Formed in 1974 at the Rhode Island School of Design, the band first consisted of three members: David Byrne (vocals, guitar), Chris Frantz (drums), and Tina Weymouth (bass). Moving to New York the nascent Heads landed a gig opening for The Ramones at legendary club CBGB. In 1975-1976, they added one more member, Jerry Harrison (keyboards), formerly of Jonathan Richman's band The Modern Lovers. The group quickly drew a following and was signed to Sire Records in 1977. Their first album, Talking Heads '77 was released soon afterward. Combining a taut rhythm section with David Byrne's signature neurotic vocals, '77 was a potent slab of art-punk virtuosity that, despite poor sales, instantly endeared the band to the more experimental elements in New York's burgeoning punk scene.
The name 'Talking Heads', came from an issue of TV Guide that listed some words used in the television business. A 'talking head' is a shot of a newscaster from the shoulders up. 'All content, no action' seemed to fit the band's musical style and stage presence so the name stuck.
It was with their second album, 1978's More Songs About Buildings and Food that the band began its long-term collaboration with producer Brian Eno--first famous as a member of glam pioneers Roxy Music--who was nearly a fifth member of the band for the first part of their career. Eno's unusual style meshed well with the group's artistic sensibilities, and they gained the confidence to explore in a wide variety of musical directions. Though the first album's "Psycho Killer" had been a minor hit, it was this album's "Take Me to the River"--a cover of an Al Green song--that broke Talking Heads into public consciousness.
The experimentation continued with 1979's Fear of Music, featuring "Life During Wartime" and 1980's Remain in Light, both of which flirted with the darker stylings of post punk rock. The single from the latter, "Once in a Lifetime", failed to make an impression upon its release, but grew into a powerhouse over the next few years on the back of its music video. This was one of the first signs of the power music videos would exert during the 1980s.
After releasing four albums in barely four years, the group then spent nearly three more before releasing another. In the meantime they released a live album The Name of this Band is Talking Heads and parted ways with Brian Eno.
1983 saw the release of Speaking in Tongues, a commercial breakthrough that produced the band's first American Top 10 hit, "Burning Down the House". Once again, a striking video was inescapable during the song's run. The following tour was documented in arguably one of the best concert films of all time, Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense, which generated another live album of the same name.
Two more albums followed, 1985's Little Creatures and 1988's Naked. Both were poppier and more accessible, without discarding the group's characteristic quirky thoughtfulness. During that time, however, the group was falling more and more under David Byrne's sway, and after Naked the band went on so-called "hiatus". It took until 1991 for an official announcement to be made that Talking Heads had broken up.
A brief reunion occurred in 1992 for "Sax and Violins", an original single that appeared on the soundtrack to Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World. Frustrated by David Byrne's lack of interest in another album, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison also reunited without him for a one-off album called No Talking, Just Head under the name "The Heads" in 1996.
Byrne has gone on to become a "rock icon" in recent years (using Pete Townshend's definition of the term: "It means no-one buys your records any more"), while Harrison has become a producer of some note--his resumé includes the Fine Young Cannibals' The Raw and the Cooked, Live's Throwing Copper, and No Doubt's Return of Saturn. Frantz and Weymouth, who had been recording on the side as Tom Tom Club since 1981, scored a few minor hits under that name. In 2000-2001 they returned to the upper regions of the charts in the UK and North America as members of the dance/hip-hop collective Gorillaz.