Talking Heads Albums Ranked
Talking Heads, an alternative, new wave and world beat phenomenon has cemented itself as one of the most influential bands of the 1980’s. From their humble beginnings as a novice act playing in the New York underground scene to their days of mainstream success and universal acclaim, Talking Heads always retained their composure and unique style.
Often considered to be ahead of their time, Talking Heads were able to combine nervous paranoia infused songwriting and a mixture of diversified musical styles, which effectively allowed them to pave the way for all kinds of unique methods of musical integration. David Byrne’s unique vocals and songwriting, elevated the band from the rest of its competition as they became one of music’s most innovative trailblazers.
While there is quite honestly no worst Talking Heads album, there are however albums that have inevitably risen above the rest. Which will be listed in this article from weakest to strongest.
8. Naked (1988)
Although it marks the unfortunate end of the paranoia-infused Talking Heads, Naked has its own fair share or poignant tracks and innovative styles. In an effort to strip down the band’s sound, Talking Heads utilized an odd, yet familiar, meshing of big band brass and electric grooves.
Effectively allowing Talking Heads to sing about their often-visited political commentary with a new and exciting feel, evidenced in the aggressive and accusative track, “Blind.” Or the provocative, “The Democratic Circus” a song about the facades of politicians all placed in a clown and big top background.
Talking Heads also experimented with environmental themes through the fan favorite, “(Nothing But) Flowers” a song about people living in a post-human controlled world, now overabundant with vegetation, who wish to have things back to the way it was. Throughout the album, however, one can easily notice how much the band is straining to keep itself together. It does, however, finish strongly with the memorable and final song, “Sax and Violins,” a very catchy and unique blend of bright pop and thumping brass.
The album is very much one of the weakest additions to the Talking Heads discography; however, it is as well-constructed a finish to a band that began in 77 and ended in 88 as most likely could have been done under the band’s struggle to hold itself together.
7. True Stories (1986)
Often considered to be one of the strangest Talking Heads albums, and that’s really saying something, True Stories, is an album comprised of tracks from the unsuccessfully attempted second “concert” film directed by David Byrne himself, about a “bunch of people in Virgil Texas”.
Although the album is considered to be a strained failed attempt to recapture the success achieved through its unforgettable predecessor, Stop Making Sense, True Stories does have its own fair share of memorable tracks. Such as the jittery and blasting, “Wild Wild Life” which won MTV’s “Best Group Video” in 1987 for its music video lifted directly from the film. Other tracks such as the energized, “Puzzlin’ Evidence,” or the somber, “City of Dreams,” really aid in keeping the album from fading into obscurity.
Although the album is very much an odd addition to the Talking Heads discography, Byrne placed a lot of energy into the writing of the film and the music to accompany it, providing it with enough stability to hold its own. Definitely showcasing that Talking Heads on their “worst day”, are able to accomplish much more than many others on their “best day”.
6. More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
Released just one year after the band’s first album, More Songs About Buildings and Food is the first and the weakest of the three projects as a result of the band’s collaboration with Brian Eno. Not in any sense a weak album, Talking Head’s second record was put together incredibly quickly and as efficiently as possible under the stressful conditions of the music industry.
More Songs About Buildings and Food is in fact often considered by many to be one of the best second albums of any band in history. In many ways a far more restricted version of the band’s debut, songs such as “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel” and “I’m Not in Love” feel far more rigid and confined while still attempting to be anxious and jittery like their debut had been able to do without holding back.
The refined style does work successfully however on, “The Big Country” a song about a disgusted person’s aerial perspective of the United States who is sickened by the life that dwells below. Other tracks such as “With Our Love” and “Warning Sign” utilize a hint of the debut’s paranoia-infused style and really help to raise the energy of the album. One of the most undisputedly best-recognized songs from the album is the jazzy, “Take Me to The River” a cover of an Al Green classic, which helped to keep More Songs About Buildings and Food from fading into the background.
While this album does mark a significant shift for Talking Heads, it does feel a tad weaker than their debut, even though it is in every way a well-crafted and innovative follow up.
5. Little Creatures (1985)
One of the band’s most free-flowing and enjoyable records, Little Creatures, was the last album released during Talking Heads “golden era”. Experimenting with Americana and oddly enough country music, Talking Heads prove that they aren’t afraid of taking a stab at any genre of music and the result definitely pays off. Opening with the bright and effervescent, “And She Was,” Talking Heads seem to be relieved of their paranoia infused style and have taken a far more relaxed and joyful approach.
The next track, “Give Me Back My Name,” however, dives right back into the anxiety-driven songwriting with lyrics about dystopian themes. The album definitely plays to the band’s strengths and doesn’t seem to experiment too much with newer techniques. Instead, the band just gets a chance to enjoy themselves and create a bunch of memorable and catchy songs, such as the playful, “Stay Up Late,” or the carefree, “The Lady Don’t Mind.” The album then closes with the unforgettable, “Road to Nowhere” which asks what will come next and if we are really ready for the future, all backed with a hooking beat and a classic Americana infused style.
While often people underrate Little Creatures and consider it to be one of the band’s most predominantly pop albums, it does have a lot to offer that is often overlooked. An album in which the band arguably played it a tad safer than they had with their previous records, Little Creatures is an album that can’t help but capture the listener with a selection of fun and laid-back tracks.
