Acoustic Sounds

Talking Heads

Stop Making Sense



Talking Heads Stop Making Sense 2023

Label: Sire / Rhino

Produced By: Jason Jones (reissue producer)

Engineered By: Mark Wolfson and Joel Moss

Mixed By: ET Thorngren, Jerry Harrison, and Chris Frantz

Mastered By: Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound

Lacquers Cut By: Joe Nino-Hernes at Sterling Sound

By: Malachi Lui

September 1st, 2023



Talking Heads’ Complete "Stop Making Sense", Finally Released On Vinyl

same as it ever was…

Immortalized in Jonathan Demme’s 1984 film Stop Making Sense, Talking Heads’ 1983 tour was the theatrical rock tour that ended all theatrical rock tours before it and raised the standard for those following. Choreographed but natural, theatrical but not outlandish, designed but also not, Stop Making Sense still resonates in its societal commentary and continuing influence.

After 1983’s Speaking In Tongues commercially succeeded, the band and especially David Byrne could afford to build up their live show and film three nights at the Hollywood Pantages Theater. Spending $1.2 million ($3.7 million now) on a concert film was and still is almost unheard of, but fitting for a show this cutting-edge. Demme used a lot of wide shots and camera movements, and the already unique choices of natural lighting and an expansive, uncluttered stage design perfectly translated to celluloid.

The show itself begins with Byrne walking on stage, setting down a boombox, and launching into a TR-808-accompanied acoustic version of “Psycho Killer.” Then the stagehands roll out the equipment as the rest of the band slowly enters: bassist Tina Weymouth joins on “Heaven,” then drummer Chris Frantz on “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel,” then guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison on “Found A Job,” and finally the extended lineup (keyboardist Bernie Worrell, guitarist Alex Weir, percussionist Steve Scales, backing vocalists Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt) on “Slippery People.” The way it reveals the workings of the show contrasts with the usual expectation of pristine spectacle, and it’s effective in how the loose storyline is open to interpretation. My interpretation is that Byrne’s character in an ill-fitting suit slowly has a breakdown then finds some sort of contentment by the end. It reflects the inward decay of working an unfulfilling corporate job, settling down in the suburbs, and existing within a technologically dependent society; now, the sentiment resonates more than ever.

While the arrangements don’t drastically differ from the studio recordings once everyone’s onstage, the Stop Making Sense soundtrack functions as a “greatest hits” record that includes almost every great Talking Heads song up to that point (as well as Weymouth and Frantz’ side project the Tom Tom Club ruining “Genius Of Love” as Byrne changed into the oversized suit). The film, however, forever tethers these songs to the show’s distinctive imagery. It’s hard to think of “Psycho Killer” without seeing the boombox and hearing Byrne say “Hi, I got a tape I wanna play,” or to hear “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” without picturing him dancing with a lamp. Stop Making Sense became the template for concerts that are theatrical, intellectual, and fun; for example, look at The 1975’s At Their Very Best tour last year. The dramatic one-by-one entrances, the softer lighting, the stagehands changing the set, the physicality of the stage… it’s all Stop Making Sense. (You could even argue that The 1975’s tour is a conceptually similar update zoomed into the modern masculinity angle.) Talking Heads proved that you don’t need a flying pig, just a big suit and a band that’s on fire.

Now here’s where it gets confusing. Between video and audio releases over the years, Stop Making Sense has been truncated and expanded several times. The original VHS and laserdisc film releases featured the entire show, while original LP, CD, and cassette editions only had half of it. Remixed DVD and CD releases from 1999 edited some songs and cut “Cities” and “Big Business/I Zimbra” for time constraints, while the DVD and equivalent Blu-ray added those as bonus scenes apart from the main feature. As A24 prepares a 4K restoration of the film, Rhino released a limited edition 2LP and 44.1kHz/24bit digital edition featuring the full show in audio-only form for the first time.

