This article originally ran in 2017; we’re resharing it as David Byrne celebrates his birthday on May 14th.
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In any other band’s history, the 40th anniversary of the release of their debut album would inspire all manner of promotional hullabaloo and creaky onstage reunions. When that band is Talking Heads — the art pop group that released its debut, Talking Heads: 77, in September 1977 — this kind of milestone is going to slide by with zero fanfare and even less attempts at reconciliation.
In part, that’s because they’ve already put the effort forth to release cleaned-up, beefed-up editions of their entire catalog in 2005. And the four original members (singer/guitarist David Byrne, guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison, bassist Tina Weymouth, and drummer Chris Frantz) have done the reunion thing twice: once to finish off a couple of leftovers from the sessions for their 1988 album, Naked, to include in a soundtrack and a best-of comp, and one last time to celebrate their 2002 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The primary reason, though, is that they were a band that wanted to evolve, that wanted to change their methods of writing and recording with each album. And when they took their songs out on tour, they changed them even more, stretching out parts and locking into grooves for long, intoxicating stretches of time.
At the time it was happening, their constant adjustments and readjustments could be confounding and a little grating. Looked at with over 40 years in the rearview mirror, their eight studio albums and two live albums represent a monumental artistic achievement. They are the product of a band formed from the wet, inviting clay of the downtown New York scene of the ‘70s and, once solidified, went down any and all pathways that their minds and instincts dared.
But even as they messed with Afrobeat, experimental electronics, and the supple grooves of funk and early hip-hop, they remained a pop band at its core, making sure each song had a hook and a heart. And at their creative peak, they were also incredibly successful, adored by critics and selling thousands of copies of their LPs. The nostalgia market would surely love to force Talking Heads back into an arena jaunt or to some festivals around the world while the four are still with us. To do so would feel gauche and craven and a slap in the face to what they created. May they continue to resist the temptation.
Here are the 10 songs that define the Talking Heads.