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The lifelong impact Talking Heads had on Radiohead

The inspiration for the name of a band or an artist can come from anywhere. This can be a nickname from youth, a portmanteau of two completely different things, or even the location of where they happen to be born or live — just like the art of writing a song, choosing a name is a fluid one, not really confined by any boundaries.

However, as musicians are, by definition, music lovers, a large proportion of the time they choose a name, it comes from a song, be it a favourite or otherwise. The number of iconic bands that have selected their name having taken inspiration from a song is innumerable. Everyone ranging from The Rolling Stones to Bad Brains and even Judas Priest have all plucked their name from the material of an idol.

It makes sense, and if you go down to your local music venue on any night of the week to watch live music, you’re sure to find bands with names like ‘Live Forever’ and ‘Lithium’. For musicians, it’s an open goal opportunity to flex your personal admiration, paying homage to your heroes.

Another band that took this route was Radiohead. It may come as a surprise to discover that the world’s most unique rock band are not a fountain of complete originality. For anyone shocked, be sure to check out the similarities between their breakout hit ‘Creep’ and Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood’s 1972 hit ‘The Air That I Breathe’. Also, their first record, Pablo Honey, is in many ways just another 1990s alt-rock effort.

From their incarnation, Radiohead were initially working under the name ‘On a Friday’. One of the worst band names we’ve ever heard; there can be no surprise that they opted to drop it. The group chose their first moniker after the day of the week on which they rehearsed. However, when it came to signing a major record deal, Thom Yorke and the rest realised that the name, in fact, sucked. In the end, they were told by label reps that they had to ditch the moniker or not get signed. 

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Struggling to conjure up a name that suited their outfit, the band turned to the past for their lightbulb moment – and top marks if you guessed it correctly. The song is ‘Radio Head’ by New York icons Talking Heads. Taken from the band’s seventh album, 1986’s True Stories, the track is a funky and obscure number.

Talking Heads were one of the most experimental and pioneering groups of the 1970s and ’80s, and they had a major impact on forging the creative vision of Radiohead, among countless others. In their early days, Talking Heads were one of the biggest influences on the Oxford group, which begs the question: why have you never wondered why they deploy so many polyrhythms? It is also said that in their early days, the band then known as ‘On a Friday’, also employed a horn section in the effort to replicate David Byrne and Co. 

When forced to find a new name or lose everything, Radiohead turned to their trusty heroes. Given Radiohead’s penchant for the off-kilter and David Byrne’s wacky lyricism, for anyone looking for a band name, Talking Heads lyrics seem like a good place to start. A brilliant portmanteau, what a critical decision this was. 

Ironically, it was David Byrne who inducted the band into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. See that clip, below.