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The History of Talking Heads’ Final, Genre-Bending Album, ‘Naked’

Naked, Talking Heads’ eighth and final album, was something of a reaction to Paul Simon’s Graceland – which introduced world music to mainstream audiences in 1986. Then again, Talking Heads got there before Simon, incorporating African rhythms into their songs way back in 1980’s landmark Remain in Light. But after 1983’s Speaking in Tongues, which featured similar world-music junctures, and the massive world tour that followed, the group began scaling back.

They also knew the end was near when they started work on Naked in a Paris studio in 1987. So, after two albums of stripped-down Talking Heads-style Americana, the band once again expanded its scope, no doubt spurred by Simon’s success. Naked was big, explosive and filled with the polyrhythmic shuffles and sway that made Graceland a worldwide hit. Talking Heads even included dozens of backing musicians, who supplied various horns, percussion and keyboards to the record.

In that sense, Naked finds new inspiration in Graceland. But there are also notes of finality in its grooves. It’s a sad, mournful album at times, filling in the blanks with thoughts on mortality and end-of-days philosophizing. Songs like “Blind” and “(Nothing But) Flowers” split the difference between Remain in Light and 1985’s Little Creatures: jagged stabs at ethnic music played by sharp, cynical New Yorkers.

Naked is one of Talking Heads’ best-sounding albums, a full banquet of sounds provided by co-producer Steve Lillywhite and guests like former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and Lillywhite’s wife, British singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl. The album reached No. 19, a better showing than the band’s previous two LPs. “(Nothing But) Flowers” got some airplay, helping Naked go gold.

The band broke up shortly after its release, though they didn’t officially announce the news until three years later as the elastic Naked outtake “Sax and Violins” surfaced on soundtrack and compilation albums. The track was later added to Naked reissues, a fitting end to an album and career.

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Next: Top 10 Talking Heads Songs

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