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Music / Talking Heads

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Left to right: Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison, and David Byrne.

"This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around"
—"Life During Wartime".

Talking Heads was an American rock band formed in 1974 in New York City and active until 1991. The band comprised vocalist / guitarist David Byrne, drummer Chris Frantz, bassist Tina Weymouth (married to Frantz), and guitarist / keyboardist Jerry Harrison. Auxiliary musicians also frequently made appearances in concert and on the group's albums.

The post-punk/new wave musical style of Talking Heads combined elements of punk rock, avant-garde, pop, funk, afrobeat and art rock. Essentially, they're post-punk's Spiritual Antithesis to the likes of Joy Division and The Cure. Frontman and songwriter David Byrne contributed whimsical, esoteric lyrics to the band's songs, and emphasized their showmanship through various multimedia projects and performances. The band worked with famous Record Producer Brian Eno on all their albums between 1978–80, whose influence steered them towards their Signature Style dominated by incredibly dense, hypnotic funk grooves over which Byrne would improvise his vocals. They parted ways with Eno after their masterpiece Remain in Light and continued with a Lighter and Softer sound for the rest of their career, to increasing dissatisfaction from fans and critics. In 1986, they made a movie called True Stories, starring Face of the Band David Byrne as the narrator (ironically, the film itself falls under the trope Talking Heads).


In 1988, Talking Heads announced that they would be taking a hiatus following the release of their eighth album, Naked; three years later, they released the song "Sax and Violins" as a single to promote the soundtrack album to the film Until the End of the World, on which it was included. That December, the band officially announced that they had parted ways, the end result of longstanding tensions between David Byrne and the rest of the band. In 1996, Frantz, Harrison, and Weymouth, under the shortened name The Heads, recorded No Talking, Just Head, an album on which Byrne was replaced by a new guitarist and a variety of guest singers, including Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Michael Hutchence, Andy Partridge and Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde (who sang lead on the accompanying tour). The album was not well received, and its success was hampered by Byrne filing a trademark infringement lawsuit against the band, which delayed its release. That was the end for any version of Talking Heads.


In 2002, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; they performed three songs at their induction ceremony, with this being their only reunion performance since splitting in 1991. Four of the band's albums appeared on Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and the Channel 4 100 Greatest Albums poll listed one album (Fear of Music) at number 76. Their concert film Stop Making Sense is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of the genre. Rolling Stone later named them the 100th greatest artists of all time on their updated list.

Studio Discography:

You can now vote for your favourite Talking Heads album HERE!

"And you may say to yourself, 'these are not my beautiful tropes'":

