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Talking Heads Solo Projects: From David Byrne To Tom Tom Club
Gijsbert Hanekroot / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

Talking Heads Solo Projects: From David Byrne To Tom Tom Club

A mind-boggling array of Talking Heads solo projects takes in art-pop, hip-hop and Broadway shows. Here’s where to start.

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What is a Talking Head when it’s not a Talking Head? It’s fairly common for the lead singer of a band to have a successful solo career (take The Police’s Sting, Commodores’ Lionel Richie and No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani, for example), but you don’t often see all former members of a band scoring success with notable work of their own. As is often the case, however, Talking Heads are an exception to the rule. A run of compelling, inventive Talking Heads solo projects have seen frontman David Byrne, drummer Chris Frantz, bassist Tina Weymouth and keyboardist Jerry Harrison create their own legacies as individuals, on top of a career so great that, as a band, they collectively ended up in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

From wild collaborations to hip-hop landmarks, here’s a look at the essential Talking Heads solo projects.

David Byrne

Though Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison have all had solo stints, lead singer and guitarist David Byrne followed the trend of going from frontman to most successful solo artist outside of the band that made him famous.

Brian Eno collaborations

Even while still a member of Talking Heads, Byrne independently collaborated with Brian Eno – former Roxy Music art-saboteur, a pioneer of ambient music and sampling techniques, as well as producer of Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings And Food, Fear Of Music and Remain In Light albums. Byrne and Eno’s 1981 collaboration, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, was ranked by Pitchfork as the 21st best album of the 80s, though the pair took 27 years to follow it up. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today was released in 2008, after Eno gave Byrne some unfinished songs and asked him to write lyrics for them. Both albums display a desire for experimentation, the first fusing psychedelic rock with African rhythms and early sampling, the second combining electronic and gospel music.

Solo albums and further collaborations

David Byrne has been responsible for the vast majority of Talking Heads solo projects – seven albums and counting – mainly in the realm of art-pop with an occasional hint of Latin influence. Despite this, he clearly has an affinity for collaboration, as he has continued to work with other artists on joint projects. As well as teaming up with indie artist St Vincent for 2012’s Love This Giant, Byrne has appeared on songs with the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Arcade Fire and De La Soul. In 2010 he worked with Fatboy Slim to release a concept album, Here Lies Love, detailing the life story of Imelda Marcos, former First Lady of the Philippines. The album features vocals from Cyndi Lauper, Sia and Florence Welch, and was successful enough to be adapted into a stage musical.

Music for stage and screen

Byrne’s connection to theatre and other visual mediums doesn’t stop there, as he has been involved in writing music for a variety of productions. In 1981, he scored music for a ballet titled The Catherine Wheel, and has since been involved in soundtracks for theatre shows the CIVIL warS and The Forest; films The Last Emperor and Young Adam; and the TV drama Big Love. His 2018 studio album, American Utopia, was developed for Broadway in 2019, in a show that was hailed as a reinvention of live performances, thanks to its incorporation of unrestrained movement due to a lack of wires and static instruments. Not only has Byrne been involved in the musical side of productions, but he also wrote, directed and starred in the 1986 musical comedy film True Stories (though Talking Heads as a collective were responsible for the film’s soundtrack).

It’s possible to talk endlessly about David Byrne’s work since leaving Talking Heads; there’s no doubt he’s been busy. One of his most mainstream achievements, however, which deserves a mention, is his cameo in Season 14, Episode 18 of The Simpsons (Dude, Where’s My Ranch?), which finds Byrne helping Homer to record a song while sporting his signature oversized suit.

Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz

Though, strictly speaking, not a Talking Heads solo project, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz (who married in 1977) formed a group at Talking Heads’ peak which brought them even more success – and left a cultural impact in its wake.

Tom Tom Club

Founded by the couple in 1981, Tom Tom Club released their self-titled debut album that same year. The album’s lead single, Wordy Rappinghood, reached No.7 in the UK and No.1 on the US dance chart, performing better than any Talking Heads song. Tom Tom Club’s second single, Genius Of Love, didn’t chart quite as highly in the UK, but again topped the US dance chart, and is now far more recognisable thanks to the countless times it has been sampled in pop and hip-hop, ranging from Grandmaster Flash’s It’s Nasty to Mariah Carey’s Fantasy. The song’s opening lyrics (“What you gonna do when you get out of jail?/I’m gonna have some fun”) have also been incorporated into a number of rap songs, including 2Pac’s High Speed, Busta Rhymes’ One, Ice Cube’s Bop Gun and Snoop Dogg’s verse on Mack 10’s Only In California.

Production work

In addition to Tom Tom Club’s six albums, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth have produced albums for other renowned artists, among them two albums for Ziggy Marley And The Melody Makers, Conscious Party and One Bright Day, the latter of which won Best Reggae Album at the Grammys in 1990. Two years later, they produced Yes Please! for Happy Mondays, a controversial album that bankrupted the band’s label, Factory Records. Weymouth and Frantz are also credited on Gorillaz’s debut album, providing vocals and percussion on the track 19-2000.

Jerry Harrison

Perhaps the least likely Talking Heads solo star, keyboardist Jerry Harrison is unique in the fact that he found success before joining the group. Along with David Robinson of The Cars, Harrison was a member of The Modern Lovers from 1971 to 1974. Though a popular live band with a cult following, The Modern Lovers failed to record a debut album due to disagreements between members (an album was later compiled from the group’s first two demo sessions, and was released after the band had split).

Solo albums

Separate from Talking Heads, Harrison has released three solo albums, The Red And The Black (1981), Casual Gods (1988) and Walk On Water (1990). All three involve contributions from P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell, who was a frequent collaborator with Talking Heads.

Production work

When Talking Heads split, Harrison began his career as a producer, and has since worked on over 40 albums. His production credits include bands such as No Doubt, Violent Femmes, Crash Test Dummies and Live. Live’s Throwing Copper hit No.1 in four countries, including the US; No Doubt’s Return Of Saturn reached No.2 in the US; and Crash Test Dummies’ God Shuffled His Feet matched that in the UK.

Prior to the cancellation of many live music events in 2020, Harrison had been scheduled to go on tour in the summer, in order to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Talking Heads’ fourth album, Remain In Light. The shows, organised by the Brooklyn-based funk band Turkuaz, were also set to feature Talking Heads’ touring guitarist Adrian Belew, with performances at US festivals such as Bonnaroo and BottleRock.

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