Thirty years ago a little record label called SST released more amazing albums in a row than any music company before or since. 1984 brought Husker Du’s double LP Zen Arcade, the Meat Puppets’ masterpiece Meat Puppets II, Black Flag’s influential My War, and perhaps the greatest album in the history of recorded music, The Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime. Music at large in 1984 was no slouch either as evidenced by that year’s release of three of the best music films ever made.
The debate of whether Purple Rain is in fact a great movie will not be resolved until we all purify ourselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka but one thing is for sure: it is the gold standard when it comes to soundtracks. The concert footage of Prince performing jams like “The Beautiful Ones” and “Computer Blue” more than makes up for what some may call a ridiculous melodrama starring a velvet-draped, motorcycle-riding imp. (Not I, mind you.)
A band that took the concert film to new heights in 1984 was Talking Heads with their film Stop Making Sense. Frontman David Byrne envisioned a stage show that grew organically from song to song and director Jonathan Demme filmed the performance(s) in such an intimate way that one feels like they’re onstage singing along with the band. Byrne and company’s energetic workout through such tunes as “Once in a Lifetime” and “Burning Down the House” are certainly infectious but it’s the sparse renditions of “Psycho Killer” and “Heaven” that stick with you.
Sure, Prince and the Revolution and Talking Heads are consummate performers with catalogs of brilliant songs but neither can hold a candle to the music of the majestic Spinal Tap. David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, and Derek Smalls (who look suspiciously like actors Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer) are touring the U.S. in support of their controversial record, Smell the Glove. Documentarian Martin Di Bergi (who come to think of it, looks a lot like Rob Reiner) was on the scene to capture every fight, mishap, and blistering performance. This Is Spinal Tap is a harrowing portrait of the sacrifices artists make to bring us the music of angels. And Sex Farms.