Rejecting Legends! Legends Rejecting Them! 5 Fascinating Facts About Talking Heads

Are Talking Heads an art project, a punk rock band, or one of the best groups of their generation? The answer is yes. 

Videos by American Songwriter

They went from CBGB to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And they came along at just the right time, with MTV seeming to be the perfect outlet for such a band: innovative videos and one of the best concert films of all time secured the band’s legacy.

Drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth met fellow Rhode Island School of Design student David Byrne in the early ’70s. Let’s take a look at five fascinating things that happened before and after they went on to create Talking Heads.

1. “Psycho Killer” Was Written Before Talking Heads Was a Band

Frantz and Byrne were first in a band called The Artistics. Frantz was dating Weymouth, who was not yet even a bassist. When Byrne came to Frantz with a new song he was working on, he shared a couple of verses. Byrne said it was kind of an “Alice Cooper thing.”

I can’t seem to face up to the facts
I’m tense and nervous, and I can’t relax
I can’t sleep ’cause my bed’s on fire
Don’t touch me, I’m a real live wire

Frantz remembered in his 2020 book, Remain in Love, that “I really dug this. It reminded me more of Lou Reed than Alice Cooper.” Frantz actually contributed the second verse:

You start a conversation, you can’t even finish it
You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed
Say something once, why say it again?

Then Byrne had the chorus. He wanted to include a verse in Japanese, but the woman he approached about translating was uncomfortable with the subject matter. Frantz suggested Weymouth provide a French translation, and she was more than happy to so, even suggesting using the Norman Bates character from Psycho as an inspiration:

Ce que j’ai fait, ce soir-là
Ce qu’elle a dit, ce soir-là
Réalisant mon espoir
Je me lance vers la gloire, OK

A quick Google Translate translation gives us, What I did that night / What she said that night / Realizing my hope / I’m heading for glory, OK? And “Psycho Killer” was born. The Artistics broke up, and Byrne moved to New York City. Frantz and Weymouth followed shortly thereafter. The drummer encouraged his girlfriend to learn the bass, she did, and she joined to form Talking Heads. Their first show was at CBGB, opening for the Ramones.

2. Talking Heads Asked Debbie Harry to Be Their Lead Singer

One night late in 1974, Frantz and Byrne went to see a band called Angel and the Snake at CBGB. Frantz recounts the experience in Remain in Love: “The lead singer was heartbreakingly beautiful, and her voice was clear, sweet, and unaffected. She captivated me. It was impossible not to be smitten. After their set, she was standing by the bar. With David standing uncomfortably behind me, I offered to buy her a drink and told her David and I were starting a new band and that we were wondering if she might be interested in singing with us. I said, ‘My name is Chris Frantz, and this is David Byrne.’ She looked at us smiling and said, ‘My name is Debbie Harry. I already have a band, but you can buy me a drink.’ Imagine what might have been if she had said yes.”

[RELATED: Behind the Song: Talking Heads, “Life During Wartime”]

3. Lou Reed Wanted to Sign the Band

The three-piece Talking Heads played many shows in ’75 and ’76. Lou Reed was a regular at CBGB, and the former Velvet Underground frontman gave the young band plenty of advice. Reed offered them a production deal.

In Remain in Love, Frantz said, “At first we thought, ‘Wow! Lou Reed is offering to work with us. Fantastic!’ Then we realized we needed a lawyer to look over the contract. … He said, ‘I would never allow one of my clients to sign this.'” And the deal never happened.

4. The Band Auditioned for Jerry Harrison

Talking Heads remained a trio for over a year, until they eventually reached out to former Modern Lovers guitarist Jerry Harrison about joining the band. Harrison was going to school at Harvard and asked when the band would be playing in Boston. A show was booked at The Club the following weekend, and Harrison liked what he saw. He informed them he wouldn’t join until a record deal had been secured.

Sire Records signed the band, and Talking Heads (with Harrison) released a string of critically acclaimed albums. “Burning Down the House” was their biggest hit on the charts, with the success of the band’s music videos was their most effective marketing tool. Master filmmaker Jonathan Demme captured the band’s live show from 1983 and directed Stop Making Sense, a concert film that usually ranks on critics’ lists as one of the best ever made along with The Band’s The Last Waltz (directed by Martin Scorsese).

5. Tina Weymouth Arranged a Limo for James Brown

Frantz and Weymouth started a side project with Adrian Belew called Tom Tom Club. Their biggest hit was 1981’s  “Genius of Love,” which name-checks James Brown. It hit No. 1 on the Billboard U.S. Dance Clubs chart. 

Frantz shared this memory about Brown: “We bumped into James Brown a few years later when he was making a record at Sigma Sound in New York. He was in good spirits, and when Tina asked him how it was going, he said, ‘Going great! You know you are all my children.’ Then his assistant, thinking she must work for the studio, gave Tina a piece of paper with a phone number on it and told her to call Mr. Brown’s limo for him. Tina did so with pleasure. After all, it’s not every day you get to do something in return for the Godfather of Soul.” 

In 1991, Talking Heads announced they were disbanded. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. However, they did reunite for a question-and-answer session with Spike Lee in 2023 to celebrate the 40th-anniversary release of Stop Making Sense.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Selena Gomez and Rema Accept Award for Top Afrobeats Song for “Calm Down” at Billboard Music Awards

Dolly Parton on Her ‘Rockstar’ Collaborator and Goddaughter Miley Cyrus: “[She’s] an Amazing Talent”