Talking Heads, the now-iconic American rock band formed as part of the 1970s boom in New York City, are widely credited as being a pioneering force of the new wave music scene which erupted in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
While the band is now famed for its enigmatic frontman David Byrne, things could have easily taken a completely new direction if the founding member Chris Frantz had been successful in his mission to convince Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry to join the band.
In the ’70s, Frantz moved to New York City with his then-girlfriend—and future Talking Heads bandmate—Tina Weymouth. The pair lived in a beat up studio apartment with basic amenities: “We lived in a loft with no heat, no shower, no bathroom, no toilet. We would have to go to friends’ houses to take a shower,” Weymouth once explained in an interview with Vulture. “I think this is the saving grace of Talking Heads, that we were so broke and so poor,” she added.
Starting up the band, Weymouth and Frantz would regularly visit the famed New York City club CBGBs, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Patti Smith, The Ramones, Television and Blondie as the punk scene was birthed in that venue under the stewardship of its owner Hilly Kristal.
After practising on their music every day alongside their side jobs, Frantz eventually approached Kristal and explained the premise of their band and, after their meeting, asked for a shot at performing one evening at CBGBs. “Well, I could put you on with the Ramones,” Kristal answered and, subsequently, Talking Heads played their first gig as the support act for the Ramones on June 5, 1975.
After attracting some attention following their live debut at CBGB, Kristal threw a spanner in the works and offered some advice on how Talking Heads could progress: “So Hilly was wonderful in saying: ‘You have to change up your songs’,” Weymouth once explained. Taking the suggestion in his own special way, Frantz decided it was time for drastic action and considered changing up the band’s line-up.
Weymouth continued: “Eventually that led Chris to looking for other people. One person he asked to be our singer was Debbie Harry.”
Explaining further: “She said, ‘Well, I already have a band, but you can buy me a drink’,” in typically Debbie Harry style.
Harry’s polite rejection allowed the band to focus on their music and, having formed a relationship with CBGB and The Ramones, went on to perform at the venue regularly before getting their first major break two years later with a major European tour as support of Ramones’ headline a sold out tour.
While we might have been rejected the opportunity to hear a Debbie Harry and Talking Heads collaboration, that dream was eventually realised when Frantz and Weymouth recruited her to sing on their 1996 record ‘No Talking, Just Head’ after Byrne had left the band.