  • Adorkable: The whole band is this, but David Byrne and Tina Weymouth are the most prominent cases of it.
  • After the End: "(Nothing But) Flowers".
  • Animated Music Video: "And She Was".
  • Anti-Love Song: "I'm Not in Love".
  • Ax-Crazy: The narrator of "Psycho Killer".
  • The Band Minus the Face: No Talking, Just Head is generally seen as nothing more than the frustrated grumblings of David Byrne's former bandmates. Some of the song titles (i.e. "The King is Gone" and "Don't Take My Kindness For Weakness") and inner artwork of a used voodoo doll that looks suspiciously like Byrne covered in various negative descriptors doesn't help.
  • Bo Diddley Beat: "Ruby Dear".
  • Broken Record: Same as it ever was... same as it ever was... same as it ever was... same as it ever was...
  • Captain Obvious: Lots of lovable instances in the lyrics. Works in a weird, unexplainable way. Are you aware, for example, that "there is water at the bottom of the ocean"?
  • Cloudcuckoolander: David Byrne comes across as one.
  • Control Freak: The other band members claim Byrne was one throughout the band's history, eventually causing the band to break up. He admitted as much on the DVD commentary to Stop Making Sense.
  • Conveyor Belt Video: "And She Was."
  • Cool Old Guy / Cool Old Lady: The members of Talking Heads have all graduated to these.
  • Covered in Gunge: The whole band gets coated in chocolate during the video for "Love for Sale", especially Tina.
  • Darker and Edgier: Fear of Music.
    • The final song on Fear of Music, "Drugs", is itself a Darker and Edgier reworking of an earlier song called "Electricity", which had the same words and chord structure but an entirely different feel.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: Indirectly; in her part of the band's speech at their Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Tina Weymouth urged viewers and listeners to buy their albums rather than download them. Keep in mind, this was in 2002, when official methods of digital distribution weren't as popular as they are today and MP3s were still commonly associated with piracy; iTunes was just barely over a year old at this point and still only available on the Mac.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Their debut album, Talking Heads: 77, is a lot more pop-oriented than the eclectic Post-Punk-New Wave Music-Funk sound Talking Heads would become known for; this is mainly due to Executive Meddling, as Tony Bongiovi wanted to steer the band in a pop direction. Of the eleven songs heard on Talking Heads: 77, only the penultimate track, "Psycho Killer", resembles anything close to the band's better-known material, and it's perhaps because of this that it's typically the only song from Talking Heads: 77 played live since the 1980's.
  • Epic Rocking: The Name of This Band is Talking Heads features the live version of "Born Under Punches" clocking in at 8:25 with the band performing the song and milking every minute for what it's worth. "The Great Curve" and "Houses in Motion" on the same album are both over six minutes and show the best parts of Remain in Light and the best parts of the band in their prime.
    • "Psycho Killer" used to be this in concert: The final section would devolve into Byrne and Harrison dueling on guitars for minutes on end.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Weymouth, Frantz, and Byrne were all students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and had started another band together (The Artistics) there before moving to New York and (after a little while) becoming Talking Heads.
  • Fake Guest Star: Adrian Belew lobbied hard to be the fifth member of the band but in the end Byrne decided that if anyone was going be their resident guitar hero, it would be himself. The late Bernie Worrell toured with the band a lot in the early '80s and is regarded by some as being a de facto fifth member.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "No Compassion".
  • Funk: An important influence on their style. To underscore this, the backing musicians who accompany them on their Stop Making Sense album / concert movie are all funk musicians affiliated with Parliament-Funkadelic (except for Alex Weir, who was part of The Brothers Johnson).
  • Flyover Country: "The Big Country".
  • Genre-Busting: The band's music defied all known conventions at the time, oftentimes defying their own standards. Their sound would constantly change not only from album to album, but also from song to song, a trait David Byrne would carry over into his equally eclectic solo career.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: "And She Was", one of their biggest hit singles, is about a drug trip (almost certainly acid); it's almost painfully obvious when you pay attention.
  • Grand Finale: 1991's "Sax and Violins", whose lyrics heavily allude to the impending announcement of Talking Heads' dissolution.
  • Gratuitous French: "Psycho Killer".
  • Greatest Hits Album: The group has received several of these since their breakup, with one new compilation coming out each year between 2003 and 2006 (counting the self-titled studio album Boxed Set); they have almost as many compilations as they do studio albums!
