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A potentially impossible task, in this list I am going to attempt to present all the Talking Heads albums ranked in order of genius.
The Name of This Article Is Talking Heads Albums Ranked
In the mid-seventies, two art school nerds, David Byrne and Chris Frantz, started forming a band. Frantz on drums and Byrne on vocals and guitar. The next member to join was Frantz’s girlfriend, Tina Weymouth. She learned to play bass when the duo struggled to find a bassist in New York. They added the final member in 1977, when former Modern Lovers guitarist, Jerry Harrison stepped in.
The decade and a half that followed was often tumultuous. But that didn’t stop the band from recording eight remarkable studio records. They were still able to cement their reputation as one of the most innovative and influential bands of the post punk era.
And as a testament to that reputation, here’s our list of all eight Talking Heads albums ranked.
Talking Heads Albums Ranked
8. True Stories (1986)
While Talking Heads never released a single “bad” record, True Stories is their weakest effort.
It’s essentially just a collection of studio recordings of songs that appeared in Byrne’s film of the same name. In fact, Byrne didn’t even intend to release it as a Talking Heads album. Rather, he wanted to release an album of recordings by the film’s cast, which he did later that year with Sounds from True Stories.
Where True Stories comes up short is in its predictability. That is, it sounds like much of the music being produced around the same time. There’s just very little of that Talking Heads innovation and edge that runs through most of their work.
Still, there are some gems on the otherwise spotty record. The gospel-tinged Puzzlin’ Evidence is an electric good time and is the closest thing to the band’s earlier successes. And Wild Wild Life turned out to be a significant radio hit for Talking Heads, along with its wildly popular music video.
And yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Talking Heads fan who has much to say about the LP, good or bad. It’s a rare moment in the band’s discography that mostly elicits shrugs instead of strong opinions.
- Puzzlin’ Evidence
- Hey Now
- Wild Wild Life
7. Little Creatures (1985)
Even the band’s experimentation with non experimental, radio-friendly music yields some classics.
Coming just a year prior to True Stories, the 1985 outing from Talking Heads was perhaps even more predictable and forgettable. Gone were the New York punk sensibilities and sonic idiosyncrasies that had once defined the band. In their place was a somewhat clumsy attempt at country and Americana music and an ostensible appeal to a broader audience.
That said, David Byrne and company still managed to craft an enjoyable record–one that even includes two all-time-great Talking Heads songs.
And She Was stands as one of the sweetest love songs Byrne has penned. Even if it lacks the kind of sonic risk-taking the band is known for, it’s such an infectious tune.
Moving into the universe,And She Was
And she’s Drifting this way and that.
Not touching the ground at all,
and she’s Up above the yard.
Perfect World continues the radio-friendly sound but benefits from a subtle horn arrangement. Stay Up Late relies even more heavily on clean piano work and offers some of Byrne’s strangest vocal choices.
On Road to Nowhere, Talking Heads rekindle their characteristic unpredictability. This instant classic grabs your attention from the outset with a gorgeous a cappella composition. Then it lurches forward with marching snare drums, a bouncy bass line, and jaunty accordion, organ, and sax accompaniment. Listen closely and you can even hear a washboard.
And that’s to say nothing of Byrne’s lyrical foray into existentialism that builds through an emotionally charged bridge, complete with yelps and shouts.
There’s a city in my mind.Road to Nowhere
Come along and take that ride,
And it’s alright. Baby, it’s all right.
And it’s very far away,
But it’s growing day by day,
And it’s all right. Baby, it’s all right, yeah.
Would you like to come along?
You can help me sing the song,
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right.
They can tell you what to do,
But they’ll make a fool of you,
And it’s all right. Baby, it’s all right.
Road to Nowhere quickly became a fan favorite and is a mainstay of David Byrne’s solo performances.
While certainly not Talking Heads’s strongest outing, Little Creatures still includes enough classic material to make it a must-listen.
- And She Was
- Perfect World
- Stay Up Late
- Road to Nowhere
6. Naked (1988)
Perhaps forgotten among the band’s more beloved albums, Naked, still shines as a late-career triumph.
1988’s Naked marked the final album from Talking Heads. While Naked is far from the band’s best work, it did much to recapture the innovation, world influences, and playfulness of their early work.
The most striking elements of the record are the heavy reliance on horns and use of Latin rhythms. These elements add a shot of energy to most of the songs. The first two tunes are brass heavy jams.
Naked kicks of with the James Brown influenced Blind. The slanky piano and guitar parts are the perfect balance to the powerful horn blasts throughout. And Byrne rekindles some of his early vocal and lyrical silliness to great effect. The Latin influence is especially pronounced on the second track, Mr. Jones, punctuated by brass stabs similar to those on Blind.
Next, Totally Nude changes things up in a big way, backed by woozy pedal steel guitar and poppy bongos. And, as strange as it is to say, the lyrics are impossibly adorable:
Big and I’m bad, And I want you to knowTotally Nude
I hang around where the grass is greener,
Totally naked, baby Totally nude.
‘Cause if I want to, who’s gonna stop me?
I’m absolutely free,
Living in the trees,
The birdies and the bees.
‘Cause I’m a nature boy.
The Latin-tinged percussion continues on the ostensibly environmentalist tune (Nothing But) Flowers, complete with a ska-like guitar part and sing-along chorus. It’s also chock-full of classic David Byrne-isms:
- “We caught a rattlesnake / Now we got something for dinner”
- “There was a shopping mall / Now it’s all covered with flowers”
- “If this is paradise / I wish I had a lawnmower”
- “And as things fell apart / Nobody paid much attention”
- “We used to microwave / Now we just eat nuts and berries”
To be sure, some of the political lyrics on Naked are perhaps a bit too…well, naked. That is, there is some lack of nuance on songs like “The Democratic Circus.” Still, the record is as much fun as any of the stuff Talking Heads had produced.
- Mr. Jones
- Totally Nude
- (Nothing But) Flowers
LIVE ALBUM: The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads (1982)
Gritty, raw, and a little disjointed, Talking Heads’s first live album is as frenetic as the bad itself.
While this list is focused on the studio catalog from Talking Heads, it would be a mistake to neglect their two outstanding live recordings.
Talking Heads’s first live record, The name of This Band Is Talking Heads, is less polished than the later one, Stop Making Sense. That said, any true fan of the band has to love this album.
For one thing, it features performances with Adrian Belew on guitars, adding a distinctively prog feel to many of the band’s best grooves. In fact, many of those grooves turn in to true jams, with Belew taking on some electrifying and dissonant guitar solos.
What’s more, the collection captures the finest live performances of many classic Talking Heads songs. The versions of Mind, Houses in Motion, Born Under Punches, and Electricity (Drugs) are especially remarkable.
5. Talking Heads: 77 (1977)
Qu’est-ce que c’est?
The debut record from Talking Heads instantly became a defining album for several nascent genres and music scenes. From art punk to new wave, the band launched their career with an almost unbelievable level of confidence and seemingly effortless style.
The opening cut, Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town, is a bit misleading. While it has shades of the plucky, enigmatic aesthetic of the rest of the album, it’s also remarkably more accessible. Perhaps the Carribbean elements are surprising, but the track is otherwise pretty conventional. That said, it’s entirely infectious and a hell of a lot of fun.
The next track, New Feeling, is where things start getting interesting. Before the live performance on The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, Byrne coyly introduces the song. “The name of this song is ‘New Feeling.’ That’s what it’s about.” I’ll leave it there.
The Book I Read is an early example of Byrne turning the mundane into the Romantic:
I’m writing aboutThe Book I Read
The book I read.
I have to sing about
The book I read.
