Category Archives: Soundtracks

STOP MAKING SENSE REVISITED

sms albumAbout one month ago I saw David Byrne perform an inspired show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in tribute to the Nigerian musician William Onyeabor. Byrne was lithe and charismatic and he was in great voice. I raved about that performance and described how it reminded me of the 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense. You can read that post here.

Last night I returned to BAM to see a screening of Stop Making Sense. The screening was hosted by the great radio journalist Brian Lehrer who decided to honor the 30th anniversary of the film with the screening and a Q&A with the film’s director Jonathan Demme. Seems like I’m not the only person who has decided to celebrate the musical accomplishments of the great (greatest) year of pop music.

The screening was much more powerful and much more emotional than I could have imagined. In fact I welled up with emotions three times during the screening. I was actually caught off guard by a lump in my throat and additional moisture in my eyes. Three times. Trust me – it’s a rare experience for this to happen once – but it happened.

The first time: The audience broke into sincere, enthusiastic applause after the 5th song in the film (“Slippery People”). Usually I’d be very judgmental and accuse the audience of forcing a display of emotion they wanted others to believe they were feeling. But I was caught up in the brilliance of the film as well and found myself tapping my foot, bobbing my head and applauding after every song. And in the dimmed theater I could hear and feel 100’s of others joining me. It was Pauline Kael’s description of the film as, “an austere orgy,” come to fruition.

tmbtp2The Second Time: During every single second of “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”. This might be the most beautiful love song ( it is a love song, isn’t it?) written by a rock band. And the song is elevated by the performance in the film. The image of the male/female, black/white band on stage, in literal harmony, brought on a surprising burst of joy. And who doesn’t love a lamp dance?

Third Time: Somewhere in the middle of “Girlfriend is Better”.  At some point I just thought how lucky everyone in that theater was. This ecstatic performance of an amazing song played by a great band at their peak was captured on film. And here we were 3 decades later, sharing the experience with friends and strangers.

If you’ve never seen this film or haven’t seen it in a while – check to see if any theaters in your area are playing it. And if not – rent the DVD and invite some friends over and have a party. Have a disco. Fool around!

Interesting facts shared by Demme and his producing partner during the Q&A:

80% of the film comes from one night’s performance. Pick-ups and coverage were pulled from two other nights of performance.

Contrary to other stories, Demme says that he observed all members of The Talking Heads getting along.

The film premiered at the Castro theater in San Francisco. An earthquake occurred earlier that day. When the film played audience members got up and started dancing and caused the theater to literally shake for the second time that day.

Let’s Hear it for the Boy by Deniece Williams: Number One this Week in 1984

DW - LHIFTBDeniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” was number one on the Pop, R&B and Dance charts in June 1984. It was certified platinum and nominated for the Oscar for Best Song. I hadn’t thought of this song in years and had forgotten that it was such a monster hit. As I considered writing about it for this blog I wondered if its success was solely due to the fact that it was on the Footloose soundtrack. I also wondered if this 1980’s bubble gum pop song was on par with some of the other songs I’ve written about on this blog (songs by Michael Jackson, R.E.M., Cyndi Lauper, Duran DuranTalking Heads, and Cameo). Recently, I sat down to watch the video for the first time in at least a decade.  I immediately began tapping my foot, singing along and feeling happy and at ease (I’m now pretty sure the FDA has designated LHIFTB as a mild anti-depressant). But does this mean it’s a GREAT pop song? Let’s try to figure it out. Watch the video and then read my 4 favorite things about the song aka “Let’s hear it for ‘Let’s Hear it For the Boy.’ Let’s see if we reach a conclusion by the end of this post.

deneice-williams-flashback.img4. The Voice. Deniece Williams has a four-octave range. In addition to being able to shatter glass with her voice (people can do that, right?) she’s able to imbue some pretty simple lyrics with a great sense of emotion and meaning. Towards the end of the song (around 3:07) she does something pretty special with the word ‘baby’. Before Whitney and before Mariah; Deniece Williams was adding extra syllables to words and performing feats of Olympian vocal gymnastics. But you never get the feeling she’s showing off. Instead – you just get the sense she’s feeling the emotions described in the song and helping the listener to feel them as well. In this case – she’s asking us, “So you want to know how my man makes me feel? You want me to convey it in one word? Ok – he’s my “Babeeeeeeeeeeeeeyeeeeeheeeeyeeheeee!”

3.  The Boy. So tell me . . . why does she love this guy? He’s inarticulate, he’s a poor dress, he’s not romantic, he sings off-key, etc, etc, etc. This boy has set the bar pretty low but still, he’s inspired someone to sing (in 4 different octaves) about their love for him someone . Have no fear underachievers – love. is. possible.    

