The lyrics describe a post-apocalyptic world in which modern technology has been largely eliminated. Lead singer David Byrne, as the song's protagonist, is torn between his appreciation for nature's beauty and his dependency on such disappeared items as lawnmowers and fast food.
It's kind of the opposite of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi
," where they paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Here, nature has re-claimed the land, and now the shopping malls are covered with flowers.
This song, and the rest of the Naked
album, was co-produced with the band by Steve Lillywhite, an Englishman known for his work with Peter Gabriel and U2. He was married to the folk singer Kirsty MacColl, who contributed backing vocals to this song. Among her other credits are vocals on The Pogues' "Fairytale Of New York
" and The Rolling Stones' "One Hit (To The Body)
." She also wrote Tracey Ullman's 1983 hit "They Don't Know
Johnny Marr of The Smiths played 12-string guitar on this track at the suggestion of producer Steve Lillywhite. Talking Heads often used outside guitarists, but this was the first time they connected with Marr, who fit right in. He recalled to Uncut magazine February 2008 about his contribution to this track: "When I got there they put down some bass and drum tracks. '(Nothing But) Flowers' sounded almost like a reggae dub track. I wasn't trying to play in an African style - although some people pointed out that I sometimes sound like that anyway! I knew all about King Sunny Ade (performer of Nigerian juju music) and I love Fela Kuti (Nigerian multi-instrumentalist) but really I just played melodies that sounded good in a high range. The intro to 'Flowers' was me playing without knowing the tape machine was on - that's how little attention I paid to any kind of remit! I built that track from the ground up. I was impressed with what David (Byrne) did on it. He worked super quickly on it."
Three franchises that are ubiquitous in America show up in the lyrics: Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, and 7-Eleven.
"(Nothing But) Flowers" was released as single from Naked, the eighth, and last, Talking Heads album. It was touch-and-go for the band ever since their fourth album, Remain In Light, was released in 1980. After that one, David Byrne embarked on various projects and it wasn't always clear if or when he would re-convene Talking Heads. This frustrated his bandmates, who were fine with side projects but saw Talking Heads as their core enterprise. They were really tweaked when in 1991 they found out from news reports that Byrne had declared them broken up for good.
The video was directed by David Byrne and Sandy McLeod, a filmmaker who worked on Talking Heads' 1984 concert movie Stop Making Sense. In the video, the band is joined by the musicians who played on the track, including Johnny Marr and Kirsty MacColl. As they perform in a studio setting, they are overlayed with design typography enhancing the visuals with various statements, factoids and words from the lyrics.
The album version runs 5:32; the single, which is the version used in the video, is cut to 4:15.
Three African musicians played on this track: percussionists Brice Wassy and Abdou M'Boup, and guitarist Yves N'Djock. Wassy and N'Djock are from Cameroon; M'Boup is from Senegal. The connection was keyboard player Wally Badarou, a session musician who played on some other tracks from the album.
Talking Heads bass player Tina Weymouth said this song was a "complete phantasm of what would happen if the predictions of Nostradamus are true and in the year 2000 it's all over."
The 1991 Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho opens with an epigraph quoting some lyrics from this song:
And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
This plays in the opening scene of the 2006 movie Clerks II
Jessica - Shrewsbury, MA
Johnny Marr was such a fan of Talking Heads that when he first played with them, he almost psyched himself out. He recalled to Mojo magazine:
"We started with (Nothing But) Flowers. Steve Lillywhite put the track up and I just couldn't hear anything to do. I thought to myself, 'You've lost it! At the grand old age of 24!' So I excused myself and went for a walk. I realized I was being too reverential. So I went back, plugged in the 12-string, turned up really loud and played that kind of hillbilly punk you hear in the chorus. Not very Talking Heads-y, but David really liked it."