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Talking Heads

Talking Heads is also the name for a collection of monologues by Alan Bennett.

Talking Heads was a new wave rock band existing between 1974 and 1991, and composed of David Byrne, Chris Frantz , Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison.



One of the most prominent of the genre, Talking Heads married punk rock sensibilities with poppy sounds, clipped funk, art school intellectualism, and latterly world music. In David Byrne, they had one of the most distinctive front men of the period; they remained popular during their lifetime, and their concert film Stop Making Sense (which was made at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, and directed by Jonathan Demme) is widely acclaimed as one of the finest examples of the genre [1].

Formed in 1974 at the Rhode Island School of Design, the band first consisted of three members: David Byrne (vocals, guitar), Chris Frantz (drums), and Tina Weymouth (bass). The group settled on the name 'Talking Heads' from an issue of TV Guide; the term refers to programmes which consist entirely of dialogue, delivered by presenters filmed from the shoulders up. 'All content, no action' seemed to fit the band's musical style and stage presence so the name stuck.

Moving to New York the nascent Heads landed a gig, opening for The Ramones at the legendary CBGBs club. In 1976, they added one more member, Jerry Harrison (keyboards and guitar), formerly of Jonathan Richman's band The Modern Lovers. The group quickly drew a following and was signed to Sire Records in 1977. Their first album, Talking Heads: 77 was released soon afterward. Combining a taut rhythm section with David Byrne's signature neurotic vocals, '77 was a potent slab of art-punk virtuosity that, despite poor sales, instantly endeared the band to the more experimental elements in New York's burgeoning punk scene.

It was with their second album, 1978's More Songs About Buildings and Food that the band began its long-term collaboration with Brian Eno, one-time keyboard player for Roxy Music, latterly famous for his experimental, ambient art-pop and for producing several respected albums for David Bowie. As producer, Eno became a virtual fifth member of the band for the first part of their career. Eno's unusual style meshed well with the group's artistic sensibilities, and they gained the confidence to explore in a wide variety of musical directions. Though the first album's "Psycho Killer" had been a minor hit, it was this album's 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, featuring "Life During Wartime" and 1980's Remain in Light, both of which flirted with the darker stylings of post punk rock. The single from the latter, "Once in a Lifetime", failed to make an impression upon its release, but grew into a popular standard over the next few years on the back of its music video, one of the first signs of the power music videos would exert during the 1980s.

After releasing four albums in barely four years, the group then spent nearly three more before releasing another. In the meantime they released a live album The Name of this Band is Talking Heads and parted ways with Brian Eno, who went on to successfully produce U2.

1983 saw the release of Speaking in Tongues, a commercial breakthrough that produced the band's first American Top 10 hit, "Burning Down the House". Once again, a striking video was inescapable during the song's run. The following tour was documented in Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense, which generated another live album of the same name.

Three more albums followed, 1985's Little Creatures, 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. All were poppier and more accessible than previous releases, without discarding the group's characteristic quirky thoughtfulness. During that time, however, the group was falling more and more under David Byrne's sway, 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 in 1992 for "Sax and Violins", an original single that appeared on the soundtrack to Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World. Frustrated by David Byrne's lack of interest in another album, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison also reunited without him for a one-off album called No Talking, Just Head under the name "The Heads" in 1996.

Byrne has gone on to become something of a "rock icon" in recent years (using Pete Townshend's definition of the term: "It means no one buys your records any more"), while Harrison has become a producer of some note—his resumé includes the Fine Young Cannibals' The Raw and the Cooked, Live's Throwing Copper, and No Doubt's Return of Saturn. Frantz and Weymouth had been recording on the side as Tom Tom Club since 1981, their debut album selling almost as well as Talking Heads themselves leading to the band appearing in Stop Making Sense. They achieved several pop/rap hits under that name, particularly in the UK; their single "Genius of Love" has been sampled numerous times, notably on Mariah Carey's 1995 hit Fantasy. In 2000-2001 they returned to the upper regions of the charts in the UK and North America as members of the dance/hip-hop collective Gorillaz.

Talking Heads' body of work has been extremely influential, with bands as wide-ranging as Radiohead (named after a Talking Heads song), Phish (covering Remain in Light live), and Red Hot Chili Peppers acknowledging them among their roots.

The band played together one last time on March 18, 2002 at the ceremony of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Studio Albums


Lives and Videos

  • Stop Making Sense [live] (1984) (reissued in expanded form in 1999)
  • The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads [live] (1982) (reissued in greatly expanded form in 2004)

External links

  • (fan site containing album reviews, lots of pictures, lyrics, etc, in English)
  • (lots of info and a bulletin board)
  • Talking Heads at the dmoz Open Directory Project

Last updated: 05-07-2005 11:46:12
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04