David Byrne and fellow Rhode Island School of Design students Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz formed a trio in 1974. After rejecting names such as The Portable Crushers, The Vague Dots and The Artistics, the band opted for Talking Heads after seeing the term in an issue of TV Guide.
Their debut gig took place at New York’s CBGB’s club in 1975, supporting The Ramones. In 1976 they added Jerry Harrison (guitar, keyboards, vocals), formerly of Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers.
The group quickly drew a following and was signed to Sire Records in 1977, releasing their debut album, Talking Heads ’77 shortly thereafter – which contained the classic Psycho Killer.
If any band defined the energy and angst of New Wave, it was Talking Heads. Scottish-born David Byrne became a figurehead for all those outsiders who despised hippies and heavies but didn’t have the front to cut it on the Bowery. Their music made more immediate sense to those familiar with modern art movements such as minimalism and conceptualism than to teenage proto-punks.
They were performing for people like themselves, educated adults in their early twenties from professional backgrounds: Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums) came from military families. Jerry Harrison was a Harvard graduate. Byrne’s father was a Scottish electronics engineer relocated in Baltimore.
The Brian Eno-produced 1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food went Top 30 on both sides of the Atlantic and kicked off a four-year association between the Heads and Brian Eno that included Fear Of Music (1979) and culminated in 1980’s Remain In Light.
Working with Eno the band crafted dense, paranoid, near-dance albums that encapsulated New Wave’s nerdy, end-of-days panic. As Huey Lewis later observed, it was suddenly hip to be square.
By the time of 1983’s Speaking In Tongues, the band had severed their ties with Eno and the result was an album that still relied on the rhythmic innovations of Remain In Light, except within a more rigid pop-song structure. After its release, Talking Heads embarked on another extensive tour, which would turn out to be their last. It’s captured for posterity on the Jonathan Demme-directed concert film, Stop Making Sense.
After releasing the straightforward pop album Little Creatures in 1985, Byrne directed his first movie, True Stories the following year. The band’s next album featured songs from the film.
Two years later, Talking Heads released Naked, which marked a return to their worldbeat explorations, although it sometimes suffered from Byrne’s lyrical pretensions. After its release, Talking Heads was put on hold while Byrne and Harrison pursued some solo projects. Franz and Weymouth continued with their side band, Tom Tom Club.
In 1991, the band issued an announcement that they had broken up. To be completely accurate, David Byrne issued the announcement and the rest of the band read about it in the Los Angeles Times!
Between their first album in 1977 and their last album in 1988, Talking Heads became one of the most critically acclaimed bands in the world while managing to earn several pop hits. While some of their music can seem too self-consciously experimental, clever and intellectual for its own good, at their best, Talking Heads represented everything good about art-school punks.
Bass, vocals, synthesizer