June 1985: Talking Heads Release LITTLE CREATURES

Monday, June 10, 2024

Talking Heads' sixth studio album, Little Creatures, brought the band full-circle back to where it started. After venturing into the dense world of polyrhythmic Afrobeat and transforming into a big-band juggernaut on tour, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison, David Byrne and Chris Frantz downsized back into their original form as a not-so-simple quartet making deceptively accessible music. 

“It’s so much fun to be able to relax and just play without feeling you have to be avant-garde all the time,” is how bassist Weymouth described the record to the New York Times in 1985. "We spent so many years trying to be original that we don’t know what original is anymore.”

Weymouth's husband and the band's drummer Chris Frantz expressed a similar sentiment to SPIN magazine in June of that same year: "This record doesn't have drum machines. It doesn't have a lot of black backup vocals. The songs have a beginning, middle and end built into them, instead of having to create it by editing. It has a nice sound to it. A lot of people are going to be surprised. It has nice, pretty melodies and harmonies. The songs are kind of disarming in their approach. As usual, it doesn't sound like what's currently fashionable."

Indeed, as Talking Heads had achieved maximum density with fourth studio album, Speaking in Tongues, and the instantly legendary live album and film made on the resulting tour, Stop Making Sense. Stripping things down to the bare essentials on Little Creatures felt like a radical act. 

The album was also the sound of Talking Heads growing up. Lyrically, Little Creatures found Byrne rhapsodizing about "normal" life. Love, romance, sex, ("Creatures of Love") and even children ("Stay Up Late," inspired by the birth of Weymouth and Frantz's first child) permeated songs across the record. 

Making "Creatures of Love" even more unique was it being the band's first country song: "I mentioned to the band that I wanted to write a song about when people sleep together, they produce these little creatures six or seven inches tall. I thought that would be funny. But I didn't know how to write the song," Byrne explained to SPIN. "Sure enough, it turned into a country-and-western song. On the surface at least, it sounds like a straightforward, heart-rending tune, but the subject is a little bit odd. The beauty of it was writing a ballad, instead of some spooky little monster stomp. That was the challenge."

Little Creatures was capped off by album closer and second single, "Road to Nowhere," a massive, gospel-tinged tune that influenced the likes of REM and Arcade Fire in creating alt-rock anthems.

"I wanted to write a song that presented a resigned, even joyful look at doom," is how Byrne explained the song in the liner notes of collection Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads. "At our deaths and at the apocalypse... (always looming, folks). I think it succeeded. The front bit, the white gospel choir, is kind of tacked on, 'cause I didn't think the rest of the song was enough... I mean, it was only two chords. So, out of embarrassment, or shame, I wrote an intro section that had a couple more in it."

Released on June 10, 1985, Little Creatures was another success for Talking Heads. Selling more than two million copies, it went on to be the band's second-highest charting LP on the Billboard 200, peaking at #20 in July 1985 (Speaking in Tongues peaked at #15 on the same chart).