35 Years Ago: Talking Heads’ Evolution Displayed on ‘The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads’
In 1982, there were rumors that Talking Heads were splitting up. The New York art-rockers had put out four records of increasing complexity and growth, before the quartet had taken a break to work on some other projects.
In 1981, frontman David Byrne released the experimental My Life in the Bush of Ghosts with Brian Eno and scored Twyla Tharp’s ballet, The Catherine Wheel. The same year saw multi-instrumentalist Jerry Harrison’s solo debut, The Red and the Black, as well as the first release from the Tom Tom Club, a dance rock outfit formed by the Heads’ married rhythm section: Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz.
With no new Talking Heads music on the horizon, Sire Records made a move to the age-old, record industry stopgap – the live album. But this release wouldn’t be just any concert album. The two-record set would chronicle the group’s growth, from nervy art-punks in 1977 to more confident, Afrobeat-inspired experimenters and serve as a summation of Talking Heads’ career to date. “I’m more assured of myself [on stage], but I still let myself go,” Byrne claimed in a 1982 interview, in which he discussed his evolution as a performer. “Sometimes I think I’m being expressive or I think I’m getting into it, or I think I’m dancing and somebody else says later, ‘It looked like you got plugged in.’ … The performer can really be going haywire, and yet, at the same time, they know it’s just a stage show.”
Listen to "Pulled Up"
The two-disc set, titled The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, would show Byrne and the band’s growth in terms of performance, music and even the group’s lineup. The first disc, recorded at shows in 1977 and 1979 and focusing on Talking Heads’ first two studio albums, features only the core foursome. But the second installment, captured in 1980 and 1981, spotlights supplemental players, including keyboardist Bernie Worrell, backing vocalists Nona Hendrix and Dolette McDonald, percussionists Steve Scales and Jose Rossy, bassist/guitarist Busta “Cherry” Jones and guitarist Adrian Belew.
In the course of two slabs of vinyl, fans got to hear some rarities, including the single-only “Love → Building on Fire” and the unreleased “A Clean Break.” Otherwise, they journeyed from the Spartan days of “Pulled Up” and “Psycho Killer” to the radically rhythmic era of “The Great Curve” and the staccato funk of “Take Me to the River.” Belew was in the unique position of having seen the group’s early shows before witnessing the progression as a collaborator.
“The first time I saw David in 1977, Talking Heads was an unbelievably raw band,” Belew recalled. “It was unusual to see the way he was wrestling with feedback and things that were a little out of his control. But he was going for ’em.”
Listen to "The Great Curve"
In addition to serving as a sort of “best of” collection, this live release attempted to put an end to the band being called THE Talking Heads, via the 17-track collection’s title (18 on cassette, to which “Cities” was added). It also mirrored Byrne’s direct approach to stage banter. For instance, he introduces the live album’s first track by saying, “The name of this song is ‘New Feeling.’ That’s what it’s about.”
Sire released The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads on March 24, 1982, effectively bridging the gap between 1980’s Remain in Light and 1983’s Speaking in Tongues, which would earn the bang even greater fame. For years, the live set was overshadowed, or even supplanted, by another live album. Stop Making Sense was released in 1984 with the Jonathan Demme film of the same name, and became the more high-profile Talking Heads live album. It helped that Stop Making Sense went double-platinum and that The Name of This Band… was unavailable on CD until the ’00s.
But Talking Heads’ first live album got to have its resurgence in 2004, when Rhino re-released the live set in an expanded edition that upped the track list to 33 songs (some repeated) by way of other recordings made pre-1982. With Talking Heads’ firmly enshrined as one of the great post-punk acts, the re-issue earned rave reviews. And, decades later, perhaps This Name of This Band… has regained its role as the group’s most important live release.
Talking Heads Albums Released in Order of Awesomeness