  • Happily Married: Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz.
  • Heavy Meta: "Electric Guitar".
  • I Am the Band: Byrne is a notorious example. He and Harrison were the only members of the band who appeared in the video for their final single before their official breakup, "Sax and Violins".
  • Iconic Outfit: Byrne's gigantic French gray suit from Stop Making Sense. "Weird Al" Yankovic dons a similar costume while performing his style parody of them, "Dog Eat Dog", in concert.
  • Idiosyncratic Album Naming: Their live album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads stems from Byrne announcing the next songs as: "The name of this song is [insert song title here]."
    • It was also named that way because David Byrne was frustrated by people adding a The to the band's name when there wasn't supposed to be one.
  • Insufferable Genius: The other members came to regard Byrne as this, and on the DVD commentary for Stop Making Sense he admitted that there was some justice to it (see Control Freak, above.)
  • Intercourse with You: "Creatures of Love", albeit less for the sake of pleasure and more for the purpose of conception.
  • In the Style of...:
    • "The Overload" is in the style of Joy Division, but because Talking Heads had never actually listened to the band, it was based on descriptions of Joy Division's sound that the band had read in the music press. The end result wasn't all that far off from how Joy Division's grimmer material actually sounded (compare "The Overload" to "In a Lonely Place"), although when the Heads finally heard Joy Division they were disappointed that the Manchester band was a lot more conventional than they'd been led to imagine.
    • The rest of the songs on Remain in Light were heavily influenced by Fela Kuti.
    • "Swamp" is an uncharacteristically bluesy number in the style of John Lee Hooker.
  • Jerkass: The other members, notably Tina Weymouth as described below, think David Byrne is one. Byrne thinks the other members have been this to him as well.
  • Large Ham: Byrne, resulting in such gems as: "Don't you miss it! Don't you miss it! Some of you people just about missed it!" and "And you may say to yourself, My God, WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?
    • The other members have occasionally had large ham tendencies, such as Chris Frantz during Stop Making Sense and Jerry Harrison throughout the music video for "Wild Wild Life".
  • Lead Bassist: Tina Weymouth's basslines are funky and melodic.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Highlighted in "Life During Wartime."
  • Marionette Motion: David Byrne's signature dance moves.
  • Military Brat: Both Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. Her dad was an admiral; she says that "Don't Worry About the Government" is inspired in part by that.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: In the video for "Once in a Lifetime," David Byrne does this while shouting: "My God, WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?," going along with the Large Ham tendencies noted above.
  • Mind Screw: "Seen and Not Seen."
  • The Movie: True Stories, directed by David Byrne.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The early albums run on it. Who else but Byrne could write lyrics about civil servants and buildings with such conviction?
  • Musical Squares: The cover of Remain in Light has the faces of the group, covered with digital red paint, in squares on the cover.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: "Once in a Lifetime" coins the phrase.
  • New Sound Album: Remain in Light, Little Creatures, and Naked. Lampshaded by David Byrne in the first appearance of the expanded touring band during the Remain in Light tour, saying: "We don't sound like we used to."
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Life During Wartime" and "New Feeling", among others.
  • Notable Music Videos: Once in a Lifetime, Burning Down the House, Wild, Wild Life.
  • Occidental Otaku: David Byrne's staging for Talking Heads' 1983 tour, as captured in Stop Making Sense, was inspired by Kabuki and Noh theater, including the famous big suit and the stagehands dressed in black visible to the audience.
  • Pep-Talk Song: A lot of the band's early songs were these: "New Feeling", "Tentative Decisions", "Don't Worry About The Government", "The Girls Want To Be With The Girls", "The Good Thing". These are what gave the band its early reputation for being clean-cut preppies or even proto-yuppies.
    • Later on, "Road to Nowhere" is a Pep Talk Song about reconciling yourself to the inevitability of death.
  • The Perfectionist: Byrne, notoriously so, to the point where it drove Brian Eno away from working with the band after Remain in Light and played a significant factor in the band's 1991 breakup.
  • Precision F-Strike: David Byrne hardly ever swore on-mic in the band's songs, so the times when he did do so can throw an unsuspecting listener off; 1991's "Sax and Violins" particularly stands out for being the sole Talking Heads song on which Byrne outright drops an F-bomb.
