Thursday, November 22, 2012

Song #310 of 9999 - Stay Up Late by Talking Heads

Song #310 of 9999 

Title: Stay Up Late
Artist: Talking Heads
Year: 1985
Album: Little Creatures

Little Creatures brought Talking Heads their greatest level of success, spawning two hit singles in "And She Was" and "Road to Nowhere." The record is decidedly simpler than their previous records, drawing more on country and gospel than on the art rock of their earlier records. But David Byrne's quirkiness and unique sense of humor remained intact and are gloriously on display in my favorite track from the record, "Stay Up Late."

Told from the perspective of an older sibling, the song unfolds in short phrases that form a call and response with the descending piano accompaniment. It's hard to tell if the older (but presumably still very young) child is acting maliciously or playfully when he suggests waking the baby from his sleep but it is clear he/she is intrigued by this new "plaything" provided by his mother. The lyric is masterfully efficient, as Byrne uses amazingly few words to convey the broad range of feelings (fascination, jealousy, joy, etc.) a child must feel when introduced to a new younger brother. 

Musically, the song teeters between major and minor. Every chord in the verse is major, but the progression descends like a minor scale from tonic to dominant (A-G-F-E). The chorus does the same, omitting the F, and emphasizing the minor 3rd between the G and E. During the verse, Byrne sings a melody that seems to deliberately muddy the tonal waters, often landing in the cracks between a minor and major third. For a very clear picture of this, listen to the harmony vocal at 1:37, which is kinda minor, kinda major. During the "all night long" section, the song finally gives in as the tonic chord shifts to A minor, where the song eventually ends.

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