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Daily Record 1/27/11: Talk Is Cheap-Keith Richards (1988)

In 1980s, 1988, Keith Richards, rock, Rolling Stones on January 28, 2011 at 12:13 am

In the personal algebra of my life, I’m learning that one crucially important equation is:

Music = Memory.

While the music = memory equation is a big part of what this blog is all about,  I’m certainly not the only one to feel this way. I’d imagine nearly all of us attach certain songs, or even albums, to events in our lives and once that music/memory connection is made, it sticks.

Take Keith Richards, for example. On the cover flap to his best-selling memoir, Life, Richards notes, “This is the life. Believe it or not I haven’t forgotten any of it.”

Richards does not explicitly state this but I think the reason for his stellar memory is the music, both that which he’s listened to over the years, and that which he’s made as a guitarist for the Rolling Stones and on his own. And, of course, in creating all of this music, Richards has enhanced all of our own memory banks.

Richard’s 1988 solo album, Talk Is Cheap, is a perfect example. Here is what I remember about it:

Recorded with an all-star cast of musicians (Steve Jordan, Waddy Wachtel, Bernie Worrell, Sarah Dash and others), Talk Is Cheap was released during my run as a clerk at the Record Bar music store that existed at Granite Run Mall for many years. Probably my all-time favorite job in some ways.

Not long after Talk Is Cheap was released, I remember walking into Record Bar to start my shift, when I encountered an old woman, clearly in her mid-to-late 80s, being assisted by a younger companion and leaving the store with a bag in her hand. After she was gone, I was told that the older woman had come to Record Bar that day because she’d seen Keith Richards on Saturday Night Live over the past weekend and enjoyed his songs so much that she wanted to pick up a copy of Talk Is Cheap right away.  

I also remember that I took home a unique Talk Is Cheap promo item from Record Bar: the entire album on three 3.5-inch compact discs, in a round metal box. Cool thing to have, of course, but as CD technology increased it became harder to find a player in which the smaller discs could be played. Eventually, I gave the set to my brother-in-law, Roy, the biggest Stones fan I know.

As for the music, I think Talk Is Cheap is the best Rolling Stones album the Rolling Stones did not make in the ’80s. It’s true that Richards’ voice is an acquired taste but I “got it” a long time ago.

I like every song on this record, from the opening funk workout “Big Enough” through to the closing jam, “It Means A Lot.” There is much variety in between: some prime Keef riffage on “Take It So Hard,” a little rockabilly with “I Could Have Stood You Up,” and a little trip into Al Green territory with the sultry “Make No Mistake,” along with excursions into reggae and country-weeper territory as well.

Lyrically, Richards was dealing with some painful professional/friendship memories that were quite recent to him at the time he recorded Talk Is Cheap: specifically, Mick Jagger had decided to launch a solo tour to promote his second solo album, Primitive Cool. One Talk Is Cheap tune in particular, the scathing “You Don’t Move Me,” could have been subtitled “An Open Letter to Mick.” But I suspect, and more serious Stones watchers than me could probably confirm, that other songs on Talk Is Cheap also include sly references to the Mick/Keith Mid-’80s Standoff.

In the end though, Keith won the battle on the strength of the music alone: heard today (as I was shovelling snow; Talk Is Cheap is a good soundtrack for that), Talk Is Cheap still stands a timeless piece of rock’n’roll, made at a time (1988) when even great artists who should have known better (like, say, Mick Jagger) were succumbing to the cheesiest of ’80s production techniques (note to all ’80s nostalgists/apologists: not everything that emerged from that decade was great!).

While certain songs and sounds from Primitive Cool and Jagger’s prior solo album, She’s The Boss, are probably still fun to hear today, the fact is, they’ll be forever date-stamped, in garish red letters: “EIGHTIES!”

Talk Is Cheap, on the other hand, is a timeless rock’n’roll mini-classic. I’m sure if the lady who bought it at Record Bar that day were here with us now (and who knows? Maybe she is.), she’d agree.

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