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Best Talk Talk Songs: 10 Sublime Tracks That Still Speak Wonders
Michael Putland/Getty Images
List & Guides

Best Talk Talk Songs: 10 Sublime Tracks That Still Speak Wonders

The best Talk Talk songs trace Mark Hollis’ group as they morphed from synth-pop practitioners into dazzling, genre-defying pioneers.


Few bands have left behind a body of work as revelatory as Talk Talk. The group’s 1982 debut album, The Party’s Over and – to a lesser extent – its follow-up, It’s My Life, suggested that shiny pop success was the driving force behind their’s creativity, yet the London-based band evolved rapidly and, as the best Talk Talk songs reveal, it soon became clear that artistic concerns lay deep in their collective hearts all along.

Indeed, guided by the vision of single-minded frontman Mark Hollis and co-writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Tim Friese-Greene, Talk Talk crafted the three albums upon which their reputation primarily rests. The first in this holy trinity, The Colour Of Spring, adroitly balanced pop accessibility with artistic growth, but the gloves came off completely with Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock, two timeless, genre-defying records which had much more in common with the pioneering sonic experiments of Can or Miles Davis than they did the prevailing trends of the day.

Laughing Stock proved to be their last utterance, but this list of the best Talk Talk songs reveals how eloquently the band’s music still speaks today.

Listen to the best of Talk Talk here, and check out the best Talk Talk songs, below

10: Today (from ‘The Party’s Over’, 1982)

Prior to forming Talk Talk with bassist Paul Webb and drummer Lee Harris, Mark Hollis cut a terrific single, I Can’t Resist, with his first band, The Reaction. That sharp, guitar-driven song now appears on mod revival compilations, but in the same way The Reaction were never really mods, Talk Talk never aligned themselves with either the New Romantics or the glossier pop acts dominating the Top 40 when Hollis and company first broke through in the early 80s.

Indeed, despite the fact that Talk Talk’s debut album, The Party’s Over, was heavily reliant upon synthesisers, electronic drums and the production techniques of the day, its finest moments still suggested the group had designs beyond mainstream appeal. One of the album’s stand-out songs, the anthemic Today, provided the band with their first UK Top 20 success, and its inherent urgency still ensures its spot among the best Talk Talk songs.

9: Candy (from ‘The Party’s Over’, 1982)

Though the likes of Talk Talk (the song), Have You Heard The News and The Party’s Over’s world-weary title track also still stand up to scrutiny, it’s the album’s closing number, Candy, that really proved Mark Hollis’ team were on a quest to craft music of quality and distinction. More than worthy of its place among the best Talk Talk songs, this sparse and emotional composition spotlighted the young band’s burgeoning ability to build an atmosphere all their own – and its understated power still grips the listener today.

8: Such A Shame (from ‘It’s My Life’, 1984)

A personnel change prior to the making of the band’s second album, It’s My Life, significantly altered the course of Talk Talk’s future. Though he ostensibly came in to replace departing synth man Simon Brenner, Tim Friese-Greene didn’t just play keyboards, he also became the band’s producer and Mark Hollis’ co-writer for the rest of Talk Talk’s working lifetime.

Friese-Greene was also keen to encourage Hollis’ desire to move away from the synth-based music Talk Talk had thus far created. Accordingly, It’s My Life was a notably richer and more mature collection of songs, relying as much upon organic instrumentation as on contemporary studio techniques. One of the record’s best tracks, the stirring Such A Shame, was partially inspired by US novelist George Cockcroft (writing as Luke Rhinehart)’s brilliant 1971 novel, The Dice Man, in which the protagonist makes increasingly precarious lifestyle choices through rolling dice. Promoted with a memorable video evoking similar imagery, Such A Shame went on to become a sizeable hit in Europe, significantly raising Talk Talk’s profile in the process.

7: Living In Another World (from ‘The Colour Of Spring’, 1986)

Talk Talk’s third album, The Colour Of Spring, found the band striking the perfect balance between commercial success and artistic advancement. Its recording also saw the group’s core quartet augmented by guests such as harmonica player Mark Feltham and organist (and former Traffic/Blind Faith star) Steve Winwood, both of whom made telling contributions to the album’s centrepiece, the surging, seven-minute Living In Another World, which also featured one of Mark Hollis’ most impassioned vocals.

Released as The Colour Of Spring’s second single, this hypnotic tour de force was only a minor UK hit, but it remains a firm fan favourite, with lifelong fan King Creosote (aka Kenny Anderson) saying, in Chris Roberts, James Marsh and Toby Benjamin’s book, Spirit Of Talk Talk, “I never tire of it, and yet I don’t understand how they managed to make it sound like a musical version of that famous Escher staircase” depicted in the artist’s 1953 print Relativity.

