It’s not unusual for bands to be formed by people who are in school together. A clue to what made Talking Heads so unique is where they went to school – the Rhode Island School of Design. They were as unique in their performance as in their sound.
Much of the credit for that has to go to lead singer David Byrne. The Talking Heads came along during the height of the music video, when prime rotation on MTV could make or break a song. The videos of the group’s “Once in a Lifetime” and “Burning Down the House” were hugely popular, largely on the basis of Byrne’s distinctive appearance and vocal phrasing.
The group’s lyrics also appealed to an audience that craved creativity. Here are a couple of examples. First, from “Life During Wartime”:
I got some groceries, some peanut butter
to last a couple of days
But I ain’t got no speakers
ain’t got no headphones
ain’t got no records to play
And from “Once in a Lifetime”:
You may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself
‘Well, how did I get here?’
Director Jonathan Demme filmed one of the band’s concerts, and released it as Stop Making Sense. It’s one of the most remarkable concert movies ever produced, building from a solo beginning with David Byrne singing “Psycho Killer”, one of the band’s signature songs, and increasing in complexity through the rest of the show.
For a band that had a limited number of chart singles, Talking Heads was a major part of the new wave music scene and still influence artists today. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Great American Things, August 31, 2009) in 2002. From Phish to Radiohead, the innovative music of Talking Heads continues to influence the music scene. But nothing is better than hearing – and seeing – them for yourself: