On the road with the Talking Heads

Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense

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For those of you with long attention spans, you may remember that I discussed this album sometime back. Unfortunately, that post was one of the victims of the Boombox originally only being a page instead of its own full-fledged blog. This is one of my favorite rock albums of all time, so I thought it deserved revisiting.

This has been our summer in a car. We like road trips. A lot. But just this summer, we’ve been to St. Louis once and Michigan twice—two different areas, one trip involving nearly 2,000 miles in four days. And when we go back to St. Louis this weekend, it will be the third weekend in a row on the road. Whew.

If anything can help those miles go by, though, it’s music. Before any trip—often minutes before—we run around grabbing music we want to hear. This used to be cassettes. Now it’s CDs and playlists on iPods.

The music runs the gamut and then some. Jazz [from straightahead bebop to avant garde to the occasional big band and jump jazz]; classical and opera [the overture to Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries is quickly put into play when we pass big, billowing smokestacks just outside Springfield, Illinois, on our way to St. Louis]; occasional blues; a single track from an EP of rai music that Marion picked up in Paris [rai began in the early 1900s in Algeria as a combination of popular music and traditional Bedouin desert music, and in the early 1980s, transformed into a blend with modern pop sounds]; and a healthy dose of rock & roll.

This disk always makes the trip. For me, it is one of those desert island recordings: “If you could only take…” Yeah, I could listen to it that much. It is smart and dark, both in lyrics and sound, but it is also definitely music that gets you moving. The kind of music that naturally came from the art rock/punk rock/new wave vibe whose epicenter was New York’s legendary CBGB. And, of course, from the mind of front man David Byrne.

It also has the driving energy of a successful live recording. The album is the soundtrack to the concert film by the same title, a wonderful record of the band’s talent, eclectic yet cohesive style and sense of music as performance art. I’ve heard studio recordings of some of the songs on this disk, fine in their own right, but the live performances are electrifying. The nine tracks include Psycho Killer, Burning Down the House, Girlfriend is Better and Life During Wartime and probably the best cover of Al Green’s Take Me to the River you’ll ever hear. And wherever you are when you put this disk on—including in your car exceeding the speed limit on some interstate—I defy you to sit still while you listen.

A cautionary note. I don’t know how you feel about remixes. I pretty much uniformly despise them. A new remastered special edition of this disk came out in 1999, with seven additional songs. Greedy guy that I am, I bought it. Remastered also meant remixed, with dance/techno/etcetera beats and assorted DJ magic added. It sucked. I returned it. Get the original.

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