I’m embarrassed to admit
It hit the soft spot in my heart
When I found out you wrote
The book I read.
On Don’t Worry About the Government, rapid acoustic plucking backs up Byrne’s continued meditations on “stuff.” That is, everything from clouds and trees to buildings and highways.
Even with these great songs and others, like Pulled Up, if you’re talking about Talking Heads: 77, you’re probably talking about one song.
Psycho Killer put Talking Heads on the map. Weymouth’s bassline might lead you to believe it’s a funk song. Harrison’s guitar suggests a punk song. And Frantz’s plodding drums bring to mind a rock song. And that’s just the musicians. What about Byrne’s paranoia infused lyrics? Qu’est-ce que c’est? Short answer: something completely different.
While 77 may not be the most “listenable” Talking Heads album, it clearly set the stage for the experimental rock greatness to come. It shows many of the band’s influences, from funk and rock to the punk bona fides they earned opening for the Ramones at CBGB.
- Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town
- New Feeling
- The Book I Read
- Don’t Worry About the Government
- Psycho Killer
- Pulled Up
4. More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
Talking Heads begin to define the sounds that would cement their place in rock legend with More Songs About Buildings and Food.
The most genius album about “stuff” ever produced, Buildings and Food is one of the most successful sophomore efforts of all time. The follow-up to 77, Talking Heads’s second album picks up right where the debut left off. And it takes even bigger risks.
Buildings and Food kicks off with the frenetic, chugging rhythms of Thank You for Sending Me an Angel. And it never lets up from there.
Even the smooth arpeggios of a song like The Girl Wants to Be with the Girls are shot through with a paranoid energy. And you’re never far from the staccato rhythm guitar that pervades the album.
The funk rock energy picks up again with Found a Job, the most interesting song about television ever written. But even here, Byrne’s idiosyncratic song structure constantly keeps you off balance.
We’ve heard this little scene,Found a Job
We’ve heard it many times.
People fighting over little things
And wasting precious time.
They might be better off, I think,
The way it seems to me.
Making up their own shows
Which might be better than T.V.
Still, the biggest risk the band takes on the album is the choice to cover the Al Green classic, Take Me to the River. This cover was a massive statement: Talking Heads weren’t just an art rock band. They were serious musicians with an ear for Americana and a deep understanding of the history of rock music. The bouncy keyboards and plucky guitar tone bring out a funk style that hadn’t been heard before–or since.
The record closes with The Big Country, a soft country ballad that traces the topography of the United States with a sense of ennui. Byrne’s take on the States seems dismissive (“I wouldn’t live there if you paid me”). But he also admits some of the mundane benefits of life in the US:
I guess it’s healthy. I guess the air is clean.The Big Country
I guess those people have fun with their neighbors and friends.
Look at that kitchen and all that food.
Look at them eat it. I guess it tastes real good.
More Songs About Buildings and Food was successful enough to sustain the band and provide material for their tours. But the albums that came after it made the 80s the decade of Talking Heads.
- Thank You for Sending Me an Angel
- Warning Sign
- The Girl Wants to Be with the Girls
- Found a Job
- Take Me to the River
- The Big Country
LIVE ALBUM: Stop Making Sense (1984)
Both the album and film version offer a glimpse of the band’s on stage greatness that many of us will never get to experience in-person.
The live album and concert film, Stop Making Sense, might be the closest many Talking Heads fans will get to experiencing the band live. The movie is an unqualified classic, and the soundtrack captures the band’s unparalleled live energy better than any other recording.
In fact, these performances, compiled from four shows during their 1983 tour, offer some of the best versions of many Heads classics. The performance of Crosseyed and Painless, for instance, may even be superior to the studio version.
The movie and accompanying album also feature an all-star backing band. Touring musicians include Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic, Lynn Mabry of P-Funk and Sly and the Family Stone, and Alex Weir of the Brothers Johnson.
