The Talking Heads
Synopsis of Pop Music
"And you may ask yourself,
Well, how did I get here?"
One of the best things about the punk rock revolution of the late 1970’s is that it also made room for non-punk groups with a different vision of what rock and roll could be. A good example is the Talking Heads, an artsy pop quartet that rose out the same New York music scene that produced the Ramones and Blondie. They did not have the lyrical or sonic aggression that drove punk groups, but they had left-of-center ideas and a unique experimental sound that mixed pop songwriting with sonic dabbling and the music of other cultures. During the late 1970’s and 1980’s, they created a series of smart, quirky albums that became critical favorites and crossed over to the mainstream with a little help from MTV.
The Talking Heads grew out of the friendship between art school students David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. After graduation, they moved to Manhattan and formed a band in 1975. The next year, they added keyboard player Jerry Harrison and toured extensively as they developed a simple but quirky style of pop topped off by the eccentric, intelligent lyrics and edgy, quirky vocals of frontman Byrne. In 1977, they issued their first album, Talking Heads 77. It won instant praise from the rock press for its combination of ultra-cerebral lyrics with a tight, no-frills pop sound on songs like “Psycho Killer” and “Love Goes To A Building On Fire.”
In 1978, the Talking Heads took another step forward when they teamed up with producer Brian Eno to make More Stories About Buildings And Food. Eno, who had collaborated with David Bowie, encouraged the band to experiment with unusual sounds and recording techniques. The end result was an album whose edgy sound complimented the lyrical edge on songs like “The Big Country,” a sharp critique of American life. The group also got their first Top-30 hit with a moody, funky version of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River.” The group continued these experiments the next year with Fear Of Music, an album that contained the African-styled “I Zimbra” and the haunting synth soundscape of “Heaven.”
The collaboration between the Talking Heads and Brian Eno peaked in 1980 with Remain In Light, an album that made heavy use of African-derived sounds and funk on songs like “The Great Curve” and “Crosseyed and Painless.” The album also contained a major fan favorite in “Once In A Lifetime,” which used a spacey bass-driven groove as the sonic backdrop for a penetrating commentary on capitalist life. The song got an added boost from Byrne’s unique delivery: he sang the song as if he were a radio evangelist. His theatrical antics were also captured in a video that juxtaposed him doing bizarre, jerky dance steps against footage of African ceremonies. This video soon became an early favorite on MTV.
The Talking Heads followed Remain In Light with a lengthy tour that was captured in part on the live album The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads. After the tour, the group took a break to pursue solo projects: David Byrne wrote the music for a ballet called The Catherine Wheel and Frantz and Weymouth collaborated on a dance music project called the Tom Tom Club. The latter side-project scored a classic synth-dance hit in “Genius Of Love.” The Talking Heads reunited in 1983 for Speaking In Tongues, a slick album of dance-tinged pop that built upon the funky sound of Remain In Light.
Speaking In Tongues also gave the Talking Heads their first Top-10 hit in “Burning Down The House.” The song matched a call-and-response vocal style to a bouncy synthesizer groove to create a song that was a danceable as it was quirky. This song’s success was also helped out by a cool video that featured the white-suited Talking Heads having to deal with doppelgangers who wanted to show them how to play their instruments.
Speaking In Tongues was followed by a highly successful tour that was captured for posterity in the successful concert movie Stop Making Sense. The film led to a successful soundtrack that contained intense, memorably energized versions of Talking Heads classics like “Life During Wartime.”
In 1985, the Talking Heads returned with Little Creatures. This unusually mellow album reflected the fact that the group’s members were settling down and having children. Thus, there were songs about the joy of playing with babies (“Up All Night”) and falling in love (“Road To Nowhere”). The next year, David Byrne made his directorial debut with True Stories. He also starred in the film as the Narrator, our guide to the people in a small, eccentric Texas town about to celebrate its sesquicentennial. The soundtrack featured an array of cool new tunes by the Talking Heads, including the Top-30 hit “Wild Wild Life.” This song also boasted a funny video that featured the cast of the film performing the song, karaoke-style.
Two years passed before the Talking Heads would release another album. In 1988, the group released Naked, an album that carried their world-music experiments to their peak by incorporating a diverse cast of foreign musicians. The result was an album that mixed the group’s angular pop with a lush world-beat sound and included a pair of classics in the Brazilian-tinged “Blind” and the conga-driven “Nothing But Flowers.” After this album, the group went on hiatus. Two years later, they quietly disbanded.
Since that time, the members of the Talking Heads have remained active. Frantz and Weymouth continued on as the Tom Tom Club, Harrison became a producer and Byrne became a successful solo artist. Byrne also formed the Luaka Bop record label as a way of bring world-beat musicians to American ears. Frantz, Weymouth and Harrison also reunited briefly in 1996 for a one-off album as the Heads. Dubbed No Talking, Just Head, the album included an array vocalists like Debbie Harry and Michael Hutchence to stand in for Byrne.
In 1999, the group worked together for the first time in eight years to promote a re-release of Stop Making Sense. There are no current plans for the group to reunite, but the members of the Talking Heads will no doubt continue to push the edges of popular music whether they are together or apart.
Artist Release History9/77 - Talking Heads 77
6/78 - More Songs About Buildings And Foods
8/79 - Fear Of Music
10/80 - Remain In Light
4/82 - The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads
6/83 - Speaking In Tongues
10/84 - Stop Making Sense
6/85 - Little Creatures
9/86 - True Stories
11/86 - Songs From True Stories
3/88 - Naked
10/92 - Sand In The Vaseline: Popular Favorites
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsSand In The Vaseline: Popular Favorites (Sire)
Band MembersDavid Byrne lead vocals, guitar
Jerry Harrison keyboards, vocals
Tina Weymouth bass, vocals
Chris Frantz drums, vocals