The band members:
David BYRNE vocals and guitar
Chris FRANTZ drums and vocals
Tina WEYMOUTH bass and vocals
Jerry HARRISON guitar, keyboards and vocals.
The band was founded in 1975 and
played its first concert at the CBGB
club in New York City. The CBGB´s, as it is also known, was the focus of a seminal music
scene that had started in 1973 when Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine moved to New York to
So there could not have been a better place for three art school graduates (Byrne, Frantz, Weymouth at that time, Harrison was yet to augment the three-piece) to start a band. They established themselves quickly and by 1977 released their first LP.
More Songs about Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, Speaking in Tongues, Remain in Light followed and by 1984 they had gained the status of a cult band. This was the year that saw the release of Stop Making Sense: a live album and a concert film.
In fact there are more works of art bearing the title Stop Making Sense differing in some respects: the original live album was released as a limited edition that included a twenty-page booklet with colour and black&white photographs of the show and cryptic, pseudo-philosophical statements by David Byrne (which sometimes do make sense, sometimes do not) and featured nine songs from the film. The regular album later on did not have the booklet enclosed. The cassette and the CD edition had extended versions of four songs and an extended and remixed version of ´Slippery People´. Finally the Talking Heads´ record company EMI re-released Stop Making Sense not only on vinyl (without any inner-sleeve artwork that was originally included, let alone the lavish booklet) but also on CD, which was labelled ´Special New Edition. Contains all the songs from the classic movie + seven previously unreleased live tracks.´ True, this edition contained all the songs from the movie (digitally remastered), but it did not feature any additional tracks as suggested by the record company, but anyway...
To confuse things even further, there are two versions of Stop Making Sense ´the concert film´: one 86-minute movie version (the classic one) with the tracklisting which the ´Special New Edition´ is based on, and one version that was released on video only, that ran for 99 minutes (´Cities´, ´Big Business´ and ´I Zimbra´ were added). When the record was re-released in 1999, the film was shown at selected theatres, featuring the digitally remastered songs: does that make it yet another version? The film was also released on DVD, also featuring featuring ´Cities´, ´Big Business´, and ´I Zimbra´, plus lots of other anniversary stuff (interviews, different mixes...).
The irony of it all comes in when you read through the film and album credits:
Stop Making Sense is ´a film by Jonathan Demme and Talking Heads´; it was conceived for the stage by David Byrne, who was also involved in supervising the re-recording. He co-operated with Beverly Emmons in designing the lighting for the stage. Furthermore he designed and wrote the booklet, in which also Byrne´s drawings from the stage production storyboards were included. Talking Heads produced the album.
Judging from all this, the extent of the band´s (Byrne´s) artistic control over the whole project must have been enormous. So whose fault is it that we have now up to eight versions of Stop Making Sense, all formats included? Is it a fault at all or done deliberately by the artists involved? Is it just the way the record industry works: repackage, re-issue - the collectors will buy it all...?
What else is strange about Stop Making Sense?
What about the myth that it is a ´live album´? Per definitionem, a live album consists of music performed in front of an audience, maybe even the whole concert documented that way. It is no secret that this is very rarely the case as techniques like re-recording or over-dubbing are used to enhance sound-quality or to ´polish´ the performance. Concerning Stop Making Sense, it obvious that it is no studio LP as such. It is the soundtrack to a film. A film that shows the performance of a band. A live show. How come it is no live album then? There are various details to explore to get an answer concerning the status, as it were, of Stop Making Sense the film and the album. If you watch the film, minding its conceptuality (choreography, lighting, stage, etc.), you get the impression that what you are offered is a complete live show from beginning to end. Let us have a closer look at what this last statement, ´a complete live show´ demands from Stop Making Sense:
First, that it is somehow expected that it is one show, which is not the case. It contains footage from three concerts, in fact, that are very well edited. Second, it is not a ´complete´ show in the sense that all the songs included in the concerts also made it onto the album or into the film: the video version contains songs that can be found neither on the album nor in the film, but which were obviously part of the set performed on stage. Third, it is expected that when it is live music, what you can actually hear on record is the music that the live audience at the time also heard. But the music of Stop Making Sense was re-recorded and remixed and is as much a studio album as a live album.
If you want to choose an easy way out and just call it a ´soundtrack´ album, you still have to live with the fact that originally, the tracklisting of the album and the movie were, for no obvious reason, considerably different (nine and sixteen songs respectively), which made the album something like the distant cousin of the movie instead of its sibling.
Connection to The Band´s The Last Waltz
Interviewer: It seems it's like a logical progression on from The Band's movie The Last Waltz except without all the annoying little interview bits. Was it intended to be like that as a progression of that movie, or did you consciously think about that movie when you were coming up with the idea for this one?
David Byrne: It was impossible to ignore that movie. It was a kind of milestone in performance films, and I did meet with Robbie Robertson from The Band a couple of times before doing Stop Making Sense. We just talked about films and whatnot.