80s Odyssey: Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads

As I mentioned last week in my rambling post about my history with being a big-time fan of music, I wrote 80s music off almost entirely in my formative years with the exception of my favorite bands who happened to release their first albums in the latter part of that decade like Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Well, clearly that was a shortsighted approach to the world of music and, as a result, there’s a lot of music from the 80s that I mostly missed out on, so I’m trying to make up for that now with 80s Odyssey. There’s a lot to explore from New Wave to Hair Metal and, of course, the early days of hip hop, but I seem to be drawn towards the more pop and somewhat experimental bands of the time. I’ve picked up a few Genesis records with both Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel on vocals, Collins’ No Jacket Required, a Police record or two and a few others, but the one that I can’t stop listening to is Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, which I think I got at a flea market this summer. For the record, yeah, I know Talking Heads started out in the mid 70s, but I’m considering them an 80s band anyway.

I say “I think” because I bought roughly a metric butt-ton of used CDs this summer for no more than $3 apiece and honestly lost track of what I’d gotten. I’d put a stack of CDs in my car to drop off at our storage unit, but before I did, I needed something to listen to and stumbled across Stop Making Sense, popped it in and have been listening to it ever sense. I didn’t realize when I bought the CD that it’s the disc that goes along with the Brian Demme-directed concert video of the same name, I was just excited that it had so many songs I recognized like “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down The House” and “Take Me To The Water.” Now, this isn’t my first foray into the world of Talking Heads. I actually bought the second disc of their two disc greatest hits set called Sand in the Vaseline, but I didn’t listen to it much and didn’t really give it much of a chance.

One of my preconceived notions about New Wave and a lot of 80s music in general is that’s it’s too computerized and soulless. Obviously, that’s not the case for everything, but it’s something that still rattles around in my brain. What surprised me about this record is that, even while using synthesized drums and other production elements on stage, there’s still a soul to the drums and bass lines, which reminded me that anything and everything can be used by excellent musicians to make really interesting music. Speaking of interesting, it’s the perfect work to describe Byrne’s approach to vocals. He kind of sounds like that kid in school who always used a funny voice, no matter what, but while that kid came off as annoying, Byrne really adds character to the folks he’s singing about.

I was also surprised at how poppy the record sounds. Even knowing the singles, I went in expecting a more serious record for some reason. I guess I’ve always thought of Byrne as ultra serious (I have no idea why, it’s just a preconceived notion I had), but after listening to the record, I got a better sense of his humor and unconventional look at life. So, the real question is, where do I go from here? What other Talking Heads records are required listening (my buddy Jesse said not to go beyond this point)?

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