4. Speaking In Tongues (1983)
An innovative dance and funk album, Speaking In Tongues, brought Talking Heads to the forefront of their commercial success and provided the band’s first and only top ten American hit, “Burning Down the House.” Other tracks such as the sensational, “Girlfriend is Better,” and the dark and foreboding, “Swamp,” showcased a unique revolutionary style which blended afro beat and art pop, allowing their music to delve into dark and haunting tones while still generating danceable funky grooves.
The band also provided their listeners with their own unique take on a love song with, “This Must Be the Place” which exhibits Byrne’s songwriting at its most elevated and profound. Weaving together a collection of seemingly nonsensical metaphors, the song’s message comes together to create one of the most passionate love songs ever written through the words of someone who can’t seem to find the right words, but who knows everything they feel they need to say.
The album also led to the documented concert tour, Stop Making Sense, which has cemented itself as one of the most influential and innovative concert films in music history.
Showcasing Talking Heads at the peak of their success, Speaking In Tongues is a thoroughly enjoyable album which is brimming with creativity and unique musical experimentation.
3. Talking Heads: 77 (1977)
Setting a platform from which the band could only serve to improve from, Talking Heads: 77 is an undeniably extraordinary album, which also happens to be one of the band’s strongest records. Talking Heads: 77 proved that Talking Heads had an overwhelming amount of potential and exhibited a band which was unlike any other.
Opening with the bright and explosive, “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town,” Byrne’s quirky vocals lifted the band above the rest of the music it had been surrounded with. Songs such as, “Don’t Worry About the Government,” and “Pulled Up” blended an interesting and oddly successful meshing of relaxed and stressed elements. While tracks like, “Who Is It?” and “No Compassion” showcased Byrne at his most anxious and paranoid to the point where the listener can hear the nervous strain in his voice and practically see the sweat dripping from his forehead.
The iconic, “Psycho Killer,” exhibits Byrne’s strange songwriting at its finest, through a track which delves into the mind of a murder who can’t seem to find a moment of relaxation. While the album may feel at times unhinged and jerky, that is part of the beauty of Talking Heads fresh and unique style. Each track holds its own specific relevance and strength on the album, making each moment feel meticulously planned and well-choreographed while also feeling almost effortless and unrestricted.
An impressive debut, Talking Heads: 77 proved that the band had undeniable talent and potential and even led to the innovative Brian Eno taking an interest in the band.
2. Fear of Music (1979)
As the name suggests, Fear of Music is one of the band’s most haunting and foreboding albums. Effectively able to both confine while still capturing the band’s anxious tension, the band’s third album and second collaboration with Brian Eno, is a nearly immaculate meshing of paranoid stress and blissful euphoria. Opening with the innovative, “I Zimbra,” Fear of Music began to plant the seeds for the band’s later acquired afro beat infused style.
Moving next to the strained and jittery, “Mind,” Byrne’s freakishly strange songwriting at first seems to be so unappealing but is able to so perfectly capture the listener with some of the oddest lyrics possible. Experimenting with clashing and industrial themes on songs such as the fan favorite, “Life During Wartime” and the excitedly tense, “Cities,” Talking Heads provide some of the most abnormal and strained lyrism in a way that is so perplexing, yet undeniably catchy.
The album seemingly moves flawlessly between high strung tension through songs like the haunting “Memories Can’t Wait” to songs of relaxed calm through tracks such as the thought-provoking, “Heaven.” Encapsulating the band’s nervous energy almost to the point of claustrophobia, each track feels perfectly utilized and relevant, with the exception maybe of “Electric Guitar.”
While some of the tracks have been considered to be better showcased through live performances, Fear of Music is one of the band’s truly strongest records, showcasing Talking Heads at their most powerful and poignant.
1. Remain In Light (1980)
Without a doubt the most influential and strongest record released by Talking Heads, Remain in Light, is undeniably a masterpiece. The layering exhibited on the opening track, “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On),” is able to remarkably create a detailed and chaotic, yet well-organized song, which one can’t help but give into. The fan favorite “Crosseyed and Painless” and “The Great Curve,” seamlessly blend a variety of musical influences and electronic grooves along with some of Byrne’s most elevated and expressive songwriting.
The album makes a huge splash with the loose and perplexing, “Once In a Lifetime,” one of the band’s most iconic and enjoyable tracks. Songs such as, “Houses In Motion” and “Seen and Not Seen” exhibit Byrne’s innovative and unique attempt at stream of consciousness songwriting with moments of thought-provoking spoken word.
The somber, “Listening Wind” tells the interesting story of a Native American moving through an unfamiliar America, with a hauntingly foreboding underscored background. The closing track, “The Overload” closes the album with unsurpassed tension and strain, leaving the listener with an uncomfortable and uneasy feeling of eeriness and stress. The final and strongest collaboration with Brian Eno, every moment of the album is perfectly utilized and effectively represented, while also touching on the use of a vast assortment of innovative styles and musical approaches.
A flawless culmination of all of the techniques the band had attempted to experiment with, Remain In Light is the most crucial Talking Heads album, which was able to effortlessly blend subtle anxious tensions with a perfected weaving through of bliss filled beats.
Scott Perdue is a sophomore majoring in film/video. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.