6: It’s My Life (from ‘It’s My Life’, 1984)

The first fruits of Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene’s songwriting partnership, It’s My Life arguably remains Talk Talk’s most universally hailed song. A nigh-on perfect blend of lyrical introspection (“I’ve asked myself, how much do you/Commit yourself?”) and dashing widescreen pop, it seemingly had “hit” stamped all over it, yet it only reached No.46 in the UK at the first time of asking, in 1984. Indeed, the song really made its fortune in the US, where it went Top 40, before belatedly scoring Top 10 success on the Billboard Hot 100 courtesy of No Doubt’s remarkably faithful cover, released in 2003.

5: New Grass (from ‘Laughing Stock’, 1991)

Having taken a bold step into left field with their adventurous and critically hailed fourth album, Spirit Of Eden, Talk Talk pieced together a final fragile masterpiece with 1991’s valedictory Laughing Stock. Appearing on the Polydor-affiliated jazz imprint Verve, the album’s six tracks were again edited down from much longer improvisational sessions, eventually clocking in at a relatively user-friendly 43 minutes.

Compelling and empyreal, if slightly more quixotic in design than its predecessor, Laughing Stock ranged from pin-drop minimalism (Myrrhman; the skeletal Runeii) to the looming, crescendo-heavy Ascension Day, and it included one of the very best Talk Talk songs in the gloriously bucolic New Grass, later perfectly described by The Guardian as a post-rock take on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks track Madame George, built on a “simple, gently circular chord sequence, liquid guitar lines and mesmeric drum pattern”.

4: I Believe In You (from ‘Spirit Of Eden’, 1988)

The two-million-selling success of The Colour Of Spring took Talk Talk to the very cusp of mass success. However, with Mark Hollis deciding to retire the band from the live arena in September 1986, the group made a radical stylistic departure with their fourth album, 1988’s Spirit Of Eden. A truly groundbreaking record flecked with rock, jazz, classical and ambient textures, its six largely improvised tracks arguably worked best when listened to as a single entity, though even in isolation, the album’s most traditionally structured moment, I Believe In You, quickly distinguished itself as one of the best Talk Talk songs.

Musically patient yet determined, the song’s lyrics also carried a potent anti-drugs message (“Hear it in my spirit/I’ve seen heroin for myself/On the street so young, laying wasted”) that was entirely personal for Mark Hollis, who lost his elder brother, Ed, through drug addiction prior to the release of The Colour Of Spring. Accordingly, this starkly beautiful requiem also coaxed out one of the singer’s most affecting vocal performances.

3: Give It Up (from ‘The Colour Of Spring’, 1986)

Though less celebrated than Life’s What You Make It and Living In Another World, The Colour Of Spring’s third single, Give It Up, is every bit as deserving of its place among the best Talk Talk songs. Stereogum has noted that it is “emblematic of the soulful and organ-drenched sound of” the band’s celebrated third album, and it absolutely is. Indeed, this cerebral yet sturdy pop song makes for one of the band’s most poised ensemble performances, with Hollis’ imploring vocal and guest star David Rhodes’ scathing guitar interludes proving especially crucial.

2: Wealth (from ‘Spirit Of Eden’, 1988)

During a rare interview with The Wire, to promote his lone, self-titled solo album in 1998, Mark Hollis was asked to elaborate on the religious imagery in his lyrics. He replied by saying, “I’m not a born again Christian, no, but I would hope there’s a humanitarian vision in there,” and that vision is certainly manifest on Spirit Of Eden’s gloriously vulnerable final track, Wealth, which concludes with the singer imploring, “Take my freedom for giving me a sacred love.” Instilled with gentle, gospel-tinged overtones, this heart-meltingly lovely organ-led hymnal makes for the perfect denouement to Talk Talk’s most pivotal album.

1: Life’s What You Make It (from ‘The Colour Of Spring’, 1986)

Unlikely as it may seem, Life’s What You Make It was written in response to a challenge set by Talk Talk’s management and label, who collectively perceived a lack of hit singles among The Colour Of Spring’s songs. Though initially reluctant to accept, both Tim Friese-Greene and Mark Hollis were soon galvanised into action, and they drew from their influences to craft the highly accessible yet gloriously otherworldly anthem which tops this list of the best Talk Talk songs.

As Friese-Greene later told Mojo, “I had a drum pattern loosely inspired by Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill,” and that became the starting point for Life’s What You Make It. Hollis’ cyclical, Can-inspired piano riff and David Rhodes’ soaring guitar motifs completed this timeless song which would shortly go Top 20 and launch The Colour Of Spring on the international stage.

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