Talking HeadsTina WeymouthJerry HarrisonDavid ByrneChris Frantz

Talking Heads

are one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the postpunk era, pursued an idiosyncratic path of (often) uncompromising brilliance up to their acrimonious break-up in 1991.

The band was formed by ex-Rhode Island School of Design, students David Byrne (b. 14 May 1952, Dumbarton, Scotland; vocals, guitar), Chris Frantz (b. Charlton Christopher Frantz, 8 May 1951, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, USA; drums) and Tina Weymouth (b. Martina Michéle Weymouth, 22 November 1950, Coronado, California, USA; bass). In 1974, the three friends relocated to New York, living and rehearsing in Manhattan and naming themselves Talking Heads (Byrne and Frantz had originally played together as the Artistics).

After making their live debut in June 1975 at the punk club CBGB's, they were approached by Seymour Stein of Sire Records, who would eventually sign them.
The band's art school background, witty invention and musical unorthodoxy were evident on their intriguingly titled debut, "Love > Building On Fire", released in December 1976. The line-up was subsequently expanded to include keyboard player/guitarist Jerry Harrison (b. Jeremiah Griffin Harrison, 21 February 1949, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA), a former member of Jonathan Richman 's Modern Lovers .

After touring extensively, the quartet issued Talking Heads: 77 , an exhilarating first album, which was widely praised for its verve and intelligence. The highlight of the set was the insistent "Psycho Killer', a tour de force in which singer Byrne displayed his deranged vocal dramatics to the full. His wide-eyed stare, jerky movements and onstage cool reminded many commentators of Anthony Perkins, star of Hitchcock's movie Psycho . For their second album, the band turned to Brian Eno as producer.

More Songs About Buildings And Food was a remarkable work, its title echoing Talking Heads" anti-romantic subject matter. Byrne's eccentric vocal phrasing was brilliantly complemented by some startling rhythm work and the songs were uniformly excellent. The climactic "The Big Country" a satiric commentary on consumerist America, featured the scathing aside: "I wouldn't live there if you paid me". The album also featured one cover version, an interesting reading of Al Green 's "Take Me To The River" which became a US Top 30 hit. Eno's services were retained for the more opaque Fear Of Music , which included the popular "Life During Wartime" and introduced African rhythms on the opening track "I Zimbra".

Byrne next collaborated with Eno on the adventurous My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts , before the band reunited for the striking Remain In Light . Recorded with additional personnel including guitarist Adrian Belew , the album explored "found voices" and African polyrhythms to great effect and boasted the superb "Once In A Lifetime". An edited version of this track provided one of the best UK hit singles of 1981.

During the early 80s, the band's extra-curricular activities increased and while Byrne explored ballet on The Catherine Wheel , Frantz and Weymouth (man and wife since the first Talking Heads album was released) enjoyed club success with their spin-off project, Tom Tom Club .

The live double The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads served as a stopgap until Speaking In Tongues appeared in the summer of 1983. As ambitious as ever, the album spawned the band's first US Top 10 single "Burning Down The House". While touring with additional guitarist Alex Weir (formerly of the Brothers Four ), the band were captured on film by director Jonathan Demme.

The edited results were released as Stop Making Sense , a groundbreaking concert movie which also spawned a bestselling soundtrack. The excellent Little Creatures , a more accessible offering than their earlier experimental work, featured two strong singles in "And She Was" and "Road To Nowhere". The latter brought the band their biggest UK chart hit (number 6) and was accompanied by an imaginative and highly entertaining video. In 1986, Byrne moved more forcibly into movies with his directorial debut, the offbeat comedy True Stories .

The album of the same name featured the band performing version of songs originally sung by the actors. It was two more years before the band reconvened for Naked . Recorded in Paris and produced by Steve Lillywhite, the work included musical contributions from keyboard player Wally Badarou and guitarists Yves N'Djock and Johnny Marr .

Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Talking Heads

Since then, the four members have branched out into various offshoot ventures. The single and double-album retrospectives released in autumn 1992 provide a fairly definitive assessment of their career, including some interesting rarities, but without doing justice to a band rightly regarded as one of the best and most influential of their time. In 1996, Weymouth, Frantz and Harrison launched a new album as the Heads, with guest vocalists taking the place of Byrne. In 1999, an expanded version of Stop Making Sense was released to promote the theatrical release of a remastered edition of the original movie. The original Talking Heads buried the hatchet for long enough to perform at their inauguration into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in March 2002.

Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame
Talking Heads

Induction Year: 2002
Induction Category: Performer

Inductees: David Byrne (vocals, guitar; born May 14, 1952), Chris Frantz (drums; born May 8, 1951), Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitar; born February 21, 1949), Tina Weymouth (bass; born November 22, 1950).

Among the most adventuresome bands in rock history, the Talking Heads drew from funk, minimalism, and African and Brazilian music in promulgating a new sound that was both visionary and visceral. They were invariably challenging and inventive, using infectious rhythms as a form of sorcery to introduce their ever-expanding audience to exotic influences from abroad that they might otherwise have never heard. In so doing, they helped pave the way – along with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno – for the “world music” phenomenon of the Eighties and beyond. They also created a body of highly original work, crowned by such albums as Fear of Music and Remain in Light, that didn’t so much appropriate its sources as transmute them into something that felt startlingly new and improbably accessible.

The Talking Heads emerged from the same New York scene that produced the Ramones, Blondie, Television and countless other bands. Yet whereas the Ramones were street-level and direct, Talking Heads were arty and abstract. Their influences went beyond rock music to include avant-garde composers like Phillip Glass, painters such as Jasper Johns, postmodern choreographers like Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp, and such contemporary poets as Amira Baraka. Nonetheless, they shared a do-it-yourself aesthetic in common with their musical peers on the Lower East Side.

What set Talking Heads apart was pedigree. The four group members were no scuffling punks. All were college-educated art students: Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, Jerry Harrison was a Harvard graduate, and Byrne attended art schools in Rhode Island and Maryland. Their songs might begin with fragments that emerged from spontaneous jams, but they were subsequently pieced together using stratagems more commonly employed by artists than musicians. Weymouth has compared Talking Heads’ approach to abstract painting, “where the first color or line or form you put on canvas suggests what you do next.” At the same time, she noted, “there’s a lot of freedom allowed for other things to happen.” This tension between discipline and spontaneity, along with the visual and vocal tics of David Byrne, helped give Talking Heads’ music its jittery but playful and ever-surprising aura. Byrne’s voice was an extension of his angular, gawky persona; in the context of the New Wave movement, he epitomized the “cool nerd” archetype.

Talking Heads came together when Byrne, Frantz and Weymouth moved from Rhode Island to a shared loft in New York City in 1975. Harrison joined before the release of the first album, Talking Heads ‘77, which contained the early favorites “Psycho Killer” and “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town.” Brian Eno, the former Roxy Music synthesizer player and “ambient music” pioneer who’d go on to produce U2 and others, was involved with Talking Heads’ next three albums: More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978), which contained their hit version of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”; Fear of Music (1979), an album that married African rhythms with Western technology; and Remain in Light (1981), Talking Heads’ acknowledged masterpiece. By the last of these, Eno had become an official, albeit temporary, group member, precipitating a widening rift between Byrne and the others over issues of control, credit and direction. All of their albums were fresh and revolutionary but Remain in Light, with its experimental forms and audacious, Afro-Caribbean rhythmic beds, represented a radical breakthrough that reverberated beyond the band to exert an impact on cutting-edge music in general.

The group expanded in size for touring purposes in order to perform their more celebratory, polyrhythmic music, and Talking Heads acquired a sizable following in the first half of the Eighties based on their danceable, invigorating live shows. Two live albums, The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads (1982) and Stop Making Sense (1984) – the latter being the soundtrack to the acclaimed, Jonathan Demme-produced concert documentary of the same name – appeared in short order. Sandwiched between them was Talking Heads’ highest-charting album, Speaking in Tongues, which contained the Top Ten single “Burning Down the House.” Talking Heads, with their background in visual art, made some of rock’s most arresting videos, and MTV served as an unlikely ally in making possible their popular breakthrough.

In the wake of these successes, Talking Heads regrouped and refocused as a quartet on the smaller-scale, song-oriented albums Little Creatures (1985) and True Stories (1986). The latter served as the soundtrack to a David Byrne film that strung together vignettes about everyday life, and it yielded Talking Heads third hit single, “Wild Wild Life” (#25). The group recorded Naked (1988), in Paris with African musicians. Naked would turn out to be Talking Heads’ last album, as inter-band tensions and increasing involvement with solo careers and side bands led to their demise. In 1991, the group recorded four more tracks at New York’s Electric Lady Studios, which appeared on the compilation Popular Favorites, 1976-1992: Sand in the Vaseline.

