Talking Heads Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best

New York rock band Talking Heads started their career as the Artistics, with drummer Chris Frantz and vocalist/guitarist David Byrne. As the group were unable to find a bassist, Frantz’s girlfriend Tina Weymouth joined – she learned to play bass by listening to Suzi Quatro records. The trio played at famous New York club CBGB -for their first gig as Talking Heads in 1975, they supported The Ramones. The quartet was completed by guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison, formerly a member of Jonathan Richman’s Modern Lovers.

The Talking Heads released their first album in 1977, featuring Byrne’s edgy ‘Psycho Killer’. Their 1978 cover of Al Green’s ‘Take Me To The River’ took them into the US top 30. The hits continued into the 1980s, with ‘Burning Down The House’, ‘And She Was’, and ‘Wild Wild Life’, The band quietly dissolved in 1988 after recording Naked, officially breaking up in 1991. The other three members tried to reconvene without Byrne in 1996, releasing the unsuccessful No Talking, Just Head with guest vocalists.

The band started out as new wave, but incorporated many other influences – African music on 1980’s Remain In Light, funk on 1983’s Speaking in Tongues, and Americana on their David Byrne-dominated albums from the mid-1980s. I’ve only ranked their eight studio albums, but they also have a pair of well-regarded live albums, both best heard in their expanded editions – 1982’s The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads and 1984’s Stop Making Sense. The latter is the soundtrack to a Jonathan Demme concert film that’s a terrific introduction to the band.

Talking Heads Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best

#8: True Stories

Talking Heads True Stories

1986
True Stories originated from a David Byrne movie set in the fictional Texan town of Virgil. While the film’s actors sang on the soundtrack, the songs on the album are performed by the Talking Heads. Repeating the countrified sound of its predecessor, True Stories is essentially a less enjoyable rerun of Little Creatures. There’s a strong hit single in the joyful ‘Wild Wild Life’ and a solid opener in ‘Love For Sale’, but oherwise True Stories is unremarkable. Deep cut ‘Radio Head’ inspired the name of another famous art-rock band.


#7: Little Creatures

Talking Heads Little Creatures

1985
David Byrne assumed control of the Talking Heads for their sixth album. The songs on the previous two records were developed from group jams, but the most tracks on Little Creatures were written by Byrne alone. The funky and layered sound of Speaking in Tongues is replaced by hints of country. There are a pair of excellent singles: the nihilistic ‘Road to Nowhere’ with its choral introduction and the joyful pop/rock of ‘And She Was’. Apart from the deep cut ‘Stay Up Late’, which indicates that you shouldn’t hire David Byrne as a babysitter, the rest of the record is disappointingly thin.


#6: Naked

Talking Heads Naked

1988
After two records of David Byrne-penned Americana, the Talking Heads returned to their previous method of working up songs from group jams. They recorded in Paris with producer Steve Lillywhite, joined by a vast cast of supporting musicians including ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, cellist Arthur Russell, and vocalist Kirsty MacColl. The fuller sound and return to world music textures are welcome, and highlights like ‘(Nothing But) Flowers’, ‘Blind’, and ‘Mr. Jones’ are worthy additions to their catalogue. Byrne’s lyrics and performances aren’t as captivating as the group’s earlier work, but the lesser tracks here are more interesting than their counterparts on Little Creatures and True Stories.


#5: Talking Heads: 77

Talking Heads: 77

1977
The Talking Heads’ debut is disarmingly upbeat – opener ‘Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town’ even features a steel drum. The overall effect is creepy and the group’s sound is thin, but the record does boast signature song ‘Psycho Killer’. The record was co-produced by Tony Bongiovi, cousin of Jon Bon Jovi – he also worked on contemporary records by The Ramones and Ace Frehley.


