Thursday, May 30, 2013

Talking Heads - Speaking in Tongues

This week (May 31st) marks the thirtieth anniversary of Speaking in Tongues, the fifth studio album from Talking Heads. This Platinum seller from 1983 went to number 21 in the UK, number 20 in Austria, number 15 in Australia, number 14 in the Netherlands, number 12 in Sweden, number 11 in Norway, number 7 in Canada, and number 3 in New Zealand. Here in the US, it went to number 58 on the Billboard R&B chart, number 15 on the Billboard Hot 200 and number 2 in the Billboard Dance Club chart.

Besides the core quartet (David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison and Tina Weymouth), the album also features these additional musicians: Wally Badarou (synthesizer), Nona Hendryx (backing vocals), Richard Landry (saxophone), Shankar (violin), David Van Tieghem (percussion), Alex Weir (guitar) and Bernie Worrell (synthesizer).

Side one begins with “Burning Down the House”. As the first single, it went to number 94 in Australia, number 9 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 8 in Canada, number 6 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and number 5 in New Zealand. This one was a huge party hit during my first year or so of college (1983 and 1984); it has a thundering dance beat and funky guitar riffs, not to mention a title that was made for being shouted out by the crowd.

“Making Flippy Floppy” keeps the party moving with another grinding groove. I like the synth accents on the chorus. As for the lyrics, even when I read them I cannot make heads or tails as to what Byrne was trying to convey.

“Girlfriend Is Better” includes the lyric from which their future live album Stop Making Sense got its title.

“Slippery People” opens with solid percussion with the guitars following that lead. I like the gospel element this one has with the backing vocals the call-response aspect of the chorus.

The B-side to the first single was “I Get Wild / Wild Gravity”, a slower sauntering tune. It mixes in some island rhythms to it add to its mysterious, exotic appeal.

Side two starts with “Swamp”. The beats are bouncy; you can pick up elements that Frantz and Weymouth brought along with them from their early Tom Tom Club recordings. The chorus has a memorable hook in the “hi hi hi hi hi hi” phrases.

“Moon Rocks” tethers its cosmic ideas with a down-and-dirty funk.

“Pull Up the Roots” is next. The chorus is interestingly constructed.

“This Must Be the Place (Na├»ve Melody)”, released as the second single, went to number 62 on the US Billboard Hot 200 and number 51 in the UK. This one is a rare example of a love song, something that David Byrne tended to avoid. Changing up things from dance-funk of the previous eight tracks, this one ends the album on a softer, refreshing note.

Speaking in Tongues is a strong party record, the primary reason I added this one to my digital music library. It features a number of hits as well as some deeper cuts that got a lot of AOR airplay, especially when they were featured on the aforementioned Stop Making Sense live album from 1984.

For more Talking Heads reviews, please check the links below:

- for 1980’s Remain in Light, click here

- for their 1982 live album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, click here

1 comment:

HERC said...

The Talking Heads have proven to be one of those bands whose music I’ve come to appreciate more as time passes but I was very much into Speaking in Tongues when it was released – it was on one side of a cassette I made with the B-52’s Whammy! album on the other.

I was still in high school at the time and not running with the "party crowd" so I enjoyed it with my girl in my ’63 Bug, windows down broadcasting the glorious blue-eyed funk through my sleepy neighborhood in the Summer of 1983. (Pretty sure it was the tape in the deck we listened to after seeing Return Of The Jedi for the first time.)

It is one of the few (maybe three?) albums that I also bought in cassette format because it featured extended versions of five of the album’s nine tracks. Even though the tracks were only :30 to a 1:00 longer, they were worth it for me. Those tracks are readily available on CD and Spotify now but I think the initial CD pressing was a straight transfer of the original vinyl master with the extended versions replacing the original versions only on later pressings. Bonus tracks appearing on those later issues included an unfinished outtake “Two Note Swivel” and an alternate version of “Burning Down The House”.

My love of the album grew by leaps and bounds when I saw (and heard) most of the songs performed live in 1984’s concert film Stop Making Sense but I was disappointed when I bought the soundtrack album which only had nine of the film’s sixteen tracks and those that made the cut were edited down into shortened tracks. That problem was resolved when a remastered CD came out in 1999 restoring all songs in their full-length glory. Despite several hits and singles compilations since, Stop Making Sense remains my go-to Talking Heads album.

Here are Spotify links for the two albums:

Speaking In Tongues

Stop Making Sense


On an unrelated note, I am eagerly anticipating several of my favorite 1983 albums being reviewed on your site. For hits and squiggles, I made a list of my 30 most played albums from 1983 using play data in iTunes and my iPod. You’ve covered some of them already and looking at the original release dates of the rest, I bet they are on the way.

Is it weird that I am already writing my comments for those records? This is the first of the series.