Finally, the movie is further significant for including a one-off performance of “Genius of Love” by Weymouth and Frantz’s side project, Tom Tom Club.
3. Fear of Music (1979)
Fearless musical experimentation reigns as Talking Heads becomes much more than a post punk band.
Talking Heads’s 1979 release, Fear of Music, kicked off what would become the most artistically rich phase of the band’s short career. Indeed, it is in many ways a turning point for the band.
A far cry from Talking Heads’s post punk and new wave beginnings, Fear of Music, puts experimentation with world music on full display. Many of the greatest Talking Heads songs can be found on Fear of Music, even if they’re not always the most accessible.
While Brian Eno served as producer on More Songs, his production influence comes through far more clearly on Fear of Music.
The album opens with I Zimbra, perhaps the one most influenced by African pop music, which has long been a fascination for Byrne. Adding to the song’s intrigue, Byrne crafted its lyrics around nonsense lines from a poem by Dadaist Hugo Ball:
Gadji beri bimba clandridiI Zimbra
Lauli lonni cadori gadjam
A bim beri glassala glandride
E glassala tuffm I zimbra
Fear of Music also features some of Talking Heads’s first forays into the truly experimental, like Memories Can’t Wait, Air, and Drugs. The spacey closing track, Drugs, uses some very Brian Eno-esque ambient sounds, as well as some well-placed vocal processing.
But it’s the track right in the middle of Fear of Music that deserves most of the attention here. Life During Wartime isn’t merely an infectious dance tune with outstanding subtle guitar work from Jerry Harrison. It’s also one of David Byrne’s finest lyrical achievements. It’s impossible to pick just one lyric from this classic that would suffice, so here are a few gems:
- “The sound of gunfire / Off in the distance / I’m getting used to it now”
- “I got three passports, / A couple of visas / Don’t even know my real name”
- “I got some groceries, / Some peanut butter / To last a couple of days”
- “Ain’t got no speakers, / Ain’t got no headphones, / Ain’t got no records to play”
But as great as those are, they pale in comparison to the iconic lines:
This ain’t no party.Life During Wartime
This ain’t no disco.
This ain’t no foolin’ around.
Fear of Music might also be the most ironic title for a band like Talking Heads. Kicking off one of the most experimental and creatively fruitful phases of any rock band, Talking Heads seemed utterly fearless.
- I Zimbra
- Life During Wartime
- Memories Can’t Wait
2. Speaking in Tongues (1983)
I dare you not to dance.
As the follow-up to 1980’s masterpiece Remain in Light, the odds were stacked against Speaking in Tongues. Yet, Byrne, Harrison, Weymouth, and Frantz found a way to capitalize on the success of their previous album by further refining their eclectic sound.
Things start off innocently enough: an acoustic guitar fades in with some subtle synthesizer for ambience. But then Frantz tumbles in with crisp tom-toms, clearing the way for Byrne’s warning: “Watch out! You might get what you’re after.”
So begins Burning Down the House, the massive radio hit and opening cut off Talking Heads’s most energetic and yes, “danceable,” album. Rife with synthesizers and funky beats, Speaking in Tongues nearly manages to be all things to all people.
Having already torched the room with the opening track, the band doesn’t slow down for a second. Making Flippy Floppy, quite ironically, might be David Byrne’s most direct political commentary:
Oh, I can’t believe it,Making Flippy Floppy
And people are strange.
The president’s crazy.
Did you hear what he said?
Business and pleasure,
Lie right to your face.
Next up, still grooving at an almost exhausting pace, Girlfriend is Better showcases Jerry Harrison’s metronomic rhythm guitar. It also features some wonderfully chirpy synthesizer work.
Who took the money?Girlfriend Is Better
Who took the money away?
Ha ha ha ha! It’s always showtime
Here at the edge of the stage.
And I, I, I, wake up and wonder
What was the place,
What was the name?
