We have written about the 10 most collected funk records in our Database, and while it did illustrate some of the shortcomings of genre tags in general, it proved painfully obvious that there are a hell of a lot of Prince and Talking Heads fans out there. The true funk masters like George Clinton and Isaac Hayes were conspicuously absent from the most collected, but I did my level best to point the uninitiated in the proper direction to funkified enlightenment. However, your Collections, in all of their unique and carefully polished glory, cannot just be brushed off and forgotten about. I share your love of mis-labeled genres because the funk I hear on that Talking Heads song may sound like an awful synth-pop flashback to you. We’re both right and wrong, and by the end of the song, it’s the music that wins.
My relationship with the Talking Heads began when my parents took me to the theater to see “Risky Business” when I was 9 years old. Unconcerned and freely oblivious about what their child thought of watching adults have sex on a train, my mom and dad were hippie staples of what it meant to be progressive parents. I loved every moment of that film, even if I didn’t have a fucking clue what was happening, and I took three key things away from that impressionable experience: 1. The Tangerine Dream score was the best thing I’d ever heard. 2. That Prince song sure was cool. 3. And that Talking Heads song was even cooler.
Scribbling thoughts down on my mental notepad, I went home and ruminated what I had learned. It became apparent that, apart from the pipe dream of DeMornay accepting my 9-year-old hand in marriage, I had to find a way to get that Risky Business soundtrack. I explained to my parents that buying the soundtrack completed the experience of them dragging me to the movie in the first place, and with this carefully devised plan of mental manipulation executed with precision, they relented and bought the record for me. I studied every note on the soundtrack, but it was “Swamp” by the Talking Heads that most intrigued me. David Byrne was muttering about being “swallowed whole” and grunting and wheezing and making a fascinating racket in general. It was a glorious jumble of noise that forever solidified my vision of how pop and funk could co-exist so gracefully.
And so began my trek into the world of the Talking Heads. I unearthed the albums that had come out before “Speaking In Tongues“, and kept a watchful eye on everything they did after. For ten years they challenged audiences, then packed up and moved on with their separate projects. Time only proves how influential they’ve been on modern music, and with this list I’m going to point out the ten best Talking Heads songs that sound more relevant today than ever.
The 10 Best Talking Heads Songs
I’ve already discussed why this song means a lot to me, but it took on more relevance in context of its given album, apart from the “Risky Business” soundtrack. For all intents and purposes, “Speaking In Tongues” is arguably the Heads’ best album, with the possible exception of one other, which I’ll get to further down this page. This song is indeed funky, weird, and melodic which is a perfect microcosm of why we love the Talking Heads.
Picking and choosing a song from “Fear Of Music” seems like blasphemy as the album works perfectly as a whole with each song being a fully realized complement of the other. A few other tracks were chosen as singles from this album, but it was “Mind” that has left the most indelible impression over the years. Another funky tune, it’s wonderfully knocked off-balance by a plucky guitar riff that shouldn’t work within the framework of the other elements, but ends up sounding exactly like it was meant to be there. There is hardly a moment where this song doesn’t sound incredible.
Seemingly forgotten in the Talking Heads canon is the the “True Stories” album. It was a little more mainstream for the band, but contains some of their most poignant moments all the same. The album doesn’t quite flow as well as their earlier efforts, but tracks like “City Of Dreams” showed off their talent in composing heart-warming ballads as well as dropping the nerd-funk they perfected. They still had more to say with one more album released after this one, but “City Of Dreams” acted as a beautiful send-off to their legacy.
This song is great for a lot of the same reasons “City Of Dreams” is so touching, with “The Big Country” acting as a swan song of sorts. They take their art-school weirdness vibe and mingle it with more traditional rock elements, while injecting it with a healthy dose of americana. They were beginning to find their footing as they stepped away from the punk world, tipping their hat to the 70’s with their “More Songs About Buildings And Food” album, simultaneously putting their heads down for their inevitable tackling of the 80’s around the corner.
In danger of being in that “holy shit, do I have to hear this song AGAIN” zone, “Psycho Killer” was the introduction most of the world had to the Talking Heads. All nerves and jerky vibes, Byrne spasmed all over the stage and gave us visual accompaniment to some pretty out-there rhythms and energy.
One of the most bare bones yet effective songs the band ever accomplished. Covered in funk and downtempo grooves, the underlying new wave synth line gave it just enough melody to pull it all together and gently suck you in like few other Talking Heads track ever could. Byrne’s vocals are at an inviting simmer for the duration complementing the monotonous electronic shuffle layered on top. Hidden away on side 2 of “Remain In Light” (and the b-side to the more popular “Once In A Lifetime” single), it was eclipsed by a few of the songs that came before it, but over time it’s become a prime example of how ahead of their time they were.
You know you’re cool when Johnny Marr of the Smiths decides to join your group (even if it was only for a second). “Naked” was sort of a messy end for the band, but it did produce some stone-cold gems, with “Nothing (But Flowers)” being the shining example. It was probably difficult to envision how you could possibly expand upon the coolness of sound the Heads came up with, but they figured out that having a Marr guitar riff would probably be a good way to find out. Everything the Talking Heads had accomplished musically was perfectly presented in one five minute swathe of sound — funk, rock, americana, dance, world, indie, punk, and a few other things all bubbled to the surface of this track. It didn’t come from the best album, but “Nothing (But Flowers)” is certainly one of their best moments.
This song punctuated a rather hit and miss album with “Little Creatures”, but it was an enjoyably messy listening experience all the same. Talking Heads had a knack for saving the best for last on their albums, and “Road To Nowhere” rendered all the meanderings before it more meaningful and potent just by its presence. This song has a lot of meaning culturally as well, with the video being a big explosion for the MTV generation, but more than anything it showed the Heads playing around with all the existential proclivities humans have without sounding like a bunch of pretentious assholes. This song still has considerable bite.
I know I just said the Heads always saved their best for last, but not the case with “Remain In Light”. This is rightfully considered to be their best album, and arguably, this is the best song from it. While the album contained their most recognizable hit “Once In A Lifetime“, it’s the album as a whole that flows so seamlessly. They again brought in Brian Eno to produce and what evolved from that is easily one of the best albums of the 80’s. “Born Under Punches” explored disco, funk, and punk when these disparate gestures hardly ever intertwined on the same record. Listeners found a lot of similarities spiritually with these different genres, but meshing them was still a test in progress. If you have somehow never heard the Talking Heads in your life, this is a perfect place to start.
The second song from “Speaking In Tongues” on the list, but can you blame me? The Heads called their own bluff by throwing in the “naive melody” bit in the title, but sometimes it’s the allure of simplicity that is most complex to accomplish. A steady 120 beat-per-minute shuffle, irresistible whistling melody, shyly nuanced synth line, and highly-charged vocal later, and you’ve got one of the best pop songs of all times glowing in its wake. This track has never really left the public’s consciousness since its release in the early 80’s, and only continues to stamp relevancy over modern culture with acts like Psychemagik resurrecting the cut into an extended disco monster for today’s dance clubs. Out of the many songs the Talking Heads can claim as influential, “This Must Be The Place” undoubtedly tops the list in every way.Interested in seeing more articles like this one?Subscribe to account notifications.Want to join the Discogs community of music lovers?Sign up for an account here.––––