Talking Heads was an American rock band formed in 1974 in New York City and active until 1991. The band comprised David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison. Auxiliary musicians also frequently made appearances in concert and on the group's albums.
The new wave musical style of Talking Heads combined elements of punk rock, avant-garde, pop, funk, world music and art rock. Frontman and songwriter David Byrne contributed whimsical, esoteric lyrics to the band's songs, and emphasized their showmanship through various multimedia projects and performances. Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine describes Talking Heads as being "one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the '80s, while managing to earn several pop hits."
In 2002, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Four of the band's albums appeared on Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and the Channel 4 100 Greatest Albums poll listed one album (Fear of Music) at number seventy-six. Their concert film Stop Making Sense is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of the genre.
1974-1977: First years
Band photo showing Tina Weymouth
David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth were alumni of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. There Byrne and Frantz formed a band called "The Artistics" in 1974. Weymouth was Frantz's girlfriend and often provided the band with transportation. The Artistics dissolved within a year, and the three moved to New York, eventually sharing an apartment. Unable to find a bass player in New York City, Frantz encouraged Weymouth to learn to play bass by listening to Suzi Quatro albums. They played their first gig as "Talking Heads" opening for the Ramones at CBGB on June 8, 1975.
In a later interview, Weymouth recalled how the group chose the name Talking Heads: "A friend had found the name in the TV Guide, which explained the term used by TV studios to describe a head-and-shoulder shot of a person talking as 'all content, no action.' It fit."
Later in 1975, the trio recorded a series of demos for CBS, but the band was not signed to the label. These demos began to circulate on the internet in bootleg form in 2007 and 2008. In 1976, they added Jerry Harrison (guitar, keyboards, vocals), formerly of Jonathan Richman's band The Modern Lovers. The group quickly drew a following and was signed to Sire Records in 1977. The group released their first single, "Love ? Building on Fire" in February of that year.
Their first album, Talking Heads: 77, which did not contain the earlier single, was released soon thereafter.
1978-1982: With Brian Eno
It was with their second album, 1978's More Songs About Buildings and Food that the band began its long-term collaboration with producer Brian Eno, who had previously worked with Roxy Music, David Bowie and Robert Fripp; the title of Eno's 1977 song "King's Lead Hat" is an anagram of the band's name. Eno's unusual style meshed well with the group's artistic sensibilities, and they began to explore an increasingly diverse range of musical directions. This recording also established the band's long term recording studio relationship with the famous Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. Though "Psycho Killer", from the debut album, had been a minor hit, it was More Songs... cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River" that broke Talking Heads into general public consciousness.
The experimentation continued with 1979's Fear of Music, which flirted with the darker stylings of post-punk rock. The single "Life During Wartime" produced the catchphrase, "This ain't no party, this ain't no disco." 1980's Remain in Light, heavily influenced by the Afro-Beat of Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti, to whose music Eno had introduced the band, explored African polyrhythms, foreshadowing Byrne's later interest in world music. In order to perform these more complex arrangements the band toured with an expanded group, first at the Heatwave festival in August, and later in their concert film Stop Making Sense. During this period, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz also formed a commercially successful splinter group, the hip-hop influenced Tom Tom Club, and Harrison released his first solo record. Likewise, Byrne - in collaboration with Eno - released My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which incorporated world music, 'found' sounds, and included a number of other prominent international and post-punk musicians. All were released by Sire.
The Remain in Light album's lead single, "Once in a Lifetime," became a Top 20 hit in the UK but initially failed to make an impression upon its release in the band's own country. But it grew into a popular standard over the next few years on the strength of its music video.
Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense, (Special release 2003.)
After releasing four albums in barely four years, the group went into hiatus and nearly three years passed before their next release, although Frantz and Weymouth continued to record with the Tom Tom Club. In the meantime, Talking Heads released a live album, The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, toured the US and Europe as an eight-piece group, and parted ways with Eno, who went on to produce albums with U2.
1983-1991: Post?Brian Eno
1983 saw the release of Speaking in Tongues, a commercial breakthrough that produced the band's only American Top 10 hit, "Burning Down the House." Once again, a striking video was inescapable owing to its heavy rotation on MTV. The following tour was documented in Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense, which generated another live album of the same name. The Speaking in Tongues tour would be their last.
Three more albums followed: 1985's Little Creatures (which featured the prominent hit singles "And She Was" and "Road to Nowhere"), 1986's True Stories (Talking Heads covering all the soundtrack songs of Byrne's musical comedy film, in which the band also appeared), and 1988's Naked. The sound of Little Creatures and True Stories was much more American pop-rock, while Naked showed heavy African influence with polyrhythmic styles like those seen on Remain in Light. During that time the group was falling increasingly under David Byrne's control, and after Naked the band went on "hiatus".
It took until 1991 for an official announcement to be made that Talking Heads had broken up. A brief reunion occurred, however, later that year for "Sax and Violins," an original single that appeared on the soundtrack to Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World. Only Byrne and Harrison appear in the song's video, however, lending doubt to Frantz and Weymouth's participation on the track. During this breakup period, Byrne continued his solo career, releasing Rei Momo in 1989 and The Forest in 1991. This period also saw a revived flourish from both Tom Tom Club (Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom and Dark Sneak Love Action) and Harrison (the Casual Gods album/band).
1992-present: Post break-up
Despite David Byrne's lack of interest in another album, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison reunited for a one-off album called No Talking, Just Head under the name The Heads in 1996. The album featured a number of vocalists, representing some of the most distinctive voices of '80s and '90s alternative rock, including Debbie Harry of Blondie, Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, Andy Partridge of XTC, Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes, Michael Hutchence of INXS, Ed Kowalczyk of Live, Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays, Richard Hell, and Maria McKee. The album was accompanied by a tour which featured Johnette Napolitano as the vocalist. Because of The Heads abbreviation of the original "Talking Heads" name, Byrne took legal action against the rest of the band on what he saw as "a pretty obvious attempt to cash in on the Talking Heads name."
Byrne has continued his solo career, while Harrison has become a producer of some note ? the latter's r?sum? includes the Violent Femmes' The Blind Leading the Naked, the Fine Young Cannibals' The Raw and the Cooked, General Public's Rub It Better, Crash Test Dummies' God Shuffled His Feet, Live's Throwing Copper, No Doubt's song "New" from Return of Saturn, and most recently work by The Black and White Years and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Frantz and Weymouth, who were married in 1977, had been recording on the side as Tom Tom Club since 1981. Tom Tom Club's self-titled debut album sold almost as well as Talking Heads themselves, leading to the band appearing in Stop Making Sense. They achieved several pop/rap hits, particularly in the UK. Their single "Genius of Love" has been sampled numerous times, notably on old school hip hop classic "It's Nasty (Genius of Love)" by Grandmaster Flash and on Mariah Carey's 1995 hit "Fantasy." They also have produced several artists, including Happy Mondays and Ziggy Marley. The Tom Tom Club has continued to record intermittently.
The band played together on March 18, 2002, at the ceremony of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, however reuniting for a concert tour is unlikely. David Byrne states: "We did have a lot of bad blood go down. That's one reason, and another is that musically we're just miles apart." Weymouth has been critical of David Byrne, describing him as "a man incapable of returning friendship" and that he doesn't "love" her, Frantz, and Harrison.