Meredith and Johnny and I were sitting in The Pub at the End of the Universe
in Portland, Oregon
, talking about what we usually talked about: music. Pop, girls, etc.
The question Johnny had proposed to me was this: What is the most innovative and influential band in the history of pop music
"That's easy," I said. "Talking Heads."
Meredith and Johnny both laughed, so I asked them what their answer would be. "The Beatles, of course," they said in a snide, snickering tone.
"Of course. Right, well, let me put it this way: who is the most innovative band on the scene right now?"
Without missing a beat, they replied, "Radiohead."
"Okay," I continued. "And who do you think influenced Radiohead more: mop-top pop-driven Brits or art school punks who proved that a pop song is more than the sum of its three chords?"
That clammed 'em up.
They started in 1974 as a band that was sometimes known as, depending on how they felt and who you talk to, The Artistics and sometimes known as The Autistics. David Byrne, back then a nervous and brooding student at Rhode Island School of Design, along with friend Chris Frantz and accordionist Marc Kehoe, played in what was mainly a cover band, with some originals (such as future Talking Heads hits Psycho Killer and I'm Not In Love). The Artistics was a short-lived venture but paved the way for Byrne and Frantz, along with Frantz's girlfriend Tina Weymouth, to form Talking Heads after a move from Rhode Island to Manhattan's Lower East Side.
The band's live debut in June of 1975, at CBGB opening for seminal punk kings The Ramones, was well received and prompted the band to have a set of demo tapes recorded by early '76. These and summer demos led to the band being picked up by Sire, which released the band's first single of Love -> Building On Fire the next year. After this single, former Modern Lovers guitarist Jerry Harrison completed the quartet, and the band recorded their first full length LP, simply titled Talking Heads: 77, a strange little effort from art school punks in an era when artists were putting more raw energy into their music than their words.
The 1978 follow-up, the Brian Eno produced More Songs About Buildings and Food (so titled as an autosatirical measure in reference to the peculiar subject matter of the previous album), brought the band some commercial success in the United States with a cover of Al Green's Take Me To The River.
The group's sound continued to fortify its own distinction through the years with the sparse intricacy of further Eno collaborations like Fear of Music and the highly regarded Remain in Light, which also bought the group's first UK top 20 single, Once In A Lifetime (interesting side note: during the tour for Remain In Light the group's support was U2 who, at the time, had yet to acquire a contract). Around the time the funk-heavy Speaking in Tongues was released, Byrne had begun departing on solo efforts with Brain Eno, an action that would begin a conflict of interest rift that would eventually end in the break-up of the group.
In fact, the Speaking In Tongues era would prove to be an interesting time for the group. All of the members had, by this point, divulged in solo projects: Frantz and Weymouth had their pet group Tom Tom Club, and Harrison had cut The Red And The Black, an album eerily reminicent of Remain In Light. The tour for Speaking In Tongues was a grand affair, with five extra musicians in the band, revolving stage sets, a really big suit, and famed director Jonathan Demme culling the concert footage into what would become one of the best concert movies of all time: Stop Making Sense.
The band continued on its descent (or evolution, depending on how you look at it) with its sixth stuido full-length, Little Creatures in 1985. Byrne's lyrics were growing less sparse, more compassionate. The band would venture further into the conventional pop realm with True Stories, an album of songs arranged for the movie of the same title written and directed by Byrne himself.
The final album, Naked, was a desperate, flailing departure from the group's pop sound. The group played around with world music while recording in France because they were tired of cutting what Byrne called "song albums". This would prove to be the final straw as the individual members of the group were each beginning to possess differing notions of where exactly their music should go and, save for a song written for the Wim Wenders film Until The End of the World, and a single cut for Sand In The Vaseline, a chronological exploration of the group's carreer, the band was dead by 1991.
After Byrne left the group, the remaining members formed The Heads, releasing one album, No Talking, Just Head, with a rotating line-up of vocalists, including Blondie's Debbie Harry, INXS' Michael Hutchence, XTC's Andy Partridge, and Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano. The venture proved unsuccessful, confirming the remaining members' worst suspicions that they were merely David Byrne's talented backing band, and they went their separate ways.
Jerry Harrison cut two more albums under the moniker Casual Gods before undertaking a career in producing acts such as Live, Rusted Root, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Foo Fighters and Violent Femmes.
Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth still exist today as Tom Tom Club, a funk orientented group responsible for the classic Genius of Love, possibly one of the most sampled songs in hip-hop history. They've cut five albums as Tom Tom Club and don't seem to be letting up any time soon.
David Byrne is still going strong as a solo artist, his efforts ranging from the latin-based pop of Rei Momo to the Morcheeba accompanied Feelings. In addition to releasing an astounding thirteen solo albums (including his eighties ventures with Brian Eno), Byrne has divulged in several successful photography projects, most notably his take on a planet infused by advertising, entitled Your Action World, and his McSweeny's published exploration of modern morality, The New Sins.
The band reunited very briefly to play a set during their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, March 18, 2002. The set included Psycho Killer, Life During Wartime, Burning Down The House, and Take Me To The River.
Talking Heads LP Discography:
much thanks to http://www.talking-heads.net/ for being a very complete Talking Heads resource.