One of the biggest stories in cover song news this week was Miley Cyrus teaming up with David Byrne to perform a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” on Cyrus’ New Year’s Eve special. Coincidently, I actually spent most of Dec. 31 thinking about Byrne and the Talking Heads’ musical legacy.
On Dec. 30, I saw Start Making Sense, a Talking Heads tribute band, perform just outside of Philadelphia. The venue was packed. As I was being jostled by the seemingly endless crowd, I wondered how a Talking Heads tribute band gets such a large audience, one of biggest I’ve ever seen at the venue. Was it because it was a big party weekend and people wanted a night out? Maybe. Was it because the tribute band was exceptional? Probably (click here if you want to watch the show). Or, perhaps it’s just a case of unfulfilled demand. Talking Heads continue to generate millions of streams across multiple music platforms, but they haven’t toured since 1984. So there are generations of fans who have never seen them play.
In the subsequent decades, Byrne has continued to make a name for himself as a solo artist. He appeared completely in his element alongside the much younger Cyrus. The two came to the stage with impressive Bowie credentials. Cyrus, among her countless covers, recorded a version of Bowie’s “Heroes” for a 2021 Super Bowl ad honoring essential workers during the COVID pandemic. Byrne inducted Bowie into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “He was both a shrink and a priest,” Byrne said in his induction speech. “A sex object and a prophet of doom. He was kind of a welcome to the new world, to the brave new world.”
During the performance, Byrne channeled his inner Bowie, capturing the essence of Bowie’s sound (their voices actually aren’t all that different). Looking like an elder statesman of rock in his rather conservative blue suit, Byrne danced with his trademark awkward grooves, while Cyrus shimmied, shook and sang as only she could. The two delivered a spirited and fun cover to a crowd that probably was not even born the last time the Talking Heads took the stage. It might not have been a welcome to the new world, but definitely a solid way to usher in the new year. Make sense?
Click here to see our list of the best Talking Heads covers.