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Talking Heads: psycho killers who stopped making sense

Despite their success, Talking Heads made a career out of never really fitting in. With no discernable image or direction apart from a desire to stand out, they emerged at the dawn of US punk that centered around New York’s home to the unloved and the odd bands that often couldn’t get a gig anywhere else – CBGBs. With a sound that was defiantly clean, streamlined and deceptively simple, their “look” was also almost anonymous: short, neat hair and tidy, sensible clothes – very much at odds with the times and one of several influences more than a few Manchester bands would also embrace a few years later. In many ways, they were the template for English post-punk.

Playing their first gig as a support at the venue in 1975, the trio performed songs about French-speaking “Psycho Killers” and people who were “Artists Only”, while headliners, the more direct Ramones, preferred to “Beat on The Brat” and “Sniff Some Glue”: never mind, there and then the uneasy alliance between the brittle, reductive Heads and the emerging rough and tumble of the new wave was born. The bands even toured Europe together in April 1977, which certainly must’ve confused many a proto punk looking for inspiration.

Over the period of 1977-1983 they released five ground-breaking, experimental albums with the only real constant being singer David Byrne’s bleating vocals, abstract lyrics and the band’s growing willingness to experiment with sounds and rhythms. Along the way they somehow sold millions of records, while thanks to the success of their 1984 concert film Byrne also became universally known as the The Man In The Big Suit; a fitting metaphor for a band that didn’t really fit either. They played the game their way from the very beginning, with an admirable non-conformity apparent in just about everything they did from sound to lyrics to image to videos – and won.

To listen to episode 11 of Mark's podcast  'Known Pleasures' featuring Talking Heads go to:


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