Talking Heads

Talking Heads

“And you may ask yourself,
Well, how did I get here?”

Emerging from the same New York scene that gave the world such acts as Blondie and The Ramones, Talking Heads offered a new vision of what Rock and Roll could be, an experimental and artful quartet that decided it was always better to think outside the box. Mixing pop stylings with otherworldly sonic excursions, they produced some of the most intelligent and quirky albums to emerge on the pop market.

Art students David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth first met in the mid-70s and collectively decided to move to Manhattan in 1975 with a vision of forming a band. Once relocated, they added keyboardist Jerry Harrison and refined their sound the old-fashioned way, through lots and lots of touring. What emerged was a unique take on pop music, with cerebral lyrics given life by eccentric and edgy frontman, Byrne. Two years after setting foot in the Big Apple, they released their debut album, Talking Heads: 77. a critically applauded first endeavor, thanks to such offerings as “Love Goes To a Building on Fire” and “Psycho Killer”

The following year, they brought in producer Brian Eno, a former collaborator of David Bowie who enthusiastically encouraged the band to stretch their experimental wings in the recording studio and embrace his unique recording ideas. The result was More Stories About Buildings and Food, featuring the edgy critique on American life called “Big Country” and the ever-soulful driving version of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River,” which landed them their first Top-30 hit on the pop charts. They quickly followed up this release with Fear of Music, which featured the hauntingly atmospheric “Heaven” and the African-influenced “I-Zimbra.”

The band would continue their celebrated kinship with Brian Eno into the 80s, with perhaps their best collaboration to date, Remain In Light. Still heavy on the African influences, with an injection of funk, they created such lofty songs as “The Great Curve” and “Crosseyed and Painless.” The album also featured one of the band’s most memorable hits, “Once In a Lifetime” – a scathing commentary on capitalism sung by Byrne in a style that was reminiscent of an Evangelist preacher. The strange accompanying video, featuring his twitching dance moves superimposed over footage of African ceremonies quickly caught the attention of the MTV crown and was one of the networks most popular videos in the early years.

A lengthy tour followed the release of Remain In Light, part of which was documented in the live album, The Name Of This Band is Talking Heads. Upon concluding the tour, the band would take some well-deserved time off and return to the scene with one of their most successful albums, 1983’s Speaking in Tongues. Included on this latest offering was a song that would mark their first Top-10 hit, the heavily percussive techno-dance song, “Burning Down The House.” Another memorable video followed and another highly successful tour, captured on film in the concert movie, Stop Making Sense. The ambitious film was accompanied by a soundtrack that showed the band in peak form, delivering high energy versions of their classic material.

The band returned to the studio in 1985, to produce a much mellower sounding Little Creatures, perhaps a reflection of the band finally settling into family life after years of being on the road. With ballads such as “Road to Nowhere” and the pleasures of parenthood, “Up All Night,” it was a stark departure from the previous Talking Heads albums. Byrne would make his directorial debut the following year in True Stories, where he also had a starring role as The Narrator and provided plenty of new Talking Heads material for the soundtrack. Thanks to his efforts, the band scored another Top-30 hit with “Wild, Wild Life.”

Two years later, the band would release their final album together, Naked. Taking their experimental nature to the extreme, the album featured an array of foreign musicians to create a worldly sound, demonstrated by such songs as the Brazillian flavored, “Blind” and the heavily percussive, “Nothing But Flowers.” A short time later, the band went their separate ways, mostly due to creative differences between Byrne and his fellow bandmates.

In the years that followed, Frantz and Weymouth would start another successful band, The Tom Tom Club, and along with Harrison reunite sans Byrne (who was enjoying a successful solo career) to record the 1996 album No Talking, Just Head, where they billed themselves simply as The Heads. Handling the vocal duties were a number of guest artists, including Deborah Harry and Michael Hutchence, vocalist for INXS.

Talking Heads were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, with all of the members taking the stage to perform one last time. Byrne insists that the possibility of a full-scale reunion is nonexistent and his bandmates seem to wholeheartedly agree. But at least their rich body of innovative music remains, including one of the best concert films ever produced. For the fans of Talking Heads, that will unfortunately have to suffice.

If you count Talking Heads as one of your favorite bands from the 80s, we hope you will take a moment to share your own memories and thoughts on this innovative group in our comments section below.

One Response to “Talking Heads”

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  1. Leaving Esmeralda says:

    As fans of David Byrne Talking Heads, us folks in the band Leaving Esmeralda have recorded a tribute medley.
    Check it out!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Avjz8nRpFoY

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