isn’t too far behind. It’s weird, wonderful, and very Talking Heads.
2. Fear of Music
“Fear of Music” was the band’s third album and the most cohesive till that point. It was also their darkest, with Byrne’s lyrics introducing us to all manner of psychopaths and misanthropes. Brian Eno was back on producing duty, adding some signature electronic overlays to ramp up the album’s disco credentials. It was smart and strange and all kinds of wonderful. It was just a pity it would be eclipsed so soon by our next entry.
1. Remain in Light
GQ describes “Remain in Light” as the album that redefined music. It may well have been. The addition of some extra session musicians expanded the four-piece’s sound further than ever before. Electronic loops set the foundation for each song, with funk and rock layered on top. At some points, synthesizers even got in on the act. Byrne’s lyrics were as dark and charismatic as ever, as were his vocals. Simply put, it was a masterpiece.