The Talking Heads and the Ramones are two bands which despite being stylistically very diverse grew up through the seedy streets of seventies New York to become international musical icons. Talking Heads were supporting the Ramones in 1977 when they paid homage to their contemporaries with a cover of their 1976 hit ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’.
In the summer of 1975, the Talking Heads were just a group of art students in New York City, trying to get some attention and trying to ‘make it’. Comprised of David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth (Jeff Harrison would join in ’76), they would go on to merge the sounds of funk, afro-beat and rock to create something utterly unique. But they had to start somewhere.
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 and it was all thanks to the ambivalence/arrogance of Johnny Ramone.
Chris Frantz spoke to the New York Post about the now-iconic first foray onto the stage. “Hilly [Kristal, owner of CBGB, asked Johnny [Ramone] if we could open for them, and Johnny said, ‘Sure, they’re gonna suck, so no problem,'”, Frantz continues, “There were very few people in the audience, maybe 10 altogether,” he adds. “Five came to see us and five came to see the Ramones.”
By 1977 the landscape for both artists had begun to change dramatically. The Ramones were being heralded as one of the pioneers of punk, an iconic moment in the musical history of America, with their self-titled debut record out and gaining attention at every turn. Meanwhile, Talking Heads were about to drop their self-titled debut LP and were beginning to form the basis of what would become known as ‘new wave’.
The two bands would take this seemingly budding romance of thrashing punk and funky guitars on a European tour, the Sire Records labelmates would spread the word pretty effectively too. But while the music was well-received the tour was fraught with a personality disconnect, in the words of Johnny Ramone: “the Heads just sat there reading.”
“In Europe, the Ramones were pretty disgusting to the Heads,” recalled Ramones manager Linda Stein. “The Heads were polite. The Ramones had no manners. They didn’t realize they had no manners. The Heads would be like, ‘We’re in Belgium, let’s have waffles.’ The Ramones would complain, ‘Where are the fuckin’ hamburgers?’ If the Heads said, ‘White,’ the Ramones would say, ‘Black.’ I was like the camp counsellor.” One can only imagine.
But before all that happened, Talking Heads were invited to perform a special gig at the Jabberwocky Club at Syracuse University. With the leg-up that the Ramones had provided The Heads, Byrne, Weymouth and Frantz (Harrison playing his first gig just a few days before but not yet officially unveiled as a member) decided to pay homage to the band and perform their 1976 hit ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ and you can listen to it below.
The audio is crackly at best but it does offer up a picture of the Talking Heads in their early days. They were acutely aware of their position as young upstarts, they were definitive with their sound, and their pathway to achieving it. But most importantly, they were polite. Listen to the Heads cover of Ramones below, and find the full set below that.