When David Byrne met Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth in 1973, it spelled the start of something wonderful. After moving to New York and falling in love with the burgeoning music scene, the trio formed Talking Heads. After picking up a new member in the form of Jerry Harrison, the band were signed to Sire Records in 1976. Over the next 16 years, they’d go on release some of the most influential and inspiring music of the 20th century. Here are the 10 best Talking Heads songs of all time.
10. And She Was
In 1985, Talking Heads proved they could do a four-minute conventional pop song as well as the next band with Little Creatures, the most approachable (and commercially successful) album of their career. Fans of their more eclectic sound may have been a little disappointed with its radio-friendly appeal, but the masses disagreed, lapping up 2 million copies in the US alone. Opening the album is And She Was, a jangly, energetic little number that manages to tell the story of the out-of-body experience of “a blissed-out hippie-chick in Baltimore” while still staying clean-cut and innocent enough to guarantee airplay.
9. The Great Curve
Taken from the 1980 album Remain In Light, The Great Curve showcases a band at the top of their game. The overlapping vocals, the stabbing synths, the chaotic bongos, the drunken guitars, the complete absence of chord changes- it should have been a mess, and left to another band, it probably would have been. But in Talking Heads’ capable hands, it’s a funky masterpiece.
8. Take Me To The River
No many people can cover Al Green and get away with it. Talking Heads were the exception. By taking Green’s classic soul hit in a very new direction, they managed to create something wholly their own and wholly wonderful in the process. Released in 1974, it may have lacked the polish of their later work, but it still ranks as an immensely listenable track.
7. (Nothing But) Flowers
As faroutmagazine.co.uk writes, by the time the band’s final album, Naked, was released in 1988, the band was a fractured entity. They’d stopped touring, were barely speaking, and were seemingly all just waiting around to see who’d pull the plug first. Understandably, then, Naked wasn’t a huge success. By other band’s standards, it might still have been considered a great album. But this was Talking Heads, and as farewells go, it left a lot to be desired. But that’s not to say there aren’t still some great songs buried inside. (Nothing But) Flowers brings together enough musical talent (including Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals and Johnny Marr of the Smiths on guitar) to create something magical. A playful satire on Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ that glorifies in commercialism, it’s witty and caustic enough to rank among the band’s best work.
6. Burning Down the House
On the linear notes to Once In a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads, Tina Weymouth described the inspiration for Burning Down the house: “Chris Frantz had just been to see Parliament-Funkadelic in its full glory at Madison Square Garden and he was really hyped. During [a Talking Heads jam session] he kept yelling ‘Burn down the house!’ which was a P-Funk audience chant and David dug the line.” The fact that one of their most famous songs emerged during the course of a single jam session speaks volumes about the creative talents of the band. The result is a juicy, funky gem of a track that’s just as exciting to listen to as it clearly was to make.
5. This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)
As uproxx.com writes, This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) ranks as one of the well-known and popular Talking Heads songs of all time. A love song of a very different kind, it blends a caustic energy with a bittersweet wistfulness that may sound curious on paper, but makes for delightful listening. Fun, approachable, and altogether blissful, it’s a feel-good track with a heart.
By the late 1970s, Talking Heads were ready to set themselves apart from the herd of new wave singles bands and take their sound in a new direction. To do it, they turned down their record label’s offer of a fancy studio and set to work recording their next album, Fear of Music, from Weymouth and Frantz’s loft apartment. The result could have been a disaster. It wasn’t. With Brian Eno overlaying the band’s tight jams with his signature electronic treatments, Fear of Music is the sound of a band ripping up the rulebook to extraordinary effect. Cities is one of the album’s highlights, featuring witty lyrics, quicksilver hooks, an atmospheric production, and a slinky beat that’s pure disco magic.
3. Stay Hungry
Taking from 1978’s More Songs About Buildings And Food (the first album to feature Brian Eno on production duties), Stay Hungry, like the rest of the album, sounds like the result of a jamming session committed to tape…. and that’s no bad thing. Ranked by Louder as one of the best Talking Heads songs of all time, it has an energy and exuberance that’s practically infectious. It might not be as well-known as the likes of Burning Down the House or Once in a Lifetime, but it’s still an epic tune.
2. Once in a Lifetime
With its combination of afrobeat rhythms, insightful lyrics, and epic soundscapes, Once in a Lifetime stands as one of the band’s most instantly recognizable songs. Playful yet undercut with a rich seam of poignancy, it’s one of the few songs in the band’s canon with a message that anyone besides Byrne can understand. It also has an awesome video and the line “You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile.” That line alone is reason enough for it to be considered one of Talking Heads’ finest moments… that, and the fact Kermit the Frog saw fit to cover it.
1. Psycho Killer
As The Guardian writes, Psycho Killer began life as a twisted, jerky little live number that Byrne described as “Alice Cooper doing a Randy Newman-type ballad.” They eventually worked out the kinks and introduced it to the wider world on their 1977 debut album 77. With an insanely memorable bass riff, piercing guitars, and an astonishing middle section sung in French and designed to convey the narrator’s split personality, it’s Talking Heads at their most weird… and their most wonderful.