The Top 35 Or So Songs of the 80’s
#01: Talking Heads - This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) [Live]
"This Must Be The Place" is the first "love song" that Talking Heads had ever written, and given David Byrne’s years of droll observational comedy (not mention 1978’s "I’m Not In Love), a Talking Heads love song is an iffy proposition. Think about how strange a line like "LOVE ME TILL MY HEART STOPS" is coming from Byrne after all. That much explains the self-conscious distancing of the "Naive Melody" subtitle: To commit to the song, Byrne undercuts the sentiment in order to play the role. To be honest, I don’t really care for the studio version on Speaking In Tongues. The groove feels too stiff and mechanical, the naive melody too squelchy and Byrne too disaffected; they might as well as have subtitled it “Novel Melody”. In fact, I find that performance quite troubling because the song is so sweet and lovely that I want every gesture to be authentic and unforced. And here, performed live by the band at their peak and with Byrne, heart on his sleeve, head in the clouds, rejoicing in his naivete, we find the band’s greatest performance and indeed the best song of the decade.
The clip of the song from Stop Making Sense famously features Byrne dancing with a lamp. It’s an homage to the domestic bliss and romantic wonder of the lyrics, which at first blush is uncharacteristic theme from the band. The jet-lag of “Houses in Motion” and the worldbeat freak-out of Remain In Light seemed to obliterate the concept of the private space, but we’re dealing with a rebooted version of the Talking Heads, given the band’s split from Brian Eno and the hiatus that followed RIL. That Speaking In Tongues is bookended by “Burning Down The House” and “This Must Be The Place” reads to me like a conscious effort to rebuild the domestic space—rip it up and start again, right?—in the noisy, info-overloaded world of their last album.
Of course, home here is hardly a shelter (in contrast to Laurie Anderson’s "O Superman"), and this song is no retreat. For a songwriter like David Byrne, such sincerity and romance made for uncharted territory, and he carefully positions himself in order to deliver the lyrics. “The less we say about it, the better” speaks to his hesitance to tackle such subject matter, because—think about it—the less Byrne analyzes here, the better, and so he makes it up as he goes along. “I’m just an animal looking for a home”, he eventually admits, summarizing a nice chunk of the human condition, and when he finds that place—yes, this must be the place!—it’s a cause for celebration. Far from reactionary then, the song takes a bold step into an unfamiliar place—ironically, home—and that the band captures the lamp-dancing awe and indeed the naive melody of domestic bliss makes “This Must Be The Place” a lasting triumph.