3 Songs You Didn’t Know David Byrne Wrote for Other Artists

By the mid to late 1970s, Talking Heads‘s songwriting practice involved jamming out all the best bits produced by each individual band member. Everyone crafted rhythmic pieces or melodies, then assembled all their parts into a song. By the time he began venturing into musical theater in the early 1980s and released his 1988 debut, Rei Momo (featuring the late Kirsty MacColl), singer David Byrne started exploring a more “scheduled” system of writing.

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“I write, not quite 9-5, but sort of like that,” revealed Byrne. “I’ll go into songwriting mode when I’m on tour and performing. I’m maybe soaking up things, but I’m not really writing anything. And then I’ll take a break, and I’ll write—like a book writer would do—for a certain number of hours a day.”

Along with his lengthy archive of compositions for stage, television, and film throughout the past 40-plus years, Byrne, born May 14, 1952, in Dumbarton, Scotland, has also collaborated on albums with Brian Eno (My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today) St. Vincent (Love This Giant), Fatboy Slim (Here Lies Love), among others. He has also co-written songs with composers Philip Glass and Ryuichi Sakamoto and even collaborated with late Tejano singer Selena on a song before her death in 1995.

After releasing his eighth solo album, American Utopia, in 2018, Byrne took his musical performance to Broadway in 2019 with a stage production of the same name, which earned him two Emmy awards and a Special Tony Award.

“I write songs in lots of different ways,” shared Byrne. “I sometimes just start with words; if there’s a story – I’ve written for musicals – then you definitely have to start with the words first. And other times, I’ve got a great musical idea, a nice melody, and I’ll try and find words that fit that, which is sometimes a little bit of a longer process, but that can work as well.”

Here are three songs Byrne has written for other artists that add to his extraordinarily diverse catalog.

1.. “Open the Kingdom,” Philip Glass (1986)
Written by David Byrne and Philip Glass

In 1986, composer and pianist Philip Glass released Songs from Liquid Days, a collection of six songs he composed using lyrics by Paul Simon, Laurie Anderson, Suzanne Vega, and Byrne.

“I began by asking David Byrne to write words that I could then set to music,” said Glass. “We had worked together once before, and I found it such an easy and natural collaboration that I thought of extending the process with an entire record of songs.”

Glass adds, “It seemed to me that the people best suited to help with the lyrics would, like David, be other songwriters. It was clear that they, more than anyone else, would understand the practical demands of setting words to music. The people I asked — Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, David Byrne and Laurie Anderson— are, I feel, not only outstanding songwriters on their own but also lyricists whose poetry reflects individual styles and approaches to songwriting.”

Days of fishes
Distant roar
Turning to speak
Turning to hear

Turning to speak
Turning to hear

Open the kingdom

2. “God’s Child (Baila Conmigo)” Selena, featuring David Byrne
Written by David Byrne and Selena Quintanilla-Pérez

Prior to her death on March 31, 1995, at the age of 23, Tejano singer Selena joined up with Byrne to co-write the soulful ballad “God’s Child (Baila Conmigo).” The song eventually appeared on Selena’s posthumous album, Dreaming of You, in 1995, and “God’s Child (Baila Conmigo)” was the last song she recorded before her death, according to Byrne.

Upon its release, Dreaming of You shot to No. 1 on Billboard 200 and Latin charts with her hits “Dreaming of You” and “I Could Fall in Love With You.”

Who calls this child to walk on her own? (Hey Hey Hey Hey)
Who leads her down this treacherous road? (Hey Hey Hey Hey)
She’s dancing to a song we can’t hear (Hey Hey Hey Hey)

Caminando en calle doce
Debes estar en la escuela
Dulce angelita, de quién eres tú?

Come dance with me (ven, baila conmigo)
Come dance with me (ven, ven, ven baila conmigo)
Come dance with me

3. “Snoopies,” De La Soul, featuring David Byrne (2016)
Written by David Byrne, Davey Chegwidden, Matt DeMerritt, Dave Jolicouer,  Jordan Katz, Josh Lopez, Vincent Mason, Kelvin Mercer, Dave Palmer, Ethan Phillips, Dave West

On De La Soul‘s ninth album, And the Anonymous Nobody… — the group’s final one before Trugoy the Dove‘s death in 2023 — Byrne co-wrote one track, “Snoopies,” which he also appears on.

“We were going through a bunch of stuff,” said De La Soul’s Posdnous of their collaboration with Byrne. “Just putting stuff in what was gonna be called the trash file. And so I made I point, ‘Look at this song here, we can’t rhyme with this. This sound like something Talking Heads would be on,’ and it was like … ‘Wait a minute, what if we got David Byrne to do this track?'”

He added, “[Byrne] just did this amazing just humming and scatting over the beat. He said, ‘I don’t have the words yet but this is what I hear. Tell me what you think.’ He’s asking me for my opinions. I’m like, ‘You’re fucking David Byrne! You shit on the track it’s good.'”

And the Anonymous Nobody... peaked at No. 12, and also features Snoop Dogg, Damon Albarn, The Darkness‘ Justin Hawkins, Estelle, Little Dragon, Jill Scott, Pete Rock, and Roc Marciano. 

In a hundred years from now
We will not recognize this place
The dollar store is filled with love
Half the parking lot if full of grace
Now, judges with their snoopies on
With glorious and true restraint
A child is gonna rule them all
The prophets of the human race

Hey now, can you picture yourself
Hey now, in the physical sense
Hey now, it’s a continuous thing
Hey now, like a mother and father

Photo by Shervin Lainez / Grandstand Media

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