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How Neil Young inspired the Talking Heads film

Talking Heads are one of the most influential bands of the modern era. Pioneers of the new wave, who fused punk, art rock, funk, avant-garde and world music, the band showed that disparate musical elements could and should be tied together when appropriate and that musical artists should not be confined to one corner of music. 

David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison, with a little help from Brian Eno, created music for the modern era. Concerned with modern topics, one would argue that Talking Heads were acutely aware of the fluid direction in which music was going, and helped to hasten its onset.

The trio of albums they worked on with Brian Eno are three of the most important rock albums ever released. 1978’s More Songs About Buildings and Food, 1979’s Fear of Music and 1980’s Remain in Light blended the arty punk of their early days with the influences of Parliament-Funkadelic and Fela Kuti with exceptional results. 

The influence of Fela Kuti on their sound was massive, and his traditional use of West African polyrhythms would help to augment their sound in a manner beyond belief, the difference between early Talking Heads and Remain in Light is huge. The funky syncopation that Talking Heads are known for during this period owes a lot to Fela Kuti, as does a lot of Western music. 

After the Eno period, Talking Heads would carry on hitting their artistic stride, and in 1984 they released the iconic concert film, Stop Making Sense, directed by Jonathan Demme. It turns out that inspiration for the film would come from the most unlikely of sources. 

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In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, discussing the film’s production, Demme said: “Rust Never Sleeps (1979), directed by Neil Young, was an endless reference point for David Byrne and I when we were making Stop Making Sense. David would say: ‘We’ve got to try to be as good as Rust Never Sleeps‘. That was the gold standard.”

To think Talking Heads as fans of Neil Young is surprising. At first glance, the ‘Godfather of Grunge’ is about as far away from Talking Heads as you can get within the confines of rock. However, after a brief reflection, you realise that Young was massively influential on the generation that came after him, even if their music sounds completely different. It’s Neil Young, his artistry extends far beyond his music, and the concert film Rust Never Sleeps is an example of this. 

Rust Never Sleeps is one of the ultimate concert films, as Demme clearly points out. Although you wouldn’t think it, there are many similarities between it and Stop Making Sense, and both films show the candid and visceral sides of the artists, and Rust Never Sleeps helped to lay the foundations of the concept of a concert film. Pieces of art in their own right, the connection between them is one of music’s most surprising but best revelations.

Watch the trailer for Stop Making Sense below.