The 10 Best Talking Heads Songs

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

  1. Swamp

    Speaking In Tongues (1982)

    Swamp 12'' album cover Talking Heads

    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.

  2. Mind

    Fear of Music (1979)

    fear of music LP album cover 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.

  3. City Of Dreams

    True Stores (1986)

    true stories LP Talking Heads

    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.

  4. The Big Country

    More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)

    more songs about buildings and food lp album cover Talking Heads

    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.

  5. Psycho Killer

    Talking Heads: 77 (1977)

    talking heads 77 LP Talking Heads album cover

    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.

  6. Seen And Not Seen

    Remain In Light (1980)

    remain in light lp album cover Talking Heads

    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.

  7. Nothing (But Flowers)

    Naked (1988)

    naked LP vinyl album cover Talking Heads

    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.

  8. Road To Nowhere

    Little Creatures (1985)

    little creatures LP album cover vinyl Talking Heads

    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.

  9. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)

    Remain In Light (1980)

    remain in light LP album cover Talking Heads

    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.

  10. This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

    Speaking In Tounges (1982)

    speaking in tongues LP album cover vinyl Talking Heads

    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.

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22 Comments
  • Apr 2,2019 at 4:43 pm

    I hate this list for many reasons. Nice Melody number 1? That’s their best song? You’re fucking nuts. Great curve, don’t worry about the government, HOUSES IN MOTION! Do you even listen to the talking heads!?

  • Mar 4,2019 at 10:48 pm

    Whilat Swamp may have been in the movie Risky Business, I’m pretty darn sure it wasn’t in any version of the soundtrack – and certainly not mine.

    That needn’t affect the list of course – which is a fair one. I’d add in Once In A Lifetime, because its their most iconic track, Heaven, and Big Blue Plymouth (it if counts as a TH rather than Byrne track). Swapping out Flowers, probably Mind, and City of Dreams…..

  • Feb 4,2019 at 9:35 am

    And considering your song choices, pick a photo that has Adrian Belew with the band.

  • Feb 4,2019 at 9:34 am

    Oh crud, im gonna say two more things, Found a Job and Don’t Worry about the Government HAVE to be on that list too.

  • Feb 4,2019 at 9:33 am

    You absolutely nailed it with Born Under Punches but i’m gonna say this…. The Great Curve. Nothing more needs to be said. The Great Curve.

  • Jan 31,2019 at 6:03 pm

    and now…the TEN Best Talking Heads songs (for 1/31/2019):
    Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town (Alternate Version)From Once In A Lifetime box set. Kettle drums make it!
    Mind
    Houses In Motion (Remix)45 single
    Making Flippy Floppy
    Cities
    Heaven (from Stop Making Sense)
    Thank You For Sending Me An Angel
    Moon Rocks
    City Of Steel from David Byrne ‎– Sounds From True Stories. OK, not really a true Talking Heads effort, but it does have Chris, Tina and Jerry playing a David Byrne composition.
    Building On Fire from The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads

  • Jan 28,2019 at 1:58 pm

    Today I’m feeling – Houses in motion,, take me to the river live, facts of life, Mr Jones, Papa Legba pops staples version, I Zimbra, pulled up, tentative desicions, popsicle found a job live
    Tomorrow may change.
    Do they really have a bad song?

  • Aug 22,2015 at 2:54 pm

    Nice list, gotta go back & replay some of their earlier albums I haven’t played in ages.

  • Aug 21,2015 at 8:15 pm

    Swap in Love – Building On Fire, Don’t Worry About The Government, and Once In A Lifetime in at #10, #9, and #5… yeah, choosing only 10 is really hard .

  • Aug 21,2015 at 9:13 am

    Fans of Talking Heads [and The Cure] should see the film “This Must Be the Place” by Paolo Sorrentino. The title song features heavily throughout the film in many versions [inc. the original] and David Byrne has a cameo as himself. The film stars Sean Penn as a Robert Smith-inspired rock star tracking down an ex-nazi prison guard in a like-nothing-else story. Very enjoyable.

  • Aug 21,2015 at 8:43 am

    +1 “WTF no Once In A Lifetime?”

  • Aug 20,2015 at 3:13 pm

    Once in a Lifetime surely! probably heard that for the first time when I was nine… it boggled my mind then and it still does to this day :)))

  • Aug 18,2015 at 2:02 pm

    ‘Seen and not seen’ is a masterpiece. Way ahead of its time. ‘Found a Job’ has that disco-punk feel at the end that I absolutely love (DFA in general, and LCD Soundsystem in particular, borrowed heavily from that style). No one mentioned ‘Listening Wind’, which is also a masterpiece. I’d add ‘Heaven’ as well. So many great tracks from them… ‘Remain in Light’ is for me their best record, followed by ‘Fear of Music’ and ‘Speaking in Tongues’, but in truth almost everything they recorded is superb.

  • Aug 18,2015 at 8:55 am

    Wrong, wrong, wrong! Okay, here are the actual 10 best songs from Talking Heads:
    10. And She Was
    9. Found A Job
    8. Blind
    7. Lifetime Piling Up
    6. Once In A Lifetime
    5. Thank You For Sending Me An Angel
    4. Mind
    3. Crosseyed And Painless
    2. Burning Down The House
    1. Houses In Motion (7″ single edit)

  • Aug 18,2015 at 5:40 am

    We all have our favorites , I guess. I would add Heaven and Don’t Worry About the Government.

  • Aug 18,2015 at 1:34 am

    Thanks for reading, everyone! Such a tough task! I honestly can’t think of a single bad Talking Heads song. “Moon Rocks” almost made my list, @jannevaro!

  • Aug 18,2015 at 1:02 am

    Best songs of the albums:
    Don’t Worry About The Government, Found a Job, Life During Wartime, The Great Curve, Moon Rocks, Road To Nowhere, Puzzlin’ Evidence, Blind

  • Aug 17,2015 at 11:14 pm

    So, where’s The Lady Don’t Mind? Dream Operator? Sax and Violins? Lifetime Piling Up? I could probably put together 10 different “Top 10 Songs” of the Talking Heads, depending on my mood at the time of selection.

  • Aug 17,2015 at 11:07 pm

    I can disagree or want to add / change something …. but really, all of talking heads is great, and is a good list … and is super good to have chosen this band, well done!

  • Aug 17,2015 at 10:52 pm

    “Slippery people” at the top of my list …

  • Aug 17,2015 at 10:49 pm

    what about once in a lifetime – the video alone is unreal

  • Aug 17,2015 at 6:19 pm

    For atmosphere and sheer emotional impact, ‘The Overload’ from [m25688] would be top of my list!

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