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Group formed in New York City in 1974; original lineup included David Byrne (vocals and guitar), Chris Frantz (drums), Tina Weymouth (bass), and Jerry Harrison (keyboards and guitar); Byrne and Harrison have also appeared and recorded as solo artists since 1981; Frantz and Weymouth additionally formed, appeared, and recorded with group Tom Tom Club,1981-83. Addresses: Office --c/o Sire Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank CA 91510. David Byrne --Indey Music, c/o Overland, 1775 Broadway, New York NY 10019.
The band Talking Heads has it roots at the Rhode Island School of Design, where David Byrne, the son of immigrant Scottish parents, was enrolled for two semesters and "hung out" for a few more. There Byrne met drummer Chris Frantz and formed a five-member band called the Artistics. They were popular on campus but were jokingly called the Autistics because of Byrne's bizarre stage antics and the band's quirky performances. The group dissolved when its members graduated. Byrne, Frantz, and Frantz's girlfriend Tina Weymouth (who had not been a member of the band) moved to New York City in 1974. Deciding to form a new band, they auditioned unsuccessfully for a bassist. Finally, Byrne taught Weymouth to play bass--she already played guitar--and Talking Heads was born. They first appeared at CBGB's, a New Music venue in New York's Bowery, in June 1975. A year later they recorded their first single, "Love Goes to a Building on Fire" and toured Europe with the Ramones.
The popular music scene at the time was split between the glitter and banality of disco and the raw energy and rebellion of punk music. Talking Heads took a new approach. Their music was straight-forward rock but offered an intelligent message; and, while other bands had exhausted the drive to appear wild and different, Talking Heads dressed in suits, white shirts, and trousers. Stereo Review noted: "Talking Heads have always defied trends by keeping one step ahead of them or by ignoring them." Even New Republic took note of the band: "Minimalist in their musical arrangements, the Talking Heads stripped away the accretions of drum and guitar solos and the phallocentric gestures of a corrupted rock 'n' roll. What remained were bare, almost jarring chords and tight structures. The music was less a revolt than a strategy for survival in a world in which the television is never switched off."
By the time Talking Heads was ready to record their first album, Talking Heads 77, they were joined by keyboard player Jerry Harrison. They achieved cult status, but it would be a few years before popular success arrived. Their next few albums were produced with the guidance of studio wizard Brian Eno. "Take Me to the River," from the album More Songs About Music and Food (1978), was their first song to reach the Top 40.
Byrne has been the most prominent member of the group--front-man, guitarist, singer, and composer of most of the band's songs. He is academically inclined and his lyrics have a seriousness that distinguished the music of Talking Heads from punk music. Set against the easy rocking movements of the band, it is Byrne's quirky performance, his strange jerky stage movements, that make the band fun to watch. He once told Time: "People talk about how strange I am. Of course, being inside myself, not having the perspective, I don't think I'm odd at all. I can see that what I'm doing is not exactly what everyone else is doing, but I don't think of it as strange."
In 1981 Byrne found himself involved in personal projects that separated him from the band. With Eno he produced the album My Life in a Bush of Ghosts, which drew on exotic Eastern rhythms and used taped radio broadcasts for lyrics. He also became involved in theatrical productions, writing the score for Twyla Tharp's dance production The Catherine Wheel in 1981; and in 1985, parts of the score for Robert Wilson's production "The CIVIL warS." The album from The Catherine Wheel garnered rave reviews.
Amid insecurities about the breakup of the group, Frantz and Weymouth started a project of their own: Tom Tom Club. Their first album, released in 1981, with the help of Weymouth's sisters and some Jamaican percussion artists, surprised everyone by selling nearly twice as many copies as any Talking Heads album to date. Weymouth and Frantz--who had married--had their first child in 1982; on tour, Weymouth nursed the boy between acts. Jerry Harrison also released his first solo album, The Red and the Black.
In 1982 Talking Heads released a double live album, The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, that illustrates the evolution of their music. One disc, featuring songs recorded at shows in 1977 and 1979, features the original quartet; the second, drawn from shows in 1980 and 1981, features an expanded lineup of up to nine musicians who toured with the band during that period, including guitarist Adrian Belew, funk bassist Busta Jones, and percussionist Steve Scales. The band's performance documentary movie "Stop Making Sense," released in 1984, equally demonstrates the band's range. At this time Talking Heads began to make commercial breakthroughs and had already produced two revolutionary (by MTV standards) rock videos on the songs "Once in a Lifetime" and "Burning Down the House."
The movie "True Stories" was released in 1986. It was directed, scored, and partially scripted by Byrne with music performed by Talking Heads and a variety of ethnic groups. Time called "True Stories" the "most joyous and inventive rock movie-musical since the Beatles scrambled through Help. " By this time, the group had come full circle. They had started out with a message that disparaged a culture driven by television and the mediocrity of news weeklies; then, ten years later, they were celebrating the ordinariness and banality of the American way.
"True Stories" takes place in an imaginary town populated by characters whose stories are drawn from tabloid headlines. Stereo Review carried this description: "In the film Byrne narrates slices of the lives of peculiar Texas townsfolk with names like Lying Woman and Computer Guy. They wear tacky outfits and tacky hairstyles and live in a tacky but friendly environment, a panorama of shopping malls and other consumer monuments separated by vast empty landscapes."
The soundtrack album features the original Talking Heads quartet playing pop songs based on a range of American music styles. New Republic observed that "instead of synthesizing Western and non-Western elements, the band moved in wholesale appropriations of American popular music..." and that "Byrne's voice had been purged of its trademark anxiety; instead of his controlled hysteria, he was actually crooning his lyrics." But Talking Heads refused to stand still or limit the direction or their music. By 1988 they had been to Paris and recorded Naked with a host of African musicians.
Talking Heads found their own unique voice amid the screams of the new wave rock revolution. Their sound has evolved to one with great appeal to listeners in search of inventive music. As Rolling Stone observed: "If the essence of rock & roll is white kids trying to be as cool a black kids, then Talking Heads effected the most rarefied cultural synthesis of the Seventies, a fusion of git-down street rhythms and collegiate sensibilities heady enough to spawn a generation of imitators on both sides of the Atlantic."
by Tim LaBorie
Talking Heads's Career
- Talking Heads
- Talking Heads Sire, 1977.
- More Songs about Music and Food Sire, 1978.
- Fear of Music Sire, 1979.
- Remain in Light Sire, 1980.
- The Name of This Band is Talking Heads Sire, 1982.
- Speaking in Tongues Sire, 1983.
- Stop Making Sense Sire, 1984.
- Little Creatures Sire, 1985.
- True Stories Sire, 1986.
- Naked Sire, 1988.
- David Byrne
- My Life in a Bush of Ghosts Sire, 1981.
- The Complete Score from the Broadway Production of "The Catherine Wheel Sire, 1981.
- Music for "The Knee Plays" (music from Robert Wilson's "The CIVIL warS," Sire, 1985.
- Tom Tom Club
- Tom Tom Club Sire, 1981.
- Close to the Bone Sire, 1983.
- Jerry Harrison
- The Red and the Black Sire, 1981.
- Casual Gods Sire, 1988.
- Reese, Krista, The Name of This Book Is Talking Heads, Proteus, 1982.
- Guitar Player, March 1984.
- New Republic, March 23, 1987.
- Rolling Stone, October 27, 1983; April 21, 1988.
- Stereo Review, November 1986.
- Time, September 2, 1985; October 27, 1986.
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