Album: Stop Making Sense
. . .
I’ve been dancing around it for a couple of weeks, but the time has come for me to express what is no doubt a controversial viewpoint. Which is part of two seemingly contradictory opinions. The first opinion is that by showing us how both the joy and artifice of live performance can lead to authenticity and transcendence — especially when your arsenal contains some of the greatest songs ever — Stop Making Sense is the greatest music concert film ever released.
That, of course, is not the controversial opinion, though I should point out that “music concert” is doing a lot of load bearing in that sentence, as I prefer both Richard Pryor: Live in Concert and The Kids Are Alright — both of which caught me earlier and hit me deeper — to Stop Making Sense.
The controversial — and seemingly contradictory — opinion is this: the accompanying LP soundtrack to Stop Making Sense is a colossal load of shit. Which seems impossible for any album that has “Psycho Killer,” “Life During Wartime,” “Take Me to The River” and “Once in a Lifetime,” I know. That soundtrack came out in 1984, of course, and I had some major issues with it: for one thing, it shared three songs with my beloved The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, for another, the performances on the album weren’t necessarily the performances in the film.
Both of which are fine, or at least fine-adjacent, but it was the third thing that turned me against Stop Making Sense: they truncated most of the songs, snipping between 60 & 90 seconds from two-thirds of the tracks. Nope. Nope. Nope. I’m assuming that this was in order to make it sound decent on a vinyl, because they didn’t do that for the cassette or (eventual) CD versions, but I didn’t buy pre-recorded cassettes and wouldn’t have a CD player until 1989. I mean, why not at least make it a double album? The worst that happens is that you then have two live albums that come out within a couple of years and people make Grateful Dead jokes.
Anyways, some 40 years later, and this has been long rectified. In 1999, they put out a version that nearly doubled the number of songs — but still not quite all of them — put them in the running order of the film and restored the songs to their proper lengths, and it was way way way better. BTW, this kind of fuckery is extended to the film: the VHS and Laserdisc versions had the entire concert, but the DVD and Blu-Ray stuck three songs into the “Bonus” section. And apparently, later this year, there will be a 40th anniversary version put out by Rhino and a theatrical re-release and everything is supposed to finally be there. Hell, it only took 40 years.
ANYWAYS, one of the best thing that the original Stop Making Sense did was reclaim three out the four best songs on Speaking in Tongues from the horrible vocal sound that record had. Most notable is “Slippery People,” which just kind of plodded on Speaking in Tongues, but has a real groove going on Stop Making Sense — Byrne’s rhythm guitar leading the charge — and really comes to full fruition on the choruses, which features a call-and-response between Byrne and backing vocalists Ednah Holt and Lynn Mabry:
What’s the matter with him? (He’s alright)
How do you know? (The Lord won’t mind)
No, no, no games (He’s alright)
Love from the bottom to the top
Turn like a wheel (He’s alright)
See for yourself (The Lord won’t mind)
We’re gonna move (Right now)
Turn like a wheel inside a wheel
There’s also a nice kickdrum-fueled breakdown featuring Steve Scales wailing on percussion while Byrne & Jerry Harrison funk it all up and Bernie Worell adds sound effects while David Byrne scats and, er speaks in tongues.
“Slippery People” is also notable for being one of the earlier (if you don’t count “Psycho Chicken”) Talking Heads covers: somehow, the Staple Singers latched onto it and had a minor hit with it in 1984, and Mavis Staples continued to perform it for quite some time, putting it on her 2019 live album.
And I can’t wait to see the most recent version of Stop Making Sense.
“Slippery People (Hollywood 12-1983)”
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