2. Football Half Shirts. Please refer to the music video ( 2:21 – 2:36).

Footloose1. Good Company. 1984 was a great year for pop music soundtracks. In addition to Williams’ hit single, the Footloose soundtrack also contained Kenny Loggins’ title track and the Shalamar hit, “Dancing in the Sheets.” Other great pop soundtracks from 1984 included Ghostbusters, Against All Odds, and of course, Purple Rain. Deniece was at the beginning of a big, big trend.

So – what do you think? Is “Let’s Hear it for the Boy,” a great song in a great (the greatest) year of pop music? Tell me what you think in the comments.

Screamer of the Week: When Doves Cry by Prince and the Revolution. This Week in 1984.

WDCCover
I clearly remember the very first time I heard ‘When Dove Cry.’ It was May 1984 and I was in my bedroom listening to WLIR. The station mainly played New Wave so when I heard the DJ announce he was about to play a new song by Prince I assumed it was another ‘Prince’, possibly some Brit paying an ironic homage to the royal family. But as soon as the song began I stopped caring who was singing. I needed to focus on the music. The following is a completely factual moment by moment account of my first time listening to this song.

spotify:track:51H2y6YrNNXcy3dfc3qSbA

0:00 Little do I know my musical world is about to change.

0:00 – :20 Beginning a song with an electric guitar solo? That’s odd. And wait a second, guitar solos belong on rock records – so why am I now hearing a dance beat?  And why has the guitar morphed into something that sounds like an asthmatic robot saying ‘nyah nyah nyah’? This has got to be the strangest opening of any song I’ve ever heard. And . . . I think I love it!

:30 – 1:30  I don’t know what else is about to happen, but right now, in this moment, I think this is the best song I’ve ever heard. Period. Everything I’m hearing is different and amazing. I love the singer’s voice (it sounds both atonal and melodic). The lyrics are surreal and sexy ( ‘Animals strike curious poses’? I’m going to put some energy into figuring out what that means). And that drum beat.  I don’t think I’ve ever really paid attention to the way drums sound until now but there’s something so different and distinctive about the way these drums sound. They crunch and echo. I need to turn this song up! WDCVinyl

1:45 – It’s official – this is definitely the best song I’ve ever heard!

1:50 Oh wait – why am I not taping this?! (As I head to press the play + record buttons on my boom box – a revelation!) … hold up – I can’t start the recording half way through. That seems wrong. Blasphemous. This song deserved to be recorded from start to finish. I owe that to the song. I owe it to myself!!

2:05 Ok – here comes the chorus again – let me try to figure out what he’s singing about:

How Can U Just Live Me Standing

Alone in a World So Cold

Maybe I’m Just 2 Demanding

Maybe I’m Just Like My Father – 2 Bold

Maybe You’re Just Like My Mother

She’s Never Satisfied

Why Do we Scream at Each Other

This is what is sounds like

When Doves Cry

princewdc1Hmmmm –  could this be the same Prince who sings 1999 and Little Red Corvette? Is this song about his family? His girlfriend?

3:00 ( Note – The one memory of this experience that isn’t crystal clear is whether I started dancing. Trust me, there would be many times I would dance along to “When Doves Cry” in my bedroom (many times in ’84 and as recently as two weeks ago) but I can’t recall whether this happened during this first listen. Let’s just say that IF I danced – I would have probably started right about now).

4:15 – I don’t want the song to end. The song doesn’t sound like it wants to end. More guitar solos.  High pitched shrieks. A synthesizer that sounds like an electronic chorus of violins. Now the singer is harmonizing with himself in some high-pitched falsetto. Now he’s just singing “don’t cry’ over and over again and it sounds weird and brilliant.

And finally that synthesizer is back and wraps it all up. The song ended and some other song started and I was floored. Before I knew it was performed by Prince and before I knew it was the single from what would be one of the greatest soundtracks of all time I fell in love with that song. revolution

When Doves Cry went on to win WLIR’s Screamer of the Week competition and I had many opportunities to record it. It remains one of my favorite songs of all time. Over 30 years I’ve listened to this song on cassette, vinyl, CD, and MP3 – and every time it feels like a gift.

Additional Screamer of the Week posts:

The Psychedelic Furs – Heaven

The Thompson Twins – You Take Me Up

R.E.M. – Pretty Persuasion

Thompson Twins – Sister of Mercy

Number One this Week in 1984: Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) by Phil Collins

Thirty years ago this week Phil Collins scored the number one pop song in the country with “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” a song he’d written for the film Against All Odds. There’s no denying this is a great ballad and also one of the great soundtrack tunes from a year that produced many amazing songs from films (including Ghostbusters, Footloose, Sixteen Candles, Breakin’, Eurythmics’ 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother), and of course Purple Rain). I liked the song but never developed a real love for it. I wanted to give the song its due so I invited my friend Caroline to share her very passionate feelings for it. In addition to being a Phil Collins devotee, Caroline is also the author of the hysterical blog  Cringeworthy Stuff from My Journal. Prepare for the most emotional post this blog has ever seen!

