The Staple Singers put their own harmonious stamp on Talking Heads

The Staple Singers put their own harmonious stamp on Talking Heads

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: songs by real or fake siblings.

I could probably do without ever hearing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” again. The Rolling Stones’ original, at least: Sure, it features The Greatest Riff In Rock History and stands as a testament to Mick Jagger’s skills as a frontman (not to mention Charlie Watts’ ability to do so much with so little drumming), but I’ve heard it. And heard it. And heard it, heard it, heard it, heard it. Fortunately, part of the song’s immortality comes down to its transportability; I may never direct my iPod cursor toward the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” but in the hands of Otis Redding or Devo, the song hasn’t lost my favor. As much as the original belongs to Jagger, Watts, and company, there’s enough room to move around within the pent-up frustration of  “Satisfaction” that two other icons of 20th-century pop were able to make the song their own.

And yet “making it their own” doesn’t require total reinvention. Redding’s “Satisfaction” is a good example of this; so is The Staple Singers’ “Slippery People.” The family gospel act’s take on the Talking Heads song doesn’t sound too dissimilar to the version heard on Speaking In Tongues—both even feature David Byrne performing the same sort of skritchy-scratchy guitar licks. But Mavis, Yvonne, Cleo, and Pops Staples take the “tent revival on the P-Funk Mothership” vibe of the original and run with it, hitting a full sprint as Mavis makes good on the title of the record that spawned “Slippery People,” scatting her way through the bridge. The tension in Talking Heads’ music often mirrored creative tensions within the band itself, but the way the Staples stake their claim to “Slippery People,” it’s clear that the same tone can be struck by siblings working (and singing) in harmony. Luckily, as of this writing, neither version of the song is in danger of being as overplayed as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

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