For younger listeners, and for older ones who never shared [Jonathan] Lethem’s infatuation, Talking Heads live on principally in one track: the sad, sweet “love song” titled “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).” When was the last time you heard “Burning Down The House,” the band’s biggest single? Probably not recently. But chances are good you’ve heard “This Must Be The Place” very recently, whether you knew it or not.
Thirty years old this year, the song has slowly but surely embedded itself in the American songbook. You can’t walk into a good bar between Williamsburg and Silver Lake without an even shot that it will come on the stereo in some iteration. Lately, it’s been covered by Arcade Fire, MGMT, and the jam band The String Cheese Incident, among others. There are books named for it. Hip brides march down the aisle to it. It’s quoted in mawkish editorials. And last year, “This Must Be The Place” was made into a movie.
In my experience music fans born after, say, 1985 consider Speaking in Tongue‘s last track and second single their favorite Heads song; some even aver it’s their favorite love song, period (my favorite Heads love songs are “Creatures of Love” and “I’m Not in Love,” the latter being particularly lovebuzzed but I’m alone) But chances are you still hear “And She Was,” “Take Me to the River,” “Once in a Lifetime,” or their only American top ten “Burning Down the House” more often on radio, satellite or otherwise (for the record their only top forty hits: the Al Green cover and “Wild Wild Life”). The story boasts other oddities, with the song “dispenses about as much hope as Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” almost as hmm as “Byrne was the funkiest white man in pop until Flea showed up.” But I forget: Williamsburg = America.
The story also adduces the band’s reputaion among music journalists as one in constant need of curating (Varini notes that the song “immediately turned off Talking Heads purists already leery of the band’s newfound popularity” without evidence. This song?). I read a story in late 1999 published in Miami New Times to coincide with the fifteenth anniversary of Stop Making Sense in which Chris Frantz lamented how the band were victims of their own success. No one sounds like Talking Heads anymore, he said. By the time the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted them in 2002 the amiable Frantz had reason to smile; just about every new guitar band incorporated some kind of buttoned-down white funk sound. And none of them were covering “This Must Be the Place” just yet.