This month marks the 45th anniversary of Talking Heads’ debut album, Talking Heads ’77. To commemorate the occasion, we’re taking a stroll through the band’s ‘80s discography and selecting 8 of the best songs released by David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth during that particular decade. Suffice it to say that you’ll already know most of the songs, but that doesn’t make them any less outstanding.
1. “I Zimbra” (1980): The opening track of the band’s third studio album, Fear of Music, this song has been described by Jerry Harrison as his favorite Talking Heads song, citing it as the track that foretold what the band’s sound would be like when they recorded their next album. Although the track didn’t manage to make its way onto the Hot 100, “I Zimbra” did make waves on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart, hitting #28.
2. “Once in a Lifetime” (1981): You may ask yourself why we included this song, but if you ask yourself that, then you must not be very familiar with the band’s back catalog. This track is a defining song in the Talking Heads discography, although you may or may not be aware that Brian Eno is credited as one of its cowriters. The track was named by NPR as one of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century, and we are hard pressed to disagree with that assessment.
3. “Burning Down the House” (1983): According to Tina Weymouth, this track originated out of a jam session. “Chris [Frantz] had just been to see Parliament-Funkadelic in its full glory at Madison Square Garden, and he was really hyped,” Weymouth wrote in the liner notes to Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads. “During the jam, he kept yelling, ‘Burn down the house,’ which was a P-Funk audience chant, and David [Byrne] dug the line, changing it to the finished version, ‘Burning Down the House.’” The music video for the song, which was produced and directed by Byrne, became a staple of MTV immediately upon its release, sending the single all the way to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100.
4. “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” (1983): The final song on the band’s fifth studio album, Speaking in Tongues, it actually ended up making it onto the UK charts twice, first in 1983, then again in 1986 when a live version was released from the Stop Making Sense soundtrack. In an interview for the film, Byrne described the song as “a love song made up almost completely of non sequiturs, phrases that may have a strong emotional resonance but don't have any narrative qualities. It's a real honest kind of love song. I don't think I've ever done a real love song before. Mine always had a sort of reservation, or a twist. I tried to write one that wasn't corny, that didn't sound stupid or lame the way many do. I think I succeeded; I was pretty happy with that.”
5. “Road to Nowhere” (1985): In the liner notes to Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads, Byrne said of this track, “I wanted to write a song that presented a resigned, even joyful look at doom. At our deaths and at the apocalypse. I think it succeeded.” Directed by Byrne and Stephen R. Johnson, the video’s effects were recycled somewhat when Johnson went on to helm the videos for Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time.”
6. “And She Was” (1985): A bouncy, catchy ditty, the song was – per Byrne – inspired by “a blissed-out hippie chick in Baltimore [who] once told me that she used to do acid and lay down on the field by the Yoo-Hoo chocolate soda factory, flying out of her body, etc.” We don’t know if that all comes across in the song, but we do know that it’s got a hook that lasts far longer than the song’s three-and-a-half minute run time.
7. “Wild Wild Life” (1986): The lead single from the band’s True Stories album, which was kinda sorta the soundtrack to the film of the same name, this made enough of an impact on MTV that it ended up taking home the Best Group Video award at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards. In addition, it proved to be another addition to the band’s collection of top-40 hits, hitting #25 on the Hot 100.
8. “(Nothing But) Flowers” (1988): Released as the second single from the band’s final studio album, Naked, this track features two very notable guests in the mix: Johnny Marr, best known for his work with the Smiths, contributes lead guitar, while the late Kirsty MacColl adds her distinctive backing vocals. (Both artists appear in the music video.) The song failed to crack the Hot 100, but it climbed all the way to #5 on the US Mainstream Rock chart.