It's tough separating Talking Heads' lyrics from their music. After all, they were famous for their innovative use of rhythm, and brought African and other musical ideas from around the world long before Paul Simon and other pop stars got there. But even as they became global-music stars, slipping polyrhythmic percussion and Afro-funk beats into their tunes, David Byrne's lyrics remained sharp, funny and a bit perplexing. Talking Heads were an art band at heart, and Byrne's words -- often strung together, free-associative style -- reflected this until the end. Check out our list of the Top 10 David Byrne Lyrics and then listen to the songs for the rest of the story.
'New Feeling'From: 'Talking Heads: 77' (1977)
"It's not yesterday anymore / I go visiting, and I talk loud / I try to make myself clear in front of a face that's nearer than it's ever been before / Not this close before."
Byrne was still messing around with art-school existentialism when Talking Heads made their first album, but he could also be maddeningly oblique at times. Waves of emotion rush over 'New Feeling' as Byrne tries to contain them. In the end, he gives up and gives in.
'Road to Nowhere'From: 'Little Creatures' (1985)
"We know where we're going / But we don't know where we've been / And we know what we're knowing / 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."
In a way, the opening lines of 'Little Creatures'' closing track sum up the band's roots-rock record. After the world-music excursions of 'Remain in Light' and 'Speaking in Tongues,' and the tour that followed, their sixth album was a back-to-basics venture.
'Burning Down the House'From: 'Speaking in Tongues' (1983)
"Here's your ticket, pack your bags, time for jumping overboard / Transportation isn't here / Close enough but not too far, maybe you know where you are / Fighting fire with fire."
Musically, Talking Heads' biggest hit was inspired by Funkadelic; lyrically, things are a lot less clear. Byrne has said the words to 'Burning Down the House' were chosen randomly as he tried out different sounds and syllables over the music. They don't make a whole lotta sense, but that's the point.
'(Nothing But) Flowers'From: 'Naked' (1988)
"Once there were parking lots, now it's a peaceful oasis / This was a Pizza Hut, now it's all covered with daisies / I miss the honky-tonks, Dairy Queens and 7-Elevens / And as things fell apart, nobody paid much attention."
The first single from Talking Heads' last album imagines a world that thousands of hippies had been hoping for since the '60s: The modern world finally expanded to the point where everything turned back to a more natural state. And, ironically, Byrne misses the good ol' days of technology overload and belching factories.
'Memories Can't Wait'From: 'Fear of Music' (1979)
"There's a party in my mind, and I hope it never stops / There's a party up there all the time, and they'll party until they drop."
Byrne's harrowing delivery of this 'Fear of Music' track doesn't give any solid clues as to the song's meaning. It's more or less about reaching a level of consciousness that's as open to eternal bliss as it is to despairing sadness. Is it about dying? Possibly. Like many of Byrne's best songs, 'Memories Can't Wait' can be interpreted many ways.
'And She Was'From: 'Little Creatures' (1985)
"And she was drifting through the backyard / And she was taking off her dress / And she was moving very slowly, rising up above the earth / Moving into the universe, and she's drifting this way and that / Not touching the ground at all, and she's up above the yard."
Like 'Memories Can't Wait,' 'And She Was' is about reaching another stage of consciousness. But this time the protagonist is getting there with a little help from some LSD.
'Psycho Killer'From: 'Talking Heads: 77' (1977)
"I can't seem to face up to the facts / I'm tense and nervous, and I can't relax / I can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire / Don't touch me I'm a real live wire."
Talking Heads' first attention-grabbing song pretty much boils down to a bunch of French words and a chorus that's repeated a half-dozen times. But all you need to know about 'Psycho Killer' is in that opening verse and Byrne's shaky, nervous delivery. Run away, indeed.
'This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)'From: 'Speaking in Tongues' (1983)
"Home is where I want to be, but I guess I'm already there / I come home, she lifted up her wings / I guess that this must be the place / I can't tell one from the other: I find you or you find me? / There was a time before we were born / If someone asks, this is where I'll be."
Byrne didn't write too many love songs for Talking Heads, but the closing cut from 'Speaking in Tongues' is definitely a love song. Even if the words are randomly stitched together, we get what he means.
'Once in a Lifetime'From 'Remain in Light' (1980)
"You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack / And you may find yourself in another part of the world / And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile / You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife / You may ask yourself, Well, how did I get here?"
Byrne plays make-believe in one of Talking Heads' most popular songs, imagining himself as a suburban husband smacked with a midlife crisis. Like many of Byrnes' songs, 'Once in a Lifetime' drips with existential tension.
'Life During Wartime'From: 'Fear of Music' (1979)
"This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around."
When Talking Heads dropped this bomb in 1979, right in the middle of the disco-sucks explosion, it was misinterpreted as a rallying cry (it also served double duty for the whole punk movement with that CBGB line). But the truth is much closer to the song's title, as Byrne runs down a list of food staples, the sound of gunfire in the distance and the pointlessness of doing much of anything in a world destined for oblivion.