#4: Speaking In Tongues

1983
After 1980’s Remain In Light, the band took a break and recorded solo albums, including Frantz and Weymouth’s side-project Tom Tom Club and David Byrne My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (a collaboration with Brian Eno). Speaking In Tongues is a more commercial record than Remain in Light, delivering arty funk within accessible songs. Opener ‘Burning Down The House’ was inspired by Frantz attending a Parliament concert, while ‘This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)’ is an unusually sincere love song from Byrne. The 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense features the six best songs from Speaking In Tongues, often in punchier versions, rendering it a little redundant.


#3: More Songs About Buildings and Food

1978
Producer Brian Eno linked up with the Talking Heads for their sophomore album. He furnishes them with a fuller sound, making their edgy new wave more accessible. There are plenty of excellent originals like ‘Thank You For Sending Me An Angel’, ‘Found A Job’, and the countrified ‘The Big Country’. The band’s popular breakthrough, however, came with their nervy cover of Al Green’s ‘Take Me To The River’, their first top 30 hit.


#2: Fear Of Music

Talking Heads Fear of Music

1979
The band’s third album was another step forward, more musically inventive and wide-ranging. David Byrne explores a wide range of neuroses, most notably a narrator who’s afraid of breathing in ‘Air’. ‘Life During Wartime’ employed funk rhythms alongside Byrne’s narrative about living at a grave site and surviving on peanut butter. Standout opener ‘I Zimbra’ pointed the way forward for the group, with its lead guitar from Robert Fripp and African feel – the lyrics were taken from a poem by Dada-ist poet Hugo Ball.


#1: Remain In Light

1980
The Talking Heads used ‘I Zimbra’ as a template for their fourth album, combining African rhythms and stream-of-consciousness lyrics into lengthy and exploratory songs. The band is augmented beyond the four core members – Brian Eno is essentially the fifth Talking Head here, and his distinctive backing vocals are noticeable on the single ‘Once In A Lifetime’. The band is also joined by stunt guitarist Adrian Belew, soon to join King Crimson, and Robert “Addicted to Love” Palmer on percussion. It’s a masterpiece, paced with stunning pieces like ‘Crosseyed and Painless’, ‘The Great Curve’, and ‘Houses in Motion’.

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What’s your favourite Talking Heads album?

40 comments

  1. A very good band. Contemporary to The Cars, Blondie, etc. (USA) and The Police, The Jam, The Pretenders, etc. (UK). Maybe the most famous band from the “New Wave” movement and usually super appreciated by most music reviewers.
    I personally prefer Speaking in Tongues. But I cannot justify it. Just it was the album that was in the air when I started to listen to global pop music.
    At least in my home country (Uruguay, South America) other English spoken groups were more popular: The Police, The Cure and INXS.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right that every critic loves them – they have a lot to like with memorable tunes, some ground-breaking ideas, and albums that are strong the way through. Speaking. In Tongues is a good record for sure.

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  2. I love this band but have really never given much thought to one album over another. I could go with your list or I could flip any 2 of the first 3 or 4. But no one clear preference.

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  3. love The Talking Heads- no major disagreements with your order of things- I enjoy all their albums to a certain degree of course some are greater than others. I think they fell off towards the end.

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  4. I mostly know Talking Heads based on certain songs like “Road to Nowhere”, “And She Was”, “Psycho Killer” ,”Once in a Lifetime” and “Mr. Jones”. Now that I think about it, they had a decent number of hits.

    Still, I haven’t really much explored their albums. One exception is “Stop Making Sense,” which I think is great.

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  5. Spot on though my personal preference is fear of music in the top spot. It’s just got this claustrophobic, dark vibe. It pulses and throbs. Remain in light is always the popular choice, and well…..its pretty much perfect but its predecessor is my fave!!

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    1. It’s a bit unfair of Fear of Music – it’s a very good record in its own right, but almost everyone chooses Remain in Light. I Zimbra is my favourite Talking Heads song, and it has lots of other great stuff like Memories Can’t Wait and Life During Wartime.

