In the turn of the decade into the ’80s, The Talking Heads started working with famed producer Brian Eno. Under his able hand, the band started releasing more accessible nerd pop than they had before.
That was when the band broke to a wider audience. In 1983, “Burning Down the House” became their first top 10 hit. They were something of an anomaly at the time, but soon lots of top ten bands would produce neurotic, clinical pop songs (see: Men Without Hats, Men at Work, etc.).
The Heads’ influence can’t be denied. But, in same year of 1983, a strange and colorful girl who hung out with wrestler Lou Albano (the big fat dude known for wearing rubberbands all over his face) exploded all over Madonna’s scene with popular music that wasn’t exploiting sexuality, but still sang about it. Sometimes rather lewdly. But when Cyndi sang pop songs about sex, the sex was meaningful. That was probably the big difference between Lauper and Byrne: The latter is entirely sexless. I like The Talking Heads, but it was for me to get really passionate about them because, well, their music wasn’t passionate. It was calculated and precise.
So, whose brand of pop translates better into the world of covers? Let’s find out.
*Note: The more popular tunes are posted individually. For the rest (and all the individual savefiles, too), go to this zip file.*
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cindi Lauper cover)-Death Cab for Cutie.
First round is moody indie guys. Naturally, Cyndi’s songs would tend to translate better here because she, too, made moody pop. But on the other hand, The Heads are widely known as the fathers of indie rock itself. Such a battle! But after the fur is done flying, Death Cab is still standing and Cyndi has her first point. Just barely.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun-Toonces
Psycho Killer-Jason Isbell
A castoff from The Drive By Truckers versus an odd but edgy guitar band. No contest. The Talking Heads score one, tying it up one to one.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun-Greg Laswell
Okay, what the fuck is this? Is this Cyndi Lauper versus the Talking Heads, or Girls Just Wanna Have Fun versus the Talking Heads? Two keyboard-based band, Voxtrot kills it.
She Bop-Howie Beno (Featuring Cruella DeVille)
Psycho Killer-Bishop Allen
A techno-ish version of Cyndi’s ode to wacking off versus a fast, indiepop take on David Byrne’s ode to a wack job. I’m going with Bishop Allen on this, but it’s close because Beno’s version is a riot. That puts the Heads in the lead, three to one. Time to catch up, Cyndi.
True Message-Cyndi Lauper vs. Grandmaster Flash.
Sugar On My Tongue-Talking Heads vs. Trick Daddy & Ludacris, Sugar (DJ Ayres)
The mash-up manages to retain the message (pun intended) of both songs, as well as the mood. An ace project, to be sure. But the Talking Heads mash up is excellent, as well. It loses points, though, because it only really includes the hook. Point: Cyndi!
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun-Wakey! Wakey!
Road to Nowhere-The Editors
Naive Melody-Arcade Fire
I really dig WW’s take on the Cyndi standard here, so I’m not gonna hold it against Lauper that this seems to be the only song of hers that many folks remember. Just about the only band that can wail as good as Wakey is The Editors. God, this one’s so close. But wait! Arcade Fire are coming from behind! They smack Cyndi with a chair and none of her wresting buddies can save her! Cheap shot, guys. I’m gonna give it to Cyndi. But I think this is more a mercy fuck than a love pick.
Once in a Lifetime-Smashing Pumpkins
Time after Time-Everything But the Girl
I love the EBTG tune, but you won’t find it here or in the zip file because it’s on their “Acoustic” major label release. It’s good, but since they need the RIAA to give them the hype, I’m going with this live bootleg from The Smashing Pumpkins. It’s a close call again, though, because Billy is just making up his own lyrics.
Bottom line: Pretty evenly matched, but The Heads win. Take your victory lap!
I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston cover)-David Byrne