We’ve featured a fair few early Talking Heads performances, from Dortmund and Rome in 1980 to Syracuse in 1978 all the way back to CBGB in 1975. But you haven’t really heard early Talking Heads until you’ve heard the earliest Talking Heads. The same year of that CBGB show (one of many they played after their debut there opening for the Ramones), the trio of David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth recorded a series of demos at CBS studios. Still unsigned and in their early twenties, this first configuration of the Heads (after the band, newly arrived in New York, shed their identity as “The Artistics” from their days together at the Rhode Island School of Design) laid down the very first known recorded versions of such notable tracks as “Psycho Killer” above, “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel” below, and “I’m Not in Love” below.
You can find a fuller playlist, which includes more songs from these CBS sessions like “I Wish You Wouldn’t Say That,” “Tentative Decisions,” and “Stay Hungry,” here. We often hear these songs described as the defining material of a pioneering “post-punk” band like Talking Heads, so the fact that all these tracks come from 1975 make them perhaps the first examples of the genre ever recorded. This way of playing slightly ahead of their time may actually have kept the group from finding a label to sign them until 1977, when Sire picked up the now-quartet (with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Jerry Harrison) and put out the immortal pair of LPs Talking Heads: 77 and More Songs About Buildings and Food. Yes, even though they’d recorded these demos at CBS studios, CBS Records passed up the chance to take them on. Surely they lived it down more quickly than did Decca Records after having rejected The Beatles, but still, nobody every stayed atop the zeitgeist by turning their back to the Talking Heads.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.