    Mom & Pop, they will fuck you up
    For sure
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: The band's use of funk rhythms came across this way to some critics, even though they worked with members of Parliament-Funkadelic and Brothers Johnson and cited Fela Kuti as an influence.
  • Re-Cut: Speaking in Tongues has two different versions: a 41-minute cut released on LP and a 47-minute cut released on cassette. The 47-minute version includes extended versions of the tracks "Making Flippy Floppy", "Girlfriend Is Better", "Slippery People", "I Get Wild/Wild Gravity" and "Moon Rocks", likely included over the LP edits to capitalize on the Compact Cassette's status in the public consciousness at the time as the medium for extended versions of albums due to its longer playing time compared to LPs. Peculiarly, despite having an even longer maximum playing time than cassettes, early CD releases of Speaking in Tongues used the 41-minute version of the album; pressings from 1990 onwards use the 47-minute version. Given that the added verses in the extended versions of "Making Flippy Floppy" and "Girlfriend is Better" were included in live performances (as documented in Stop Making Sense), fans generally consider the 47-minute version of Speaking in Tongues to be the definitive one.
  • Reviewer Standard Comparisons: Any indie band with funk or dance influences seem to be compared to Talking Heads, especially if they show an interest in worldbeat.
  • Self-Deprecation: The name of More Songs About Buildings and Food was the result of writer's block when it came to choosing the title of the album.
    Tina Weymouth: When we were making this album [Fear of Music] I remembered this stupid discussion we had about titles for the last album. At that time I said, 'What are we gonna call an album that's just about buildings and food?' And Chris said: "You call it more songs about buildings and food."
  • Shout-Out:
    • A spectacularly obscure one in the video for "Once in a Lifetime"— during his time at the Rhode Island School of Design, David Byrne worked at the famed Olneyville New York System hot dog restaurant in Providence. The up the arm chopping motion from his weird, twitchy dancing exactly matches the procedure for putting toppings on a row of short, chili soaked hot dogs.
    • The fighter planes depicted on Remain in Light's back cover are a reference to Tina Weymouth's Military Brat family background. (The planes in question are Grumman Avengers used by the Navy).
    • "Stay Up Late" quotes the line "I know you wanna leave me" from The Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg."
    • "Weird Al" Yankovic gave the band one with his original song "Dog Eat Dog", written in the style of a Talking Heads song. In live performances, he even dons a Stop Making Sense-inspired big suit.
    • The Pixies' "Dig for Fire" is also written in the style of Talking Heads, as are the first and third thirds of "Job in the City" by Red Vox.
    • Radiohead's name comes from the track "Radio Head" off of True Stories.
    • Very YMMV but the girl around 1:12 in "Road to Nowhere" - lion mane, blue striped t-shirt - everything screams "Kim Wilde".
  • Spell My Name Without A The: There is no "the" in "Talking Heads." Referred to in the title of their live album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads.
    • Chris Frantz notably gets this wrong in Stop Making Sense:
      "We gotta change back into The Talking Heads!"
  • The '70s / The '80s: The band's commercial and artistic peak spanned the late '70s to the first half of the '80s.
  • Solo Side Project:
    • David Byrne began his solo career while he was still the frontman of Talking Heads, with his first two solo albums and his soundtrack to Twyla Harp's dance project The Catherine Wheel all appearing on store shelves while the band was still officially around.note  Byrne would continue his solo career after Talking Heads announced their breakup in 1991, released his third solo album just a few months later, and still makes music to this day.
    • Similarly to Byrne, the rest of Talking Heads all began their own side-projects while the band was still active. Jerry Harrison's three solo albums were all released during the 1981-1990 period, while Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth's side-band Tom Tom Club released their first three albums between 1981 and 1988. Like Byrne, Tom Tom Club's career would also outlive Talking Heads, though their output is comparatively more sporadic.
  • The Southpaw: David Byrne is left handed, but plays guitar right handed. In the DVD commentary for Stop Making Sense, Tina Weymouth said that this was responsible for his distinctive guitar sound.
  • Spinoff: Frantz and Weymouth's Tom Tom Club.
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • Vampire Weekend seems to have taken up the mantle of indie rock fused with afrobeat with a geeky frontman that Talking Heads pioneered. Like the Talking Heads, Vampire Weekend hails from the northeastern U.S. and has a "preppy" image similar to Talking Heads' early days.