There’s another issue: “Psycho Killer” on the film and the 1999 edition starts with “Hi, I got a tape I wanna play,” while the original LP/CD/cassette release and the 2023 remaster use another version without the iconic quote and with a different 808 pattern. Apparently the band wanted a balance of the 1984 LP mixes and the 1999 remixes/edits. Why the inconsistency between the LP and the film? I’m not sure.

Some say this was an analog recording dumped onto two SMPTE timecode-aligned 24-track Sony PCM-3324 machines for editing and mixing, while others say it was digitally recorded from the very beginning. The intention was to reduce generational loss but whatever the case, the sound has always been hollow in the midrange and thin on top. It sounds convincing mostly because everything now is run through a digital board, but there’s no way around Stop Making Sense sounding at least a bit plasticky.

Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound mastered the original LP (along with Jack Skinner) and the digital files for the new reissue. Compared to the bright but relatively textured and energetic 1999 CD master (done at Gateway, likely by Bob Ludwig), the new files have a warmer, thicker midrange and an attenuated, stickier top end. Images are flatter and it’s also more compressed and has more limiting (not an egregious amount, though another 1-2dB of dynamics would’ve been better). The new digital master sounds fine for about 30 seconds, but I think it’s too sluggish to stay engaging. Some might enjoy this smoother sound. It sounds like Jensen boosted the lower midrange to add more weight yet it’s still hollow. Despite the glassy “early digital” high frequencies, Jensen’s original LP cut is dynamic and exciting. Did he choose the warmer EQ and extra compression or did Rhino or Talking Heads' management ask for it? Who knows.

Thankfully, the new 2LP set cut by Joe Nino-Hernes at Sterling from the standard (limited) 44.1/24 master is much more lively than the source file. (The release booklet credits Sterling Nashville project manager Chris Grainger with cutting the lacquers, but JN-H is in the runout. I confirmed with Nino-Hernes that he cut from the standard digital master.) It’s cut very quiet—the louder/more compressed the digital file, the more you have to lower it to cut lacquers—but thankfully the pressing (Precision for my North American copy, Optimal for the European market) is quiet even if mine is dished. Even though the vinyl comes from the same less than ideal master that’s on digital platforms, it’s plenty listenable especially compared to the file and I’m fine making some sonic sacrifices to have the full show on vinyl.

The North American pressing is sold out almost everywhere now (check your local stores to see if they still have any), while the European pressing is still widely available and was more expensive to begin with. Why press so few copies of something that’s been out of print and in high demand for so long? Also, there’s no CD release, just the digital release and the 2LP set. The 1999 “Special New Edition” is still streaming and probably satisfies those who don’t buy physical media. Why use digital limiting when the vinyl is the main focus? I’m not whining about there being too much compression—the new remaster’s perspective is a matter of taste and has its pros and cons—nor am I saying it sounds “better than ever.” The reissue team made some baffling decisions, though I still think the 2LP is good for what it is. (Read that paragraph like an addition to the list of questions on the package: "Why a big suit? Why was a digital system used for the sound?... Why a limited run? Why bring up the levels on a record from 40 years ago? Why use 1984 mixes for some songs and 1999 mixes for others?")

That said, the packaging is exactly how it should be. The set comes in a spot-varnished widespine jacket and reprints the first edition booklet (stills and storyboards captioned with usual eccentric David Byrne writing) with new essays by all four core band members. For the original US retail price of $40, it feels hefty enough… now good luck finding a US copy for $40 that’s not from a Discogs scam account.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: R1 724897 / 603497832835

Pressing Plant: Precision Record Pressing

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 140 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: Digital Remaster

Presentation: Multi LP


  • 2023-09-01 07:08:29 PM

    Rashers wrote:

    Good points here - he various reissues to date have not been great. I really enjoyed the blu ray of this concert and am really looking forward to the UHD 4K Blu-ray. The current vinyl version could have done with more dynamic range…

    • 2023-09-12 03:25:19 AM

      oldlistener2222 wrote:

      My mint original LP sounds better but the BD is my go to, all the songs, complete and in order !