The Talking Heads Play CBGB, the New York Club That Shaped Their Sound (1975)

High on the list of his­tor­i­cal peri­ods I regret hav­ing missed, I would place Man­hat­tan’s Low­er East Side in the sev­en­ties. Despite being some­thing less than a shin­ing time for major cities, espe­cial­ly Amer­i­can major cities, and espe­cial­ly New York City, that era’s seem­ing­ly hol­lowed-out down­towns offered cra­dles to many a cul­tur­al move­ment. David Byrne’s band the Talk­ing Heads count as a major one unto them­selves. Gen­er­a­tion X author Dou­glas Cou­p­land mem­o­rably asked only one ques­tion to deter­mine whether one belongs to that par­tic­u­lar cohort: do you like the Talk­ing Heads? In an entire book he wrote about the band’s 1979 album Fear of Music, nov­el­ist Jonatham Lethem remem­bers this of his own enthu­si­asm: “At the peak, in 1980 or 81, my iden­ti­fi­ca­tion was so com­plete that I might have wished to wear the album Fear of Music in place of my head so as to be more clear­ly seen by those around me.”

Talk­ing about the ori­gin of the Talk­ing Heads, we must talk about CBGB, the Bow­ery night­club that host­ed for­ma­tive shows for such punk, new wave, and cul­tur­al­ly prox­i­mate but dif­fi­cult to cat­e­go­rize acts like Tele­vi­sion, the Cramps, Blondie, the Pat­ti Smith Group, and the B‑52s. Byrne and com­pa­ny began play­ing there in the mid-sev­en­ties, and would even­tu­al­ly drop the place’s name in the track “Life Dur­ing Wartime.” (“This ain’t no Mudd Club or CBGB…”) At the top of this post, you’ll see their 1975 per­for­mance of “Psy­cho Killer” at CBGB, along with “Ten­ta­tive Deci­sions” and “With Our Love.” Though CBGB shut down in 2006, its essence lives on in the influ­en­tial music it shaped. “It is the venue that makes the music scene hap­pen just as much as the cre­ativ­i­ty of the musi­cians,” wrote Byrne him­self in CBGB and OMFUG: Thir­ty Years from the Home of Under­ground Rock. “There is con­tin­u­al­ly and for­ev­er a pool of tal­ent, ener­gy, and expres­sion wait­ing to be tapped—it sim­ply needs the right place in which to express itself.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Live in Rome, 1980: The Talk­ing Heads Con­cert Film You Haven’t Seen

Talk­ing Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” Per­formed on Tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese Instru­ments

David Byrne: How Archi­tec­ture Helped Music Evolve

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (6)
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  • Love the piece. But they are not *the* Talk­ing Heads. They’re Talk­ing Heads.

  • I was there at CBGB, to see the Ramones, and have the roll of film show­ing the Talk­ing Heads, before Jer­ry joined the band, open for Joey, Dee Dee, John­ny and Tom­my. As David Byrne is quot­ed above, “There is con­tin­u­al­ly and for­ev­er a pool of tal­ent, ener­gy, and expres­sion wait­ing to be tapped — it sim­ply needs the right place in which to express itself.”

    I felt it every night I spent at CBGB from 1975 thru 1979. Orig­i­nal music was the only rule at CBGB… Thanks to the vision of Hilly Kristal.

  • Ben Klein says:

    The NYC clubs have fea­tured some of the great­est under­ground and indie bands who influ­enced oth­er great artists. Incred­i­ble vibe going on in the city.

  • Pat Ivers says:

    Hi! I’m Pat Ivers. In 1975,we shot this Talk­ing Heads show dur­ing the Unrecord­ed Band Fes­ti­val at CBG­Bs- we,being Metrop­o­lis Video,( a video col­lec­tive of sev­en friends, who shot shows at CBs off and on for about a year. After our col­lec­tive dis­olved, I con­tin­ued to doc­u­ment the scene for years with Emi­ly Arm­strong. You can fol­low the sto­ry of the restora­tion of our video archive with our blog in the NYT at the East Vil­lage Local or go to and click on the blog but­ton for more incred­i­ble video. You are right, it was an amaz­ing time.

  • Jimmy says:

    Saw the Talk­ing Heads at the Long­horn Bar in Mpls. In late ’77… One of the most elec­tri­fy­ing ‚inspir­ing shows I ever saw, and I saw a lot!

  • Dan Cass says:

    First gig i went to. Saw them in Mel­bourne when I was about 12 in 1983 I think. Won­der­ful, exhil­a­rat­ing, chal­leng­ing, unfor­get­table.

    I relate to the idea of iden­ti­fy­ing a sub-cul­ture or gen­er­a­tion by them.

    Also Tom Tom Club were under­rat­ed, IMHO.

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