The Talking Heads’ First TV Appearance Was on American Bandstand, and It Was a Little Awkward (1979)

“I guess he’s…organically shy.”–Tina Wey­mouth

As Talk­ing Heads went from CBG­Bs (see some vin­tage video) to col­lege radio to a Euro­pean tour open­ing for The Ramones in 1977, the band was slow­ly mak­ing its way out of New York City pover­ty while their art school rock was seep­ing into Amer­i­can cul­ture at large. When “Take Me To the Riv­er,” their airy, ner­vous but still funky Eno-pro­duced cov­er of the Al Green song became their first Bill­board Top 30 hit, the band took a step towards nation­al recog­ni­tion.

And that leads us to this awk­ward March 17, 1979 appear­ance of the band on ABC’s Amer­i­can Band­stand, their first on Amer­i­can TV. Long­time host Dick Clark was pret­ty square–rock crit­ic Nik Cohn described him as “a disc jock­ey who looked like an all-Amer­i­can choirboy”–but Amer­i­can Band­stand was a prime oppor­tu­ni­ty. In 1979, the New Wave and Post-Punk scenes were rag­ing at the show’s doors. Talk­ing Heads were one of the few acts that year from NYC’s cre­ative caul­dron of a music scene, apart from Blondie and Grace Jones, to make it onto Band­stand.

In the above clip, Clark apol­o­gizes for get­ting Tina Weymouth’s name wrong, then jumps in to inter­view David Byrne, who responds to Clark’s ques­tions by shut­ting them down with embar­rassed looks and mat­ter-of-fact answers. Clark then turns back to Tina for some psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic help. “Is he always this enthu­si­as­tic?” he asks. It crum­bles from there.
Wey­mouth remem­bered it slight­ly dif­fer­ent­ly in this recent (2014) inter­view in New York Mag­a­zine:

I couldn’t explain to the record-label peo­ple why David’s behav­ior could be so incred­i­bly odd. He had a freak-out on our first tele­vi­sion appear­ance, on Dick Clark, on Amer­i­can Band­stand. David sort of froze, and Dick Clark sort of whirled around, and hands the micro­phone to me. And there were oth­er things going on, too. I don’t think any per­son is one thing, or defined by a con­di­tion that they might have.

It’s not exact­ly freez­ing, but it is odd…for rock front­men. And ask­ing Byrne “Do you flog your­self into this?” tells you a bit more about Clark’s state of mind than any­thing else.

You can see the mimed per­for­mance of their hit here:

The oth­er song they per­formed on the broad­cast “Thank You for Send­ing Me an Angel” has not popped up on YouTube…yet.

Part­ing note: The oth­er guest that night on Band­stand was twee, blue-eyed dis­co act Brook­lyn Dreams with their sin­gle Make It Last.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear the Ear­li­est Known Talk­ing Heads Record­ings (1975)

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

Jim Jarmusch’s Anti-MTV Music Videos for Talk­ing Heads, Neil Young, Tom Waits & Big Audio Dyna­mite

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

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (8)
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  • Chuck Pirtle says:

    This was not their first Amer­i­can TV appear­ance. They were on Sat­ur­day Night Live on Feb. 10, 1979, five weeks before this.‑i=197902100.html

  • Steve says:

    I think I must be miss­ing some­thing.

  • Helen Waldron says:

    Was this real­ly their first tv appear­ance? So late? Maybe it was their first live US tv appear­ance. I remem­ber see­ing them on British tv when I was a school­girl (play­ing Psy­chokiller). I’d left home by 1979 and had no access to a tele­vion set, so could­n’t have mixed the dates.

  • Jason says:

    Talk­ing Heads appeared (play­ing live) on the UK’s Old Grey Whis­tle test in 1978.

    Here’s Psy­cho Killer .…

  • Neil Bradley says:

    Psy­cho Killer!!!!!
    Fa fa fa fah
    Fa fa fa fa fa fahnks Jason.….

  • marcos says:

    So true about David Byrne being organ­i­cal­ly shy.

    In 1982 the Talk­ing Heads were play­ing a show in Dal­las, at the Bron­co Bowl. Sev­er­al of us Heads Heads hung out at the stage entry door in the after­noon hop­ing to catch a glimpse of them. We got more than that. Chris, Jer­ry and a very preg­nant Tina came in with their instru­ments and stayed at the back door for like half an hour chat­ting with us.

    Towards the end of our audi­ence with the three, a David Byrne who was try­ing very hard not to be seen slunk in, ignor­ing us. Sev­er­al of us told him how much we enjoyed their music, he mur­mured a thanks and dis­ap­peared inside.

  • GuyManDood says:

    Not “mimed” at all — about as live as you can get, and not usu­al­ly the way bands played when they were on Amer­i­can Band­stand. Almost always lip-sync­ing to the record­ing.

  • Rho says:

    The video of the song is not from the inter­view video appear­ance.

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