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Talking Heads “Little Creatures” (1985)

I was driving home from work the other night, and a song somehow got stuck in my head. That song was The Lady Don’t Mind from Talking Heads 1985 album “Little Creatures”. When I got home, I pulled out the album, gave it a quick cleaning and popped it onto my stereo. As I was listening to it, I was reminded of just how much I love this album, and that’s what inspired this article. It’s one of those albums that just needs to be shared.

How many albums can you think of that, not only sound great on repeat, but beg you to write about them and tell people about them? I listened to this album at least 5 or 6 times over the course of writing this article, and a few more times since as I went back to put the finishing touches. I haven’t tired of it yet (I doubt I ever will). In fact, I might just play it again right now to celebrate getting this article finished.

A quick introduction to Talking Heads

I have a love/hate relationship with Talking Heads (a band I discovered later in their career) though to be honest, the relationship is mostly love. I really love the vast majority of their music. I love the various textures, rhythms, and melodies that they seamlessly weave into their songs. I love the sing-along aspect of many of their songs’ lyrics… but those same lyrics occasionally drive me crazy. The topics are often quirky to a fault.

If I were to choose only one word to describe the band and their output, it would have to be quirky.

Despite this, four of their albums appear on Rolling Stones’ list of 500 Greatest albums of all time… though with the exception of “Stop Making Sense” these are the Talking Heads albums that I like least, LOL! So, screw Rolling Stone.

#290, “Talking Heads ’77” (1977)

#382, “More Songs about Buildings and Food” (1978)

#126, “Remain in Light” (1980)

#345, “Stop Making Sense” (1984)

A consistent characteristic of their writing style is that sometimes their lyrics are difficult to connect with. It’s hard to relate to lyrics that seem to be about nothing in particular or are about something so strange and so far outside your own experience that they might as well be about nothing. A lot of their lyrics would require serious consideration to interpret. These are not your usual “boy meets girl” songs. Are they pretentious? It’s hard to tell. I honestly believe they were approaching their music from a place of sincerity, but also from a place that was more well-versed, and well-educated than your average pop star. I don’t think they were afraid to be “difficult” lyrically. It is only once they released “Little Creatures” that the lyrics started to become more accessible, and the ideas behind them more obvious.

Perhaps David Byrne‘s propensity for singing slightly above his comfortable range (you can actually hear his vocal chords straining on some songs) helped sell the notion that they were nerdy as opposed to haughty. This “average Joe” style of singling probably allowed people to feel comfortable with lyrics that were intellectually advanced beyond what they would normally be comfortable with. He doesn’t sing like someone who’s smarter than you. When he sings, it often comes across as someone who is trying his best to express himself. His control of his voice is extremely subtle and it’s only when you hear more of his work that you come to realize that, like Bob Dylan, the choice of vocal range is intentional.

Musically, the band is often influenced by poly rhythmic, Latin-flavoured music, and often by African music as well. The influence of world beat (a term that didn’t even exist when most of their albums were recorded) is obvious in their music. Perhaps no other song embodies this better than the spectacular I Zimbra from 1979’s “Fear of Music”. This combination of lyrics, vocal style, and musical influences makes Talking Heads’ musical output unique in the world of pop music. Somehow all these disparate characteristics come together with aplomb. In the end, it works. The songs are catchy, danceable, insightful, though-provoking, and above all, spectacularly performed and produced.

Of course, they had some help along the way.

Three of their earliest albums were produced by Brian Eno and had an otherworldly quality to them. These early albums (1978’s “More Songs About Buildings and Food”, 1979’s “Fear of Music” and 1980’s “Remain in Light”) each embodied their own unique musical universes, and still do even to this day. They certainly didn’t fit with any contemporary “scene” when they were released, though with the acceptances of new musical styles and the additions of different influences into modern pop music, they feel less “other” now than they did then.

Speaking in Tongues” from 1982 catapulted the band into the stratosphere with the huge success of Burning Down the House,. “Speaking in Tongues” stretched the boundaries of pop music further by incorporating strange space age sounds, bleeps, pops, and whistles. Its a difficult, but highly rewarding album, but it wasn’t accessible enough for the masses.

1985’s “Little Creatures

Their first truly “normal” sounding pop album (and I definitely use the word normal in quotes) was 1985’s “Little Creatures”. Had the musical world caught up to the Talking Heads or had Talking Heads decided to give us a more straightforward album? It’s hard to tell. I like to think that the world had finally embraced the multicultural sounds that Talking Heads had always championed, but the reality is probably closer to something else. In reality, I think Talking Heads just decided to create a more “American” sounding album, with more standard-pop sounding songs. It still embraces odd musical choices for a supposed rock band (such as that zydeco inspired accordion from Road to Nowhere) but on the whole, the album sounds and feels American in a way that none of their previous efforts did. Perhaps this was why it went on to become their biggest success.

