Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense

Today (October 15th) marks the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Stop Making Sense, the live album from Talking Heads. It served as a soundtrack to the concert film of the same name that was released in theatres in April of 1984. It spent one-hundred and eighteen weeks on the US Billboard Album chart, peaking at number 41. It also went to number 33 in Canada, number 26 in Sweden, number 24 in the UK, number 13 in Switzerland, number 12 in Austria, and number 2 in the Netherlands and New Zealand.

The original vinyl version only included nine tracks from the show. The 1999 special edition CD version included all sixteen tracks from the concert in their original appearance order from the film. For today’s review, I am going to focus as always on the vinyl.

Side one starts with “Psycho Killer”, which first appeared on the band’s debut album Talking Heads: 77. This version features a killer acoustic guitar and some very funky percussion breaks.

“Swamp” is the first of a quartet of tracks from 1983’s Speaking in Tongues. It is then followed by “Slippery People”, the hit smash “Burning Down the House”, and “Girlfriend Is Better”. It is not surprising for this record to get so much representation here since the concert film was part of the tour that supported the 1983 release; even the title comes from the lyrics of “Girlfriend Is Better”.

The live single for “Slippery People” went to number 68 in the UK and number 4 in the Netherlands. The live single for “Girlfriend Is Better” went to number 99 in the UK, number 59 in Australia, and number 21 in New Zealand.

Side two opens with “Once in a Lifetime” from 1981’s Remain in Light.

“What a Day That Was” appeared on David Byrne’s solo project The Catherine Wheel from 1981. He scored the music for Twyla Tharp’s dance troupe.

“Life During Wartime” first appeared on the 1979 album Fear of Music.

The album closes with the Al Green hit “Take Me to the River”, which the band covered on their 1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food.

Rolling Stone magazine ranked Stop Making Sense at number 345 on its 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Nine years later, Slant Magazine listed it at number 61 of its list of the Best Albums of the 1980’s.

This is one of those record when I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard it in its entirety.

It was a Saturday afternoon in January of 1985 when the winter snows were just starting to melt. Our college’s Student Orientation Service was holding its annual cabin party. Basically, we got a bunch of food and games and music, and we rented a nearby cabin at a local natural park to throw a party. It was one of the activities designed for us all to get to know one another better, to team build for the summer and fall orientation programs to come.

So, while some people were playing volleyball and football in the slush and mud, I hung out inside with many of the ladies for cards and talking. Eventually, the music was turned up on the boom box, and we all started dancing. There was a variety of stuff played (some Motown, some disco, some current dance stuff). I remember Doreen and Carrie teaching us all some line dance steps.

One of the albums that got played through was Stop Making Sense. I particularly bonded over the record dancing with a certain girl (Dina) who I became totally smitten with that day. I remember buying the cassette of the album within the coming week and used that as a talking point with her the next time I saw her on campus. We eventually dated for a few months after that, spending a number of nights listening to the tape. In a lot of ways, these versions of the songs were the ones I knew the best.

For my other Talking Heads album reviews, click here.

1 comment:

Mark said...

If this isn't on a top ten list of greatest live albums, it should certainly be in the discussion

In any case, to my way of thinking, there's not a better concert film out there.

More of my thoughts on this fantastic album: