Talking Heads is a band that was able to pull off the impressive tightrope walk of being both critical adored and commercially successful. They are a “cool” band that’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and appeared on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time countdown. They played at CBGB and had their music covered by the Muppets. They remain beloved even though they haven’t released anything new since 1988’s Naked, and they likely will never get back together, as David Byrne does not seem to get along with the rest of his former bandmates. However, despite this, they put together an excellent catalog of music, including the 10 songs selected here to serve as the top 10 they ever recorded.
- “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”
This is one of the most well-known, and most popular, Talking Heads songs. If you didn’t include it in a top 10, people would likely complain. However, you can’t really place it as high in a top 10 as others. It’s a good song, a very good one, but it’s not quite as strong as a lot of people feel. After all, it’s the “naïve melody” because Tina Weymouth, the bassist, played guitar, and David Byrne, the guitarist, played keyboards. It’s sort of a feel good goof that really grabbed people. Well, what are you going to do? It’s a catchy, fun song.
- “Girlfriend is Better”
“Girlfriend is Better” appeared on Speaking in Tongues, originally, but it didn’t become a single until the live version from Stop Making Sense was released. It was a fitting single from that film, because the title came from the lyrics of the song. It’s, you know, a Talking Heads song. A lot of repetition in the lyrics and a sheen of mystery and inscrutability to the proceedings, even if it clearly, to some degree, is about a guy pondering his relationship with his girlfriend. It’s a good song. Sometimes, that’s all there really is to say.
- “Take Me To The River”
Technically an Al Green cover, but still one of the most notable Talking Heads songs, as their version reached No. 26 on the charts. Obviously, Talking Heads have a very different sound than the soulful Al Green, but that’s what makes this a great song for them to cover. They could put their own take on it, and at a time when they weren’t quite the prominent band they would become. They started with a good song, and they took it to another level.
- “And She Was”
Talking Heads is a band who knows how to make a propulsive song. A lot of their music, or at least their best music, chugs along like a train, keeping the energy high. “And She Was” is no exception. Apparently the song is about a girl on LSD, but, unlike a lot of songs about acid, it’s not loaded down with boring descriptions of psychedelic imagery. It’s just a good, cool sounding song you can enjoy, and you might not even know what it’s about, because it doesn’t really matter.
- “Life During Wartime”
Byrne may sing “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,” but if he didn’t, you might not realize this song doesn’t belong playing at the club. It’s super catchy and dance-y, with a cool horn hook, but it’s much darker and more serious than something you cut a rug to. Byrne also says “This ain’t no … CBGB” though, as well, so maybe there is no place for “Life During Wartime.” Even so, you’ll want to listen to it, because it’s just so good.
- “Psycho Killer”
“Psycho Killer” is the first song to really put Talking Heads on the map, as it was their first song to chart, although it only hit No. 92. Of all their weird, oddball songs, this is probably the weirdest. It’s clearer in intent than other Talking Heads songs, but it’s also about a murderer, and it’s not, like, a traditional murder ballad. It’s also catchier than it should be, given its nature, and it has a great bassline. Plus, you can learn some French.
- “Burning Down the House”
It’s weird, when you think about it, that this was a top 10 hit in the United States, and then, because of this fact, we consider this, like, a normal pop song. Then, you actually listen to it, and David Byrne is yelping and the song is all aggressive and weird, and great, of course. The lyrics don’t seem to make any sense, but maybe it’s about burning down a house. You know, traditionally popular music stuff. Also, did you know this song hit No. 2 on the U.S. dance charts? Because, when you think about busting a move on the dance floor, you think about the awkward jerking moves of David Byrne.
While not a single, “Heaven” is still a well-known Talking Heads song, well thought of enough by the band to have it appear in their iconic concert film Stop Making Sense. It really speaks to David Byrne as a songwriter, and his persona, because it is kind of hard to parse how much he is being ironic, and how much he is being sincere. Regardless, the song sounds great, and, whether you think it’s a joke or not, it’s still a really good song you can enjoy.
- “(Nothing But) Flowers”
This one of the last singles Talking Heads ever released, and the last one released from Naked, their final album, and even though it didn’t chart in these United States, it was still a high note to go out on. It’s a very funny, very clever song that imagines a green, luscious paradise, and being disappointed in the lack of Dairy Queens and 7/11s. It’s almost an answer song to Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” albeit one that probably has its tongue in its cheek.
- “Once in a Lifetime”
Is “Once in a Lifetime” the most well-known, recognized Talking Heads song? Is this the song people think of when they think Talking Heads? It’s arguable, but it’s this or “Burning Down the House.” This song makes more sense, and has a clearer message, although that message is about looking inward and feeling dread about your life. It has the line “You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile,” which is great. The music video is awesome too. In the end, it deserves to be considered the best Talking Heads song.