Talking Heads frontman David Byrne was 23 years old when he and his band took the stage for the first time at the legendary CBGB. It was June 20, 1975, and the Talking Heads – just one year old as a band – were opening for the Ramones. History tells us that there were about ten people in attendance. David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, and Chris Frantz had argued over their first year about band names, playing under various other titles. But when they settled on the Talking Heads, something clicked. And then, they stepped on the stage.
The first song to become a hit for the Talking Heads was the first song they wrote together, “Psycho Killer.” They performed it during this first show. You can see that they were still working out their sound, which later became more polished, in the video here:
Psycho Killer made the charts two years later, in 1977, when the band finally released the song as a single. According to the Rolling Stone, “Serial killer David Berkowitz (a.k.a. Son of Sam) terrorized New York that summer, and the track was eerily timely.”
Inspired by the East Village punk scene of the 1970’s, the Talking Heads pioneered the genre of new wave music by integrating elements of punk, art rock, funk, dance, pop and world music with art school sensibilities (they all went to the Rhode Island School of Design) and the David Byrne’s tension-filled stage persona.
The Talking Heads were four friends; David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, and Chris Franz began the band. The following year, in 1976, Jerry Harrison joined and they really got their groove. Soon after that, they signed a deal with Sire Records and put out three albums in quick succession. From there, the Talking Heads quickly rose to stardom.
David Byrne wrote songs in his loft on Seventh Street and Avenue A. Of the song “Life During Wartime,” Byrne said, “I was thinking about Baader-Meinhof. Patty Hearst. Tompkins Square. This a song about living in Alphabet City.”
Chris Franz is quoted saying: “We lived at 195 Chrystie St., 3¹/₂ blocks from CBGB. It was rough, man, it was rough. No hot water, no shower, the bathroom in the hall we had to share with all these sweaty guys. That first summer there, ’75, there was a heat wave… and also a garbage strike at the same time. So you could imagine what it was like. The kids would open the hydrants and you had streams of water going down the street with burning garbage floating on it.” Sounds magical!
In 1980, the band became one of the superstar bands with their fourth album, Remain in Light. From that point on, the band’s following outgrew small clubs like CBGB’s.
When the Talking Heads were unknown enough that they opened for the Ramones, CBGB had been operating for two years. The venue was opened in 1973 by Hilly Krystal as CBGB’s & OMFUG, which stood for “Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers.” The “Other Music” quickly outpaced the country, bluegrass, and blues, and CBGB became an influential incubator for underground groups in the punk rock scene. The venue remains an extraordinary icon of the East Village music scene. Headliners included the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, the Talking Heads, the Misfits, the Police, the Beastie Boys, Guns N’ Roses, and more.
You can read more about CBGB in past Off the Grid posts. The legendary venue closed and was replaced by a John Varvatos store in 2006.