Most modern bands have run out of steam by the time their seventh album rolls along, but Talking Heads’ “Little Creatures”, released in June of 1985, would go on to become the biggest selling album of their entire musical output. It features themes of Americana, highlighted by prominent use of joyful horns, gospel choirs, and steel guitar influenced by country music (though it’s decidedly not a country-music album). Three singles were released from the album, And She Was, Road to Nowhere, and The Lady Don’t Mind, (a memorable music video was also produced for Stay Up Late) but the album is a non-stop treat from start to finish. When I am in the mood for Talking Heads, this is usually the album I reach for, and when a Talking Heads song gets stuck in my head, it’s probably from this album…. usually its Road to Nowhere; especially when I’m driving in heavy traffic, LOL!

Like each of their previous albums, “Little Creatures” creates its own self-contained universe, and each of the nine tracks on the album offers their own little 3 to 5 minute world for you to visit. There is a vibe running through it that links the songs together so closely that I find it difficult to imagine them being a part of any other Talking Heads album. This is the sound of a band all working from the same draft and all on the same page. I’ve happily played this album on repeat for entire afternoons. Once you’ve heard it, you might be tempted to, too.

The four songs used to promote the album, A1 And She Was, A4 The Lady Don’t Mind, B1 Stay Up Late B4 and Road to Nowhere are fantastic. They stand somewhere on the edge between Rock, Pop, Country, Afrobeat, Jazz, New Wave, R&B, and Funk. They are some of my favourites, but they are by no means the only standouts tracks on the album. Though, if I’m being honest, Road to Nowhere might be one of my favourite songs of all time. There is just something sublime about guest musician Jimmy MacDonell’s joyful Cajun accordion mixed with Tina Weymouth‘s pulsing bass and the steady, driving rat-ta-tat-tat of Chris Frantz‘s fantastic snare drum that kills me every time I hear this song.

Country flavoured Give me Back my Name (A2) is my least favourite track on the album, though it’s not one that I dislike enough to skip. On any other album by any other artist, it would likely be considered excellent but, given the stellar company it’s surrounded by, it comes across as slightly lacklustre.

A3 Creatures of Love is strange and quirky in a way that only Talking Heads could pull off. It’s definitely a deep cut, never destined for a lot of radio airplay, but like A2, its the kind of song that, once you get to know it, becomes an old friend that you can enjoy and appreciate, even if your first impressions was that it’s a bit weird. The lyrics feature the kind of double entendres that make me smile. (Just what kind of creatures are you talking about, there, David??)

A5 Perfect World is another piece of perfect pop rock. It could have been another single, in my opinion. It’s joyful and catchy as hell. To misquote the lyrics: I know what it sounds like but I don’t know what it means.

B2 Walk it Down gets a bit bluesy and funky, with a dark edge to it that makes it feel borderline sleazy. It grinds along with a sexy swagger the suddenly shows up with a street corner gospel preacher to provide the chorus. It’s yet another phenomenal track. David Byrne‘s outstanding vocal delivery on this track reminds me of Swamp from “Speaking In Tongues”, but Walk it Down is definitely its own animal.

B3 Television Man marks the beginning of David Byrne‘s overt interest in the strange people that populated the tabloids at the time (National Enquirer et all). He would return to this obsession again (most notably on the next Talking Heads album, 1986’s “True Stories” and its accompanying film of the same name). Television Man is a strange story of a strange man, but it’s brilliantly put together and it yet another highlight on an album crowded with them. It’s one of those songs that’s just a lot of fun to listen to and sing along with. Jerry Harrison‘s flawless guitar work makes Television Man a hoot to tune into and lose yourself in.

”The world crashes in, into my living room//Television made me what I am”

As a side note: a fantastic 12” single was released with an extended mix of And She Was on the A-side, but for me, the B-side was the star of the show; a so-called “Dance Mix” of Television Man. It’s not a particularly inspired remix, but it does manage to find some gorgeous little passages that were initially buried in the mix, revealing some gorgeously textured bits. It’s got some great moments on it. Despite being the longest song on the album at 6:10, the Television Man (Dance Mix), which clocks in at 7:52, doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Here is a playlist for you, which includes the entirety of “Little Creatures” as well as a handful of essential tracks, including three from the absolutely essential live album, 1984’s “Stop Making Sense”. If you have a chance to see the “Stop Making Sense” concert video, take it. It is a brilliant piece of performance art as much as it is a concert. You will be blown away.

In closing, here are a couple of interesting bits of Talking Heads trivia for you: The title of the song Radio Head, the 6th track of their 1986 album “True Stories”, was the inspiration for UK band Radiohead‘s name. And the titles of the first two tracks off their final album, 1988’s “Naked” were combined to become the name of another UK band that I am particularly fond of: mid-90s shoegazers Blind Mr. Jones.

What do you think? Had you heard of Talking Heads’Little Creatures” album before? Are you a fan? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or send me an e-mail!

Have I missed anything? Are there any songs I should have included in our playlist? Drop me a line in the comment section below! Remember to subscribe so that you don’t miss our next monthly (ish) post (We’ll never bother you more than once a month). PLUS! subscribers get a discount on any purchase made from us.

We have received no remuneration or compensation for anything we have reviewed in this article and the opinions expressed are genuine at the time of publication. We are not affiliated in any way with any of the products or services that may be mentioned in this article. Any suggestions or links are for your convenience only!

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