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, a look back at the kind of night that everyone claims to have been at. 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 and not yet iconic 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 and highs, those notable performances or seminal album releases. 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 for a time. 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, let alone out of New York—but for the vast and wide-ranging musical influence on those who followed them. Before they became icons we know now, they were just a group of art students in New York City trying to get some attention and trying to ‘make it’.
Some of their first steps on to the stage were carefully placed one in front of the other at the legendary punk club CBGB. It would be a pivotal moment for the band and, in turn, the rest of the musical landscape.
The band had started in 1974 when Chris Frantz and David Byrne left their previous art-rock incarnation The Artistics. Frantz’s girlfriend, Tina Weymouth, would often help as the band went from gig to gig, playing roadie to Frantz’s ambitions of musical stardom.
When The Artistics eventually disbanded Frantz convinced Weymouth to learn bass guitar so she could join him on his journey and bring along David Byrne for the ride. The group allegedly decided on the name Talking Heads when flicking through the TV Guide and seeing the phrase, the eye-grabbing construction had Byrne hooked from the beginning.
The trio—Jerry Harrison wouldn’t join and, in many ways, complete the band until 1976—went about the New York scene, in the midst of the fiery beginnings of punk, and delivered a sound unlike any other artist around. 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 acidic artistry.
Although the band wouldn’t really hit their stride until a few years later in the decade, 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, at the very least, Talking Heads had 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 Light in 1980 that they shot to stadium-sized stardom.
Seymour Stein of Sire Records describes seeing the performance at CBGB’s back in 1975 as part of the 2011 documentary Talking Heads: Chronology: “I was down there to see the Ramones who I’d just signed,” he said. “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 usually hostile crowd, that this band were beginning to build something. Byrne may not have yet finessed his iconic 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 an incredible clip 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.