“Well we know where we’re goin’
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowin’
But we can’t say what we’ve seen
And we’re not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out”
–“Road to Nowhere”
David Byrne is a true visionary on the autism spectrum. His band, Talking Heads, created a new form of rock as one of the first “alternative” bands. In this edition of Jason’s Jukebox, I will be ranking each of the Talking Heads’ studio albums. First, let’s look at the line-up:
- David Byrne (lead vocals, guitar)
- Chris Frantz (drums)
- Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitar)
- Tina Weymouth (bass)
Talking Heads 77 (1977)
Singles: “Uh-oh, Love Comes to Town”, “Psycho Killer”, “Pulled Up”
The debut showcases the promise the band had in their days as one of the premiere bands at CBGB’s, a New York City bar that was a venue for such acts as The Ramones, Sonic Youth, Blondie, and the Pretenders. Tina Weymouth shows off her bass skills well on “Psycho Killer”, while Byrne’s guitar work caused Rolling Stone to call them one of the most promising acts of 1977.
Best tracks: “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town”, “Don’t Worry About the Government”, “Psycho Killer”
More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
Single: “Take Me to the River”
This album begins Brian Eno’s relationship with the band. Brian Eno, who also worked with Roxy Music and David Bowie, produced three albums for the Talking Heads. This “trilogy” is the band at its best. The album gave the band its first top 40 single, a cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”.
Best tracks: “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel”, “Artists Only”, Take Me to the River”
Singles: “Life During Wartime”, “I Zimbra”, “Cities”
I think this is David Byrne at his most vulnerable. He once said “I’m not an entirely comfortable person…but that isn’t necessarily neurotic.” This album captures Byrne’s darkest and experimental side, making it their best album. It’s almost like a commentary on fear itself, as the title suggests. He even immortalized CBGB’s in the song “Life During Wartime”.
Best tracks: “Life During Wartime”, “I Zimbra”, “Heaven”
Remain in Light (1980)
Singles: “Once in a Lifetime”, Houses in Motion”
The creative tension between the members began with this album, so much so that Tina and Chris began their side project, Tom Tom Club. Songs like “The Great Curve” and “Once in a Lifetime” were influenced by African musicians. (The expanded CD has an outtake called “Fela’s Riff”, named after the revolutionary founder of Afrobeat Fela Kuti, which later became “Once in a Lifetime”)
Best tracks: “Cross-eyed and Painless”, “Once in a Lifetime”, “Houses In Motion”
Speaking in Tongues (1983)
Singles: “Burning Down the House”, “Girlfriend is Better”, “This Must Be the Place”
By this time, the band was becoming a sensation, having just released their live album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads. They even scored one of their most loved music videos for “Burning Down the House”. This began the band’s most commercially successful period (the album’s tour resulted in the movie Stop Making Sense).
Best tracks: “Burning Down the House”, “Girlfriend is Better”
Little Creatures (1985)
Singles: “Road to Nowhere”, “And She Was”
This is the band at the closest they ever got to pop, and one of their worst albums. Gone is the experimentation of Fear of Music and Remain in Light. The tension in the ranks was worsening and Byrne is less able to keep the band together.
Best track: “Road to Nowhere”
True Stories (1986)
Single: “Wild Wild Life”
This album was named after David Byrne’s film True Stories, which he described as “60 Minutes on acid”, and is only slightly connected to the movie. It is the band at their worst.
Best track: “Wild Wild Life”
Singles: “Mr. Jones”, “Nothing But Flowers”
This album marked the end of the band (they did release Sands in the Vaseline, but I’m not counting that as it’s a collection of b-sides and out-takes.) The magic is gone. I wanted to give this album a better rating, as I do like “Mr. Jones”, but I have to be honest. David Byrne began his solo career one year later.
Best Tracks: “Mr. Jones”, “Nothing But Flowers”
In 2000, the band got together for one last time when they were inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Today, Tina Weymouth is part of the supergroup Gorillaz.
Next time, I will be looking at the Christian rock band Jars of Clay, one of the most successful bands of the genre.