We wanna wait, but here we go again
Slippery People offers up even more staccato synthesizers and plucky bass. Here, though, the call-and-response backing vocals from disco veterans Dolette McDonald and Labelle’s Nona Hendryx give the funk a gospel tint.
There are, of course, plenty of outstanding deep cuts, like I Get Wild / Wild Gravity, Swamp, and Moon Rocks.
Yet, to me, the crown jewel of this iconic record is something quite different from the rest of its tracks. This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) is in a category all its own. And it might just be my favorite song of all time. One of the few true love songs the band released, the track begins with lilting synth, leading into heartwarming romantic lyrics. The result is one of the genuine romantic songs in rock music–entirely free of artifice and cliché:
I can’t tell one from the other.This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born,
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be
Oh! We drift in and out.
Oh! Sing into my mouth.
Out of all those kinds of people
You’ve got a face with a view.
I’m just an animal looking for a home and
Share the same space for a minute or two.
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead.
Eyes that light up,
Eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots.
Hit me on the head I got, ooh!
I couldn’t quite give Speaking in Tongues the top spot in this list. Yet, it remains one of the most iconic albums of the 80s for good reason: it’s just so much fun. Just try to listen to this classic record without smiling, laughing, singing, and–of course–dancing.
- Burning Down the House
- Making Flippy Floppy
- Girlfriend Is Better
- Slippery People
- I Get Wild / Wild Gravity
- Moon Rocks
- This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)
1. Remain in Light (1980)
Don’t you miss it! Don’t you miss it! Some of you people just about missed it!
I really tried to pick Speaking in Tongues over Remain in Light as the best Talking Heads album. I wanted to stand out from the crowd. But I couldn’t do it.
The fact is, Remain in Light is not only the greatest album by Talking Heads. It is the greatest album of the genre–whatever that happens to be. Putting Talking heads in any kind of category is always a fool’s errand.
As a result of the great critical success of Fear of Music, the band made it a point to pursue even greater sonic experimentation. That experimentation starts with the Byrne’s snarl at the start of Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On). From there, it’s African polyrhythms, non-linear song structures, funk grooves, and Byrne’s complete transformation into an art rock street preacher.
Take a look at these hands.Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)
Take a look at these hands.
The hand speaks,
The hand of a government man.
Well I’m a tumbler.
Born under punches.
I’m so thin.
Crosseyed and Painless is, I suppose, the funkiest and most dance-friendly song on the album. And while the studio cut is outstanding, the live version on Stop Making Sense completely overshadows it.
Next, The Great Curve, with its lightning fast dual guitar attack and layered vocal arrangement is a jerky, unpredictable roller coaster. It features a vicious guitar solo from Adrian Belew that rips through the groove like a chainsaw.
Listeners didn’t quite appreciate the next track, Once in a Lifetime, upon its initial release. But then a now-iconic music video for the single hit the airwaves, transforming the song into a classic.
The single-chord song puts Byrne in the position of some kind of evangelist of the mundane, shouting about life’s most basic questions:
And you may ask yourself,Once in a Lifetime
“How do I work this?”
And you may ask yourself,
“Where is that large automobile?”
And you may tell yourself,
“This is not my beautiful house!”
And you may tell yourself
“This is not my beautiful wife!”
While much of the attention around Remain in Light focused on the first side, the rest of the album rewards diligent listeners. For starters, Houses in Motion, while featuring some of Byrne’s most enigmatic lyrics, also plays to Tina Weymouth’s insistent bass style.
At the album’s close, Seen and Not Seen and Listening Wind finally slow things down, a necessary reprieve from all the chaos that came before.
And all this is just scratching the surface. Remain in Light is one of those great masterpieces that always rewards repeated listens. The textures are so rich, and the concepts are so layered that a single sitting simply won’t do it justice.
- Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)
- Crosseyed and Painless
- The Great Curve
- Once in a Lifetime
- Houses in Motion
- Seen and Not Seen
- Listening Wind