First off, if you haven’t seen the movie Stop Making Sense, you should go do that, right away. Directed by Jonathan Demme (who directed Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, as well as the new Neil Young concert film, Heart of Gold), the movie was created by filming three concerts from the Talking Heads’ 1983 tour promoting Speaking in Tongues. Opening with Dr. Strangelove-like credits and featuring a veritable folly of choreographed stage moves and extraordinarily talented back-up musicians, this movie encapsulates one of the best recorded live performances, ever (yeah, I said it). Using all digital audio techniques, Demme allows for unbelievable sound quality that fully captures both the band’s multifaceted sound and David Byrne’s legendary theatrical, wailing vocals. Watching this concert film, you can fully appreciate what it means to have seen the Talking Heads live, in their undefeatable creativity combined with their ho-hum clothing and demeanor. And yes, there is an oversized suit, and Byrne does wear it with a sexy combination of both confidence and satire. To be able to enjoy the quality of this film somewhat makes up for the fact that I couldn’t ever attend an actual Talking Heads concert. But I digress.
The soundtrack for the movie came out in 1984 with only nine songs – “Psycho Killer,” “Swamp,” “Slippery People,” “Burning Down the House,” “Girlfriend is Better,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “What Day That Was,” “Life During Wartime” and “Take Me to the River.” Unfortunately, while the movie itself was a vivid display of a truly excellent live performance, the original soundtrack came with a significant level of editing, underscoring anyone’s ability to fully appreciate the brilliance of the live recording. Sadly for the 1980s, a new version of the soundtrack with very few edits wasn’t re-released until 1999 – a version which included all of the songs from the original album, with the additions of “Heaven,” “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel,” “Found a Job,” “Making Flippy Floppy,” “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody),” “Genius of Love,” “Girlfriend is Better” and “Crosseyed and Painless.”
The album is everything that you want a live recording to be – faithful to the studio recording, but with enough candor to demonstrate the transparency of the band’s talents. The musicians that make up the Talking Heads can be appreciated individually on this soundtrack, as each layer that they create comes out one way or another in the pureness of the recording. Truthfully, while Byrne is still the star player in this lineup, the talent of each of the performers is fully understood, probably more so than in most other Talking Heads records. For example, Byrne’s famous vocals in “Once in a Lifetime” take a backseat to the thundering bass lines and percussion executed seamlessly by Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, and the stunning backup vocalists steal the show in such songs as “Heaven” and “Take Me to the River.”
Both the movie and the soundtrack of Stop Making Sense are exceptionally important in the overall appreciation of the Talking Heads because they stand as form of historical documentation. The band’s tour of Speaking in Tongues was indeed their last, and it was only a couple of years later that the band members officially parted ways. Therefore, the existence of Stop Making Sense means we can all still fully enjoy what it meant to attend a Talking Heads performance when they were at their peak of musical innovation, right before the fall into the dreaded “indefinite hiatus.” Seeing as Sleater-Kinney just announced what’s soon to be the end of their famous run, maybe someone should get them in touch with Jonathan Demme.
Similar albums/albums influenced:
The Beta Band – The Best of the Beta Band
Bruce Springsteen – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Live in New York City
Neil Young – Heart of Gold