The Story Behind “Talk Talk” by Talk Talk and How the Group Came to Be Purely by Coincidence

Ah, the ‘80s. There were the Technicolor music videos, big hair, and bold fashion that were common in the music industry, moreso during the latter half of the decade. Then there was another very fun affectation when a band would name a song after themselves. And sometimes name the album the same thing. Case in point the song: “Talk Talk” by the band Talk Talk—at least they called their 1982 debut album The Party’s Over. Contrary to the album title, however, this song would get things started for them.

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Formed in 1981 by singer Mark Hollis (who passed away in 2019), the British group fell into the synth pop and new wave sounds of the time, although their last two albums explored much more experimental and progressive music territory. However, the group itself started on a lark.

Started on a Lark

“The group Talk Talk came into existence purely coincidentally,” Hollis told Kim Magazine in January 1983, nearly 20 weeks after their debut album hit the charts. “I just got [keyboardist] Simon Brenner, [drummer] Lee Harris and [bassist/backing vocalist] Paul Webb to join me for a few days whilst we made some demo discs of my songs to take to a record company. But we liked what we were doing so much that we decided to throw every penny we had into hiring a rehearsal room and practicing to go out and play in the clubs.”

The group landed a deal with EMI Records, teamed up with Duran Duran producer Colin Thurston, and created their debut album. The first single, “Mirror Man,” failed to catch fire, but “Talk Talk” hit No. 52 in the UK and No. 33 in Australia. The follow-up “Today” shot up to No. 14, while a remix of “Talk Talk” returned to the UK singles chart and landed at No. 23 and then, in America, at No. 75. The “Talk Talk” video received a decent amount of airplay on MTV at the time. The quartet also toured with Duran Duran in 1982.

Well, did I tell you before when I was up?
Anxiety was bringing me down
I’m tired of listening to you talking in rhymes
Twisting ’round to make me think you’re straight down the line

All you do to me is talk, talk
Talk, talk, talk, talk
All you do to me is talk, talk
Talk, talk, talk, talk
All you do to me is talk, talk

Co-written by the singer with his brother Ed Hollis (who managed bands but not theirs), “Talk Talk” was one of the angriest and most aggressive sounding synth pop hits from the period. It combined Harris’ insistent drumming and Webb’s propulsive bass with Brenner’s vibrant synths and a dramatic piano break. Hollis would sound calm and contemplative in the verses before getting angry in the choruses. The lyrics spoke to distrust and knowing that one is being manipulated in a relationship. It was an unusual song from an interesting band.

The Third Iteration

Hollis had originally recorded the tune as “Talk Talk Talk Talk” with his previous band The Reaction, and that version emerged on the 1977 punk compilation album Streets. Thus the American version of “Talk Talk” is the third iteration of that track, and it remains one of their most well-known songs.

There were two versions of the video. The first was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who had worked with Duran Duran and would later direct the movie Highlander. His clip featured the band performing in a white room lit to produce heavy shadows, intercut with shots of Hollis walking amid a cardboard city set, fully enshrouded dancers imitating airport runway traffic controllers, the band playing to an audience of people with their mouths taped shut, and the singer wandering amidst a room of partygoers in sunglasses.

The intriguing clip had a slightly unsettling vibe to it and the label rejected it, so Brian Grant was brought in to create a new clip featuring the foursome performing in an enclosed, circular metallic structure. Freeze frames on mouths and faces emphasized the angry nature of the words talk talk, and dramatic camera angles created a more immediately visceral reaction.

Still Fondly Remembered

Looking back at many of the reviews of the time, many British critics dismissed them as not being highly noteworthy, yet in fact they were. Talk Talk produced a lot of interesting singles throughout their career: “Such A Shame,” “Life’s What You Make It,” and “It’s My Life,” the latter which becoming a big hit for No Doubt in 2001.

“Talk Talk” became Talk Talk’s breakthrough single, and they would have other equally enticing ones that did well although not score as high on the UK charts as many of their British counterparts. But as we know, sales are not an indicator of artistic success. Hollis and Talk Talk were determined to make the music that they wanted to regardless of what media scrutiny they got, and their last two albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, were boldly experimental and uncommercial. But they also gave us catchy gems like “Talk Talk,” so more power to them. They are still fondly remembered to this day.

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