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  6. One of the greatest bands of all time as far as I am concerned. Personally, Fear of Music is my favorite with Speaking in Tongues coming in second. Remain in Light is mind-blowing, but I am not big into The Overload.

    On the bottom, I’d put True Stories ahead of naked, though not ahead of Little Creatures, which would be my number 6. I love poppier Talking Heads, so Little Creatures does wonders for me. As for True Stories, I get the complaints, but songs 5-9 are just perfect in my opinion. The problem of that album is the run from 2-4.

    Anyway, awesome job with the list!

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  7. I don’t personally think “Little Creatures” should be so far down the list. But you seem to know the band’s entire catalogue very well so I’ll defer on the NYC ‘s TTH

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  8. I really like poppy Talking Heads, I love Little Creatures but True Stories is alright as well. My ranking is (from worst to best):
    Naked (other than (Nothing But) Flowers, the tracks here doesn’t do much for me)
    True Stories (there are some clunkers like Hey Now and Papa Legba but overall it is good pop)
    More Songs About Buildings and Food (I like the debut more)
    Talking Heads: 77 (this has more highlights than More Songs…, like Psycho Killer and Pulled Up)
    Speaking in Tongues (this would have been greater if it punches more like in Stop Making Sense)
    Little Creatures (song and sound wise, most consistent, love it)
    Fear of Music (this is great but Remain in Light is more ambitious)
    Remain in Light (amazing, my favourite song is The Great Curve)

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  9. Well, damn, “True Stories” is the one Talking Heads album I own. I always thought it was a decent album, though I concede it’s not their best. I especially like “Puzzlin’ Evidence” and “Wild Wild Life”, but what the hell do I know?

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  10. Two memorable gigs from my youth were Talking Heads (supported by Dire Straits) in front of a few hundred people in early 1978 and then, on the Remain In Light tour in 1980 supported by comparatively a little-known U2.

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      1. Yes, Belew was on guitar on that tour. They would start with just David Byrne, then for each song more musicians arrived until you had the full Remain In Light ensemble featuring lots of African musicians. It was one of my favourite gigs of all time.

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  11. Great list… the Talking Heads discography is one that will always encourage conversation. I would likely go with the following order:
    True Stories, Little Creatures, More Songs…, Speaking in Tongues, Talking Heads: 77, Naked (I dunno, I enjoy it a fair bit), Fear of Music, and Remain in Light. Very little between the top two picks.

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  12. One of the most ever-changing bands I’ve listened to. I don’t know all of their albums well enough to rank…I do like jamming together to get ideas for songs… I was surprised about that when I wrote a song up. I thought it was mostly a Byrne show…he did of course shape it.

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    1. From my understanding there are three albums where the songs were largely worked up from jams – Remain in Light, Speaking in Tongues, and Naked. Plus the odd other songs like ‘Life During Wartime’, It just felt like a backward step when Byrne went back to being fully in charge on Little Creatures.

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  13. Would definitely agree with Remain in Light – its my favorite by them. Crosseyed and Painless is just a classic.

    TH’s also always reminds me of a a friend from college – she was the cool girl into all the cool bands who completely opened up my musical listening world = she introduced me to THs, Peter Gabriel, Ramones, Clash. We once drove from Philadelphia to DC for a Laurie Anderson concert, and then drove back to same night. Ah, the college days.

    Never knew about the No Talking Just Head phase.

    Yes the Stop Making Sense movie has to be up there with best concert films of all time – very inventive yet accessible at the same time.

    I also always enjoyed the Tom Tom Club stuff as well – Wordy Rappinghood was always a favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Remain in Light is the consensus pick. Crosseyed and Painless is great – the version on Stop Making Sense works surprisingly well. Sounds like you had a cool friend.

      I always saw the No Talking Just Head CD in bargain bins. It looks interesting with the guest vocalists but apparently it’s just not that good. I never really got into the first Tom Tom Club album as a whole, but there are a couple of very good singles.

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