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David Byrne talks hit songs

Famed musician David Byrne is still riding the success of a career he once thought would be impossible to achieve.

"I had no hopes of being a musician," Byrne told 60 Minutes. "I thought, [that] those people have proper training. They can play way better than I can, I'll never catch up."

He did, grooving his way to enshrinement in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Talking Heads.

The group rose to fame in the 1970s in New York City's East Village and soon caught the attention of a young Anderson Cooper, who described the band as the soundtrack to his teenage years. The 60 Minutes correspondent profiled David Byrne for Sunday's episode where the Talking Heads front man revealed the stories behind some of the band's biggest hits including "Psycho Killer," which Byrne said was only the second song he'd ever written. 

"I think I tried to write one when I was in high school, and it was really bad," Byrne said. "'Psycho' Killer was a second attempt. It was inspired by Alice Cooper and Randy Newman. And I thought, 'What if those two got together and wrote a song about a serial killer?'" 

The band's art school background helped lead to a steady rotation on MTV, helping Talking Heads soar in popularity. 

"The fact that there was this visual outlet was real competition for the radio," Byrne told Cooper. "Because they would play things that the radio wasn't playing because somebody made a video. And they'd force the radio to start to play some of the songs."

Byrne recalled the song "Once in a Lifetime," a collaboration with Brian Eno, was one of the band's most played music videos on MTV.

"He [Brian Eno] had an idea for a project, and…rather than either of us being the vocalist, which would have been kind of competitive, we said, 'Let's all use found vocals,'" Byrne told Cooper. "And we had records of radio preachers, and radio exorcists [and] we said, 'We'll use that. We'll do the music and then put these voices on it as the vocals'... And so I was pretending to be one of those people."

In 1983, the Talking Heads cracked the Billboard Hot 100 with their only top 10 hit, "Burning Down the House." It remained on the charts for 20 weeks.

"This is a record where we improvised a lot of the music," Byrne told 60 Minutes. "And then I would kind of improvise vocalese, vocal nonsense syllables over the recorded music and go, 'Okay. Now I got to find words to this."

Byrne told Cooper the song came from a Parliament-Funkadelic show he saw where singer George Clinton and others were shouting the phrase to the audience. 

"It wasn't a song title," Byrne said. "It wasn't a lyric. They were just shouting it to the audience. And I thought, 'That's a song. That's a hook right there.'"

Talking Heads broke up in 1991 without an official announcement. Members of the band said they found out through an off-hand comment Byrne made to a reporter. 

"It is very possible that I did not handle it as best as I could," Byrne told Anderson Cooper.

The band last performed together at their 2002 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the time since, many have hoped for a reunion, including Cooper, who asked Byrne about it. 

"I realized after a while that I was very happy doing the kind of wide variety of things that I was doing and different kinds of music that I was doing," Byrne told 60 Minutes. "And I thought, 'Well, why should I trade in my happiness for some cash?'"

You can watch Anderson Cooper's 60 Minutes profile of David Byrne below.

The video at the top was originally published on March 5, 2023 and was produced by Keith Zubrow and edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.  

Photos and videos courtesy of Kinolibrary, Steam Motion and Sound, Rhino Entertainment, Oscilloscope Laboratories, "Artists For Humanity" & Getty Images.

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