The great debate. What is the best Talking Heads album of all time? Everybody who loves music has one – More Songs About Buildings and Food, Remain in Light, 77, Fear of Music, all classics to choose from. For me, it gets no better than 1983′s Speaking In Tongues. If you have never done it, take a cruise through the Talking Heads albums, first to last (feel free to stop around Little Creatures/True Stories if you are short on time). It’s quite a trip to listen to this band progress and shift styles from album to album, the changes are quite noticeable and dramatic. From their punk roots 77, slowly moving into funk influences with More Songs, pushing the barriers of modern production style with Remain in Light, and landing, at the end, towards what some consider more pop/radio friendly, and finally the world music influences that would shape much of band leader David Byrne’s later solo career.
Let me pause for station identification. John usually does the throwback writeups, and does a great job putting down in words what so many of us love about the questions music asks us. Where were you when you heard a song/album. Who were you kissing. What car were you driving. What was going on in with the world around you at the time this song was coming out of your radio and into your ears. What did they close with the first time you saw the band play live. It’s one of the truly great things about music, it’s like our sense of smell, it can always trigger an exact point in the catacombs of your mind, even if it’s buried in an area you were sure you had mostly killed off all but a few of the brain cells.
I’m at a slight disadvanage. When Talking Heads 77 came out, I was -2 years old. I can’t vouch for CBGBs. I tend to learn about bands through great friends like John, or by chance in my never ending quest to keep finding great music. Forgive me if I butcher history or speak out of turn! Someday I will be lecturing some young whipper snapper on how to properly discuss the merits of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic.
I still remember the first time I heard the Talking Heads, it blew my mind. I knew of them from obvious radio hits – “Once in a Lifetime”, “Burning Down The House”, “And She Was”, but that was pretty much it. I have the local “classic rock” radio station and their 25 song set rotation to thank for that. Reminds me of a great argument John and I often have. I “hate” many songs, but there are two kinds of hate – 1. I hate this song because it’s terrible, and 2. I hate this song because I’ve heard it five thousand times. But I didn’t know the real Talking Heads. I started with Remain in Light. Blew my mind. Brian Eno produced the album, it had a fresh, innovative sound, even for me, a listener who was hearing it for the first time probably 15 years after it was pressed to vinyl. Then I dug deeper… 77, More Songs (my runner up), Fear of Music. Before I knew it the Talking Heads had become my favorite band.
But for me, the true pinnacle and the best of the Talking Heads progression came with 1983′s Speaking In Tongues. Some may disagree, but for me this tops it. Making Flippy Floppy, Girlfriend is Better, Slippery People, unstoppable classics. Disjointed rhythms while simultaneously being extremely tight. Verses building tension that finally burst and spill into amazing hooks (see Making Flippy Floppy for example). And last but not least, literally my favorite song of all time, This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody). I will butcher any interpretation/analysis of this song, it just is what it is, the beauty of it is what you take from it. I will never tire of this song, every time I play it DJing it never fails to bring one like minded music lover up to the DJ station to thank me and tell me it’s their favorite song, yet I would wager the general public has never heard it. Raw, exposed, fragile, while still a driving force. This song kills me, so many unforgettable lines…. “Love me til my heart stops, love me til I’m dead”. Classic. There is a great live version of it on Stop Making Sense, which also happens to be in my opinion the greatest concert film of all time.
I loved Speaking In Tongues so much, I even bought the limited edition Robert Rauschenberg vinyl LP on ebay. I keep it displayed at my house and am too nervous to play it. It’s clear vinyl (though slightly yellow after all the years, with three rotating clear discs in the sleeve that change the image displayed on the record. I was lucky enough to catch David Byrne playing the music of Byrne and Eno live last year, what a great show. He was in an all white suit, still rocks and his voice is still perfect.
Drop us a comment, what’s your favorite Talking Heads album? It’s always great bar conversation because there are so many different answers.
Talking Heads – This Must Be The Place – deleted
Talking Heads – Making Flippy Floppy – deleted
Added bonus: Check out Byrne on Letterman talking about this album, he looks insanely nervous. I love how Letterman struggles to get him to give more than one word answers. Best line on the words not making sense “Well they do, but not if you try and figure them out”
To read John Jay’s earlier post on this same band go here.