Sean: Caroline, what are your memories of this song?

Caroline: I know it’s from a movie (Against All Odds) but I’ve not seen this movie. I was only 11 when the song came out but I absolutely loved it – and still do. I really think it’s a beautiful song. I don’t know if it stirred something in my pre-pubescent self – but of course I had no grasp of what the song was really about. I knew it was about love – in the abstract. I knew it was something about someone leaving you. I knew it was devastating. That was it. But I really thought that it was an emotionally wrought song and Phil Collins’ vocals were amazing and … this is all so embarrassing to admit!

Sean: So what’s your favorite moment of the song?

Caroline: It has to be towards the end when it sort of crescendos into that very passionate moment where he says, ‘Take a GOOD look at me now,’ instead of just ‘take a look at me now,’ as he has previously.

Sean: That ‘GOOD,” means he means it!

Caroline: He means it this time, with FEELING! And then it’s like a huge emotional moment but then it just goes back into the lilting piano of the beginning, very soft, very calm. I like the way it resolves. I love that moment. It’s very powerful

Sean: I can tell this is an emotional journey for you, both as an 11 year old girl and as a grown woman.

Caroline: And I don’t even know why. I remember seeing the video which of course had clips from the movie . And something very dramatic was going on, I couldn’t tell you what exactly.

Sean: I’ve never seen the movie either but based on the video i sense there’s infidelity. I also sense that at the end of the film someone drives into a garbage truck.

Caroline: A dramatic death scene perhaps! Very dramatic. My only beef with the song when I was younger was that I felt it should be longer. I felt there was a verse missing. As a child I remember thinking after the bridge there should be one more moment and I was sad it wasn’t longer – but today when I was listening to it it felt perfect at 3 and a half minutes.

Sean: For some reason I remember it being 12 minutes long. Ok now be honest with me – did you have a poster of Phil Collins on your bedroom wall?

Caroline: Surprisingly no -I did love the song, I did love many other Phil Collins songs but, however, I did not find him cute. Unlike Huey Lewis who did feature prominently on my wall, I did not have a poster of Phil Collins.

Sean: We’re going to deal with Huey Lewis AND The News in a future post. But back to Phil – no insult to him – but he is not the sexiest pop star – so applause to him for having number one songs without being a looker.

Caroline: Exactly – and I think he was genuinely a good singer.

Sean: A lot of people have covered this song. Mariah Carey famously. Have you heard the Mariah version?

Caroline: No – but I don’t know if Mariah can compete with Phil on this one. You don’t mess with the classics.

Note: I later played Mariah’s version for Caroline who had this to say: “Oooh she does a good job!! But that’s no shock- she’s Mariah, after all. I like hearing a woman sing it. But she doesn’t do the end justice like Phil did!!!! Too screechy.”)

Sean: This song knocked Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” out of the number one spot back in April, 1984. Do you remember that? How did you feel about it?

Caroline: I did like “Footloose” a lot but it did not have the emotional pull for me that “Against All Odds” did.

Sean: I envision 11 year old Caroline sitting in her bedroom listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 and dancing for joy when he announced “Against All Odds” stole the number one spot from “Footloose”.

Caroline: Absolutely – there may have even been tears. There was definitely a dash to the boom box to try to capture it on tape. And It stays with me as a song I just love. I don’t hear it very often anymore. I don’t even know if I can tell you why –  all I can do is just tell you I love it, I think it’s a beautiful song and it’s obviously still resonating with me today.

Sean: I think you’re tearing up right now. That’s a fact. Thank you for talking with me and sharing your thoughts about a song I could not muster the passion or emotion to write about myself. Maybe I’m dead inside, I don’t know. Thank you Caroline

Caroline: No problem. My pleasure. I look forward to our chat on Huey Lewis.

 

Number One This Week in 1984: Footloose

This week in 1984 Kenny Loggin’s Footloose was the number one pop single (the song was number one for three weeks in a row – from March 31st to April 14th). This was the first single from the soundtrack for the hit film of the same name starring Kevin Bacon. Pop Culture confession – I’ve never seen this movie. Somehow I missed it when it was out in the theaters and then for the next 30 years on TV. I don’t feel like I’m missing out because the music video shows me everything I need to know. – Teen angst and parental oppression are no competition for the power of gymnastics, dancing and Kevin Bacon in a tank top.

I haven’t heard or thought about this song in years – but after watching the video I think it holds up really well. So much energy, so much fun. And despite some really stiff competition – this tune would go on to win the Grammy for Song of the Year.

What do you think – when you hear this song – does it still make you want to cut loose?