Away from Talking Heads, Byrne pursued his interest in world music, especially music from Brazil, and launched his own label, Luaka Bop, dedicated to its spread and preservation. Frantz and Weymouth reconvened their successful dance-pop group, Tom Tom Club (whose 1982 single “Genius of Love” remains a club favorite from that decade). Harrison produced albums for other bands and fronted a group of his own, Casual Gods.

February 21, 1949: Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads is born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

November 22, 1950: Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads is born in Coronado, California.

May 8, 1951: Chris Frantz of Talking Heads is born in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

May 14, 1952: David Byrne of Talking Heads is born in Dumbarton, Scotland.

1960: Rufus Thomas and his 17-year-old daughter Carla cut “Cause I Love You” for Jim Stewart’s Satellite label. Based on this single, a local hit in Memphis, Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler invests $5,000 in return for a five-year option on future Satellite product.

September 8, 1974: David Byrne, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz sow the seeds of Talking Heads when they jointly move into a loft in New York from Rhode Island, where they’d been attending art school.

June 8, 1975: Talking Heads perform their first gig at the New York punk club CBGB’s, where they open for the Ramones.

September 17, 1976: Jerry Harrison makes his onstage debut with Talking Heads, expanding the trio to a quartet.

November 8, 1976: Talking Heads sign with Sire Records after being courted by label president Seymour Stein.

February 6, 1977: Talking Heads first single, “Love Goes to Building on Fire” b/w “New Feeling” – is released on Sire Records.

May 14, 1977: Talking Heads perform in London, where they meet Brian Eno, late of Roxy Music. He will subsequently produce three Talking Heads albums and cut an album (’My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’) with David Byrne.

July 7, 1977: ‘Talking Heads ’77,’ the New Wave quartet’s debut album, is released. It contains “Psycho Killer,” an older song dating back to their days as the Artistics.

July 14, 1978: ‘More Songs About Buildings and Food,’ Talking Heads’ curiously titled second album, is released.

February 10, 1979: “Take Me to the River,” Talking Heads’ remake of an Al Green song, peaks at #26. It is the first of three Top Forty hits for the band.

August 4, 1979: ‘Fear of Music,’ Talking Heads’ third album, is released. It includes the club hit “Life During Wartime” and reaches #21 on the album chart.

August 23, 1980: Talking Heads introduces its expanded touring lineup – the original quartet plus five additional musicians, guitarist Adrian Belew and keyboardist Bernie Worrell (of Parliament/Funkadelic) among them – at a Canadian rock festival.

November 1, 1980: Talking Heads’ groundbreaking ‘Remain in Light’ enters the album chart, where it will peak at #19 in March 1981.

June 25, 1983: Talking Heads’ fifth album, ‘Speaking in Tongues,’ is released. It becomes their highest-charting album, rising to #15 and launching the Top Ten hit “Burning Down the House.”

December 18, 1983: Talking Heads film a live concert, with Jonathan Demme directing, at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre. It is released in the fall of 1984 as the film and album ‘Stop Making Sense.’

July 6, 1985: ‘Little Creatures,’ Talking Heads’ first studio album in two years, is released. It features a striking cover illustration by renowned Georgia folk artist Howard Finster.

October 4, 1986: Talking Heads’ ‘True Stories,’ featuring songs from the movie of the same name, written and directed by David Byrne – enters the album chart. It yields the hit single “Wild Wild Life” (#25).

April 2, 1988: ‘Naked,’ Talking Heads’ eighth and last studio album, is released. The album was recorded in Paris with African musicians.

December 2, 1991: David Byrne announces Talking Heads’ dissolution in an interview in the ‘Los Angeles Times.’

October 31, 1992: ‘Popular Favorites 1976-1992 – Sand in the Vaseline,’ a two-CD anthology including previously unreleased and newly recorded tracks, is released.

March 18, 2002: Talking Heads are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the seventeenth annual induction dinner. Anthony Kiedis is their presenter.



Talking Heads
Band Biography
Chris Frantz
David Byrne
Tina Weymouth
Jerry Harrison
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