Nov 282014

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

“This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody),” which first appeared on their 1983 album Speaking in Tongues (as well as on their incredible 1984 live album / soundtrack Stop Making Sense), is one of the few songs in the Talking Heads catalogue that could be considered a “love song.” In interviews, the band’s singer/lyricist David Byrne says that he made a conscious choice to make it a “real love” song, but sought to avoid making it too corny or simplistic (the “naïve melody” parenthetical shows the kind of self-awareness that made Byrne such a strong and strange creative force). The result is a song that, while lacking any kind of narrative, is brimming with poignant single lines that makes up for an emotional experience.

Seeing as it is the most unabashedly sentimental song in the bands discography, it’s not a surprise that “This Must be the Place” is one of the band’s most covered tunes. The results, however, are often mixed. Many big names have taken a crack at it without a lot of success. Arcade Fire’s attempt is decent and shows how much Talking Heads influenced the band, but singer Win Butler’s voice is not up to the challenge. MGMT’s is too insincere for the subject matter. Most recently, the Lumineers’ version is also lacking in the vocal department. Finding really great covers that respected, but also added to, the original was a difficult task. Having said that:

Kyp Malone’s cover is good.

Sean Hayes’s cover is better.

Paul Dempsey’s cover is best.

Though best known as a member of TV on the Radio, Kyp Malone has a slew of other great side projects. His version of “This Must Be the Place” (a song that, going off of his introduction to the performance, he doesn’t seem to be the most fond of) is pretty close to the original instrumentation-wise, but perfectly captures the kind of slippery vocal/music interplay that made Talking Heads’ version work so well despite, or maybe because of, his lack of reverence for the song.

Cutting out the keyboard parts and replacing them with guitars, Sean Hayes adds a funky swagger to “This Must Be The Place,” which is accentuated by his smooth, Carolina-tinged vocal attack that falls on each vocal line harder than Byrne ever cared to. His inclusion of an incredibly tasteful extended guitar solo and a call and response “hi oh” section at the end only adds to the song.

Not incredibly well known internationally, Paul Dempsey’s band Something for Kate is a successful rock band out of Australia. Both as a solo artist and with the band, Dempsey is a cover-song-producing machine. His solo acoustic version of “This Must Be the Place” (from his “Shotgun Karaoke” YouTube series) may have some of the same touchstones of the Lumineers’ version (mainly, acoustic guitars), but when filtered through Dempsey’s Springsteen-with-a-broken-heart vocals, the result is gold. Lyrically, the song is perfectly suited for this kind of performance – played simply, but with longing and intensity. Like a love song should be played.

Listen to David Byrne sing “This Must Be The Place” to a floor lamp, thanks to iTunes and Amazon. Or watch him do it, thanks to iTunes and Amazon.

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  3 Responses to “Good, Better, Best: This Must Be the Place (Talking Heads)”

Comments (3)
  1. I really feel that the duet cover with meklit hadero and quinn deveaux is far superior to these covers. But to each his own.

  2. Love the Sean Hayes & Paul Dempsey covers – both were new to me. And an excellent suggestion from Stuart Kaufman, the bizarro-world, self-referencing version by Miles Fisher. (Definitely recommended for fans of American Psycho.)

    Kinda surprised not to see Shawn Colvin’s rendition mentioned here. It’s spare & starkly pretty, less melancholy than the original:

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