    • Prog Archives compared Byrne to Genesis-era Peter Gabriel for his penchant for bizarre theatrics and wacky costumes during the band's 1983 tour, as captured in Stop Making Sense. Byrne's solo concerts have kept up the kinds of inventive staging seen in the film.
  • Starving Artist: The band in their loft days. In one of the essays in the Once in a Lifetime box set, Chris Frantz recalls eating spaghetti with cottage cheese because meat was too expensive. In the liner notes to the Sand in the Vaseline compilation, Jerry Harrison said that when he first met the other band members at a Chinese restaurant, they had shrimp fried rice because they got the most food for the least money.
  • Surreal Music Video: The band specialized in this, with the videos for "Once in a Lifetime" and "And She Was" probably being the most standout examples. They were one of the few artists in the '80s who could give Peter Gabriel a run for his money.
  • Talkative Loon: David Byrne comes across this way on the band's early songs and in interviews.
  • Textless Album Cover: More Songs about Buildings and Food.
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Blind" whose chorus uses the single word title fourteen times each verse.
  • Tsundere: Tina Weymouth was reportedly obsessed with Byrne in the band's early days (some people have even claimed she was in love with him), and now takes the opportunity to publicly badmouth him every chance she gets.
    • While all members have their grudges against Byrne (although Byrne's relationship with Jerry Harrison is apparently on better terms than his relationship with Chris or Tina), she was the most outspoken about it (being asked why they wouldn't reform, she described Byrne as a man "incapable of returning friendship").
    • According to Byrne, Tina Weymouth would write scathing letters to him in the 1990s, but then by the end of each letter would ask why he didn't want to work with her or the other members of the band anymore; Byrne himself commented on the irony of this.
    "I'd get these bizarre letters from Tina," he said, gritting his teeth. "They'd say what a fucking dumb jerk and asshole piece of shit I was. It would go into detail how badly I'd behaved. What a terrible person I was. How hard I was to work with. How unfair I was. It was this thing meant to make me feel real terrible and how much 'I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.' And then in the end she'd go, 'Why don't you want to work with us? Why in the world don't you want to work with us? What's the matter?'" Byrne paused and sighed. "You've answered the question. Look at the beginning of your letter, look at the end. You've answered it. There is some kind of weird denial going on."
  • Updated Re-release:
    • The 2004 double-CD reissue of The Name of This Band is Talking Heads (to this day the only CD release of the live album) added a wealth of extra tracks, with the second disc featuring the 1980-81 Remain in Light tour arranged in the original setlist order. The only drawbacks of this release are that it's noticeably brickwalled and cuts out the extended jam intro to "Crosseyed and Painless" due to space limitations on the CD. For what it's worth, the longer intro was replicated in the finale performance of the song in Stop Making Sense, with this version being fully intact on the film's 15th anniversary soundtrack CD.
    • In 2005 and 2006, all eight of the band's studio albums were remastered and remixed for 5.1 surround sound by Andy Zax and Jerry Harrison and re-released on both CD and DVD (with the DVDs also containing music videos and other bonus features in addition to the 5.1 mixes). In the United States, the albums were released on DualDisc, an ultimately short-lived format of double-sided optical disc where one side was a CD and the other a DVDnote . These DualDiscs were available both individually and bundled together in a self-titled (and prohibitively expensive) Boxed Set. In Europe, meanwhile, the albums took the simpler route of each being released on a regular CD and DVD in a single jewel case; the DVDs ended up being omitted in later European releases. As of December 2018, the 2005/2006 releases are the latest reissues of Talking Heads' studio catalog aside from greatest hits albums. In an odd twist of irony (based on the common trend with CD releases), the 2005/2006 remasters are now out of print, being supplanted by re-pressings of the 1980's CDs.
  • Utopia: Deconstructed with "(Nothing But) Flowers", where the singer is utterly bored by the paradisaical garden world he's stuck in, deprived of the luxuries and conveniences of urban life.
  • Villain Song: "Psycho Killer".
  • Wanderlust Song: Road to Nowhere may or may not be this.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: David Byrne is fond of these. "Burning Down the House", for example, is just a list of phrases that fit the rhythm he had composed and loosely fit together thematically.

Statler: Same as it ever was.
Waldorf: Same as it ever was.
Statler: Yeah...
Both, in unison: Terrible! Doh ho ho ho...

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