In just over a decade, the Talking Heads made music that seemed unstuck from a particular place and time. Their greatest commercial success happened during the '80s, yet nothing feels too tied to the era. The band blended styles from all over the world, from British-inspired punk to African rhythms, but their cockeyed takes on everyday life, art and commerce have a distinctly American throughline.
And while the band has been dormant since the turn of the '90s - lead singer David Byrne, bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz and guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison only briefly reunited in 2002 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - their influence continues to be felt wherever there are rockers with a slightly skewed take on the world and a voracious musical appetite to match.
Here are five of the most popular Talking Heads tracks - a toe to dip in their rich musical waters. We bet you'll let the water hold you down in no time.
"Psycho Killer": the signature song from debut album Talking Heads 77 captured a year of anxiety in New York after the capture of David Berkowitz, the infamous "Son of Sam" killer who'd thrown the city into a panic thanks to a brutal murder spree. While Byrne had written the track before the shootings started, the twitchy, minimalist instrumentation and expressive vocals (in English and French) capture a unique blend of rock and roll tension. (It resonates to this day: in 2017, pop star Selena Gomez's "Bad Liar," which sampled the track's bass line, became a Top 20 pop hit.)
"This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)": "It's a real honest kind of love song," Byrne said of this stripped-down, hypnotic track, a highlight of the band's groundbreaking concert film Stop Making Sense and a standout on 1983's Speaking in Tongues. "I don't think I've ever done a real love song before...I tried to write one that wasn't corny, that didn't sound stupid or lame the way many do."
"Once in a Lifetime": Though its appearances in movie trailers borders on unintentional parody, this single from 1980 masterpiece Remain in Light combines decades of deep musical traditions - hip-hop, Fela Kuti-inspired Afrobeat, gospel, The Velvet Underground - and creating a perfectly-sharpened knife against American consumerism in the new decade. It's a message that time and circumstances haven't yet diluted. Same as it ever was.
"Burning Down the House": inspired by George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic collective (Clinton keyboardist Bernie Worrell was a touring member of the Talking Heads), this spaced-out track surprised everyone by becoming the band's only Top 10 hit in America.
"Road to Nowhere": "I wanted to write a song that presented a resigned, even joyful look at doom," Byrne wrote in the liner notes to a Talking Heads best-of in 2004. Not the cheeriest thought in the world, but it seemed to have worked: not only is it one of the band's most-streamed tracks, it's also part of Little Creatures, the band's 1983 album that's sold more than anything in their discography, having gone double platinum in the United States alone.