Watch Talking Heads make their CBGB debut in this rare footage from 1975
We’re diving back into the vault to pull out a genuine piece of musical history. The artist in question is Talking Heads, complete with the swashbuckling artistry of David Byrne, and the moment in time is December 6th 1975, as the band take to the grimy yet famous CBGB stage.
Looking back at a band’s contribution to music and the dizzy heights they hit, as we often do here at Far Out, can sometimes remove the artist’s struggle to reach those career peaks. It can be easy to see The Rolling Stones, for example, as the stadium-sell-out-outfit they are now, not the working men’s club scrubbers they were. The same can be said for David Byrne’s Talking Heads.
The band are well known, not only for their own incredible work—note that Stop Making Sense and Speaking in Tongues are up there with our favourite records of all time—but for the vast and wide-ranging musical influence on those who followed them. But, before all that they were a group of art students in New York City, trying to get some attention and trying to ‘make it’. Their first steps on to the stage at the legendary punk club CBGB would be a pivotal moment for the band and, in turn, the rest of the musical landscape.
The band started in 1974 when Chris Frantz and David Byrne left their previous band The Artistics. Frantz’s girlfriend, Tina Weymouth, would often help as the band went from gig to gig, playing roadie to Frantz’s ambitions. When the Artistics eventually disbanded Frantz convinced Weymouth to learn bass guitar so she could join him on his journey. The group allegedly decide on the name Talking Heads when flicking through the TV Guide and seeing the phrase which jumped out at them.
The trio, Jerry Harrison wouldn’t join until 1976, went about the New York scene, in the midst of the fiery beginnings of punk, and delivered a sound unlike any other. Inspired by the work of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Talking Heads were capable of writing music that was at once heavily artistic and subversive while maintaining a keen pop sensibility that would cut through the sweetness with an acidic glee.
Although the band wouldn’t really hit their stride until a few years later, in 1975, as they took to the stage at the infamous CBGB in support of punk upstarts the Ramones, there was a sense that this band were something unique, something different, something worth paying attention to. Their first few albums would remain as fan favourites but it wasn’t until they signed with Sire Records and released Remain in Lightin 1980 that they shot to stadium-sized stardom.
Seymour Stein of Sire Records describes seeing the performance at CBGB’s in ’75 and the power of Talking Heads at that time as part of the 2011 documentary Talking Heads: Chronology: “I was down there to see the Ramones who I’d just signed… I was standing out there with Lenny Kaye, the guitar player for the Patti Smith Group, and all of a sudden I hear music playing. I felt myself just moving more and more because I was inside the door, and I was riveted.”
In the footage below, one can sense this notion of immersion, of impressive domination of a hostile crowd, a band beginning to build. Byrne may not have yet finessed his jerking and jabbering performance style, but the band were laying the foundations for a skyscraper career. In this rare footage, we see Talking Heads before they became everyone’s favourite influence.
It’s incredible footage which begins, as any Talking Heads performance should, with the awe-inspiring flick of Weymouth’s undeniable bassline to ‘Psycho Killer’. It’s a magic moment in a majestic career.
Watch below as Talking Heads take to the stage at CBGB on December 6th, 1975