Behind The Band Name: Talking Heads

Talking Heads found rarified air in the late ’70s. They managed to combine punk elements, off-kilter personas, and lofty artistic expression all while still being palatable enough to hit the charts.

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The group—David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison—helped pioneer the new wave sound that would become ubiquitous in the ’80s. Songs like “Psycho Killer” and “This Must Be The Place” still have an audience today despite the group calling it quits in 1991.

Their strange name seems very fitting for such a group, but how did they land on Talking Heads? Find out, below.

Behind the Band Name

According to Frantz’s memoir, Remain in Love, the group cycled through a number of names before landing on the final product. They tried Vogue Dots, Billionaires, Tunnel Tones, and Videos but none of them stuck.

Their enduring moniker eventually came from their friend, Michael “Wayne” Zieve, who would go on to write the lyrics for their 1978 track “Artists Only.” Zieve came to the band with a TV Guide in hand that featured a list of jargon used by camera operators. Among them was Talking Head, which Zieve called the “most boring but also the most informative format in TV.”

He then added, “I think you should call your band Talking Heads.”

The group quickly came to an agreement and Weymouth solidified their decision by making shirts with the name on them. While walking around Washington Square Park with the shirts in tow, a passerby quickly told them it was a “terrible” band name. They stuck with it nonetheless. But when have Byrne and co. ever gone with the grain?


Talking Heads released their debut album in 1977. Recording at Sundragon Studio in New York City, the sessions for the album were turbulent thanks to Tony Bongiovi, cousin of Jon Bon Jovi (per author Ian Gittins).

The album only did middling well, failing to chart at all in the U.S. and peaking at No. 60 in their native U.K. However the album’s lead single “Psycho Killer” did help to launch the group on an international scale—largely due to the Son of Sam killings occurring around the same time. It has since become a classic.

By 1980, Brian Eno came into the mix and helped evolve the group’s sound. “The first time I ever met Talking Heads, I played them a record by Fela Kuti, the African-Nigerian musician who’d invented that thing called Afro-beat,” Eno once told NPR. “I thought that was just the most exciting music going on at the time.”

Byrne and Eno’s collaboration saw them incorporate those same grooves while putting an emphasis on improvisation. They leaned into sampling their own music and expanding their sound.

After a three-year hiatus, the group returned with Speaking in Tongues in 1983. Though Eno didn’t work with the band on this album, they kept the same adventurous spirit. The album went on to earn the group their only Top 10 hit with “Burning Down the House.”

The group broke up in 1991. Byrne confirmed their split to the Los Angeles Times saying, “You could say (we’ve) broken up, or call it whatever you like.”

Over the few years prior, Byrne began to distance himself from the group and focus on solo projects while the other members kept true to the band. Byrne’s decision to announce their break-up came as a shock to the rest of the group. Frantz once said, “As far as we’re concerned, the band never really broke up. David just decided to leave.”

Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

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