March 1988 and 2002: Two Endings for Talking Heads

Talking Heads at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2002
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They say March goes in like a lion and out like a lamb. That may well have been the case for Talking Heads, who released their final album in that month of 1988 - and only reunited once in the same month, 14 years later.

At the time the group released Naked on March 15, 1988, they were riding high off some of their strongest critical praise thanks to 1985's concert film Stop Making Sense and 1986's Byrne-directed True Stories, for which the group contributed an accompanying album.

With Naked, they greatly expanded their in-studio ensemble, convening in Paris with a host of supporting musicians, including Johnny Marr of The Smiths, Level 42 keyboardist Wally Badarou and a troupe of jazz musicians from around the world. The sessions were considerably looser, with instrumental jams stretching to their will. It wasn't until subsequent sessions in New York that frontman David Byrne added lyrics and vocal melody. Tracks like "Blind" and "(Nothing But) Flowers" tackled political and social unrest at the end of an uncertain decade, with nuclear paranoia and the fear of what could come next in full focus.

Read More: October 1980: Inside Talking Heads' Afro-Futurist Masterpiece "Remain in Light"

But the group used Naked to silently exit, a decision that seemed to surprise members of the band after Byrne made the announcement in 1991. "As far as we’re concerned, the band never really broke up," drummer Chris Frantz later told the Los Angeles Times. "David just decided to leave. We were never too pleased about the way [he] handled the situation." But all four members soldiered on: Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth revived their side project Tom Tom Club, guitarist Jerry Harrison produced hits for Fine Young Cannibals, Crash Test Dummies and Live; and Byrne recorded a variety of solo projects. (The members, sans Byrne, recruited a rotating cast of guest vocalists for an album project credited to The Heads. Byrne threatened to sue, though an out-of-court settlement was reached.)

Then, when the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 19, 2002, the members of Talking Heads surprised everyone by putting aside their differences and putting on a small set for attendees. Byrne, Weymouth, Frantz and Harrison were joined by touring/session members Bernie Worrell and percussionist Steve Scales for a gracious acceptance speech and three-song set, but Byrne kiboshed any future reunion plans. "Musically we're just miles apart," he said in 2005. "The only reason to get back together would be to do one of those 'sound like you used to sound' kind of tours. And who wants to do that? I've already sounded like that once."

Byrne seemed to finally come to terms with his musical legacy with American Utopia, a critically-praised stage show that combined new material with Talking Heads classics. But we'll always have the memories.

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