Speaking in Tongues (Talking Heads album)

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Speaking in Tongues
Talking Heads - Speaking in Tongues.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedJune 1, 1983
RecordedJuly 1982 – February 1983
Length40:51 (LP)
46:56 (cassette)
ProducerTalking Heads
Talking Heads chronology
The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads
Speaking in Tongues
Stop Making Sense
Singles from Speaking in Tongues
  1. "Burning Down the House"
    Released: July 1983
  2. "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"
    Released: November 1983
Special Edition
A yellow plastic case with clear vinyl albums inside that have red and blue photographs stamped onto them
Special edition of the album

Speaking in Tongues is the fifth studio album by American rock band Talking Heads, released on June 1, 1983 by Sire Records. After their split with producer Brian Eno and a short hiatus, which allowed the individual members to pursue side projects, recording began in 1982. It became the band's commercial breakthrough and produced the band's sole US top-ten hit, "Burning Down the House".

The album's tour was documented in Jonathan Demme's 1984 film Stop Making Sense, which generated a live album of the same name. The album also crossed over to the dance charts, where it peaked at number two for six weeks.[2] It is the group's highest-charting album on the US Billboard 200. It was also their biggest-selling album in Canada, where it was certified platinum in 1983.


David Byrne designed the cover for the general release of the album. Artist Robert Rauschenberg won a Grammy Award for his work on the limited-edition LP version. This album featured a clear vinyl disc in clear plastic packaging along with three clear plastic discs printed with similar collages in three different colors.


Original cassette and later CD copies of the album have "extended versions" of "Making Flippy Floppy", "Girlfriend Is Better", "Slippery People", "I Get Wild/Wild Gravity" and "Moon Rocks". The album was re-released in February 2006 as a remastered DualDisc. It contains the extended versions of the songs found on the original cassette, and includes two additional tracks ("Two Note Swivel" and an alternate mix of "Burning Down the House"). The DVD-A side includes both stereo and 5.1 surround high resolution (96 kHz/24bit) mixes, as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 version of the album, a new alternate version of "Burning Down the House" with the emphasis on experimenting with the possibilities of surround sound, and videos for "Burning Down the House" and "This Must Be the Place" (videos are two-channel Dolby Digital only). In Europe it was released as a CD+DVDA two-disc set rather than a single DualDisc. The reissue was produced by Andy Zax with Talking Heads.

Byrne has said, as a partial explanation of the album's title, "I originally sang nonsense, and uh, made words to fit that. That worked out all right."[3]

In 2021, Rhino Entertainment re-released the album on sky blue vinyl.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4/5 stars[5]
Chicago Tribune3.5/4 stars[6]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music3/5 stars[7]
Rolling Stone4.5/5 stars[1]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[9]
Smash Hits9/10[10]
Spin Alternative Record Guide7/10[11]
The Village VoiceA−[12]

Rolling Stone's David Fricke lauded the album's crossover nature, calling it "the album that finally obliterates the thin line separating arty white pop music and deep black funk." He elaborated that the songs are all true art rock, with the complexity and sophistication of the genre, yet avoid art rock's characteristic pretensions with a laid-back attitude and compelling dance rhythms, making it an ideal party album.[1]

In 1989 the album was ranked number 54 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 best albums of the 1980s".[13] In 2012 Slant Magazine listed the album at number 89 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s".[14]

Reviewing the album for AllMusic, William Ruhlmann said: "Talking Heads found a way to open up the dense textures of the music they had developed with Brian Eno on their two previous studio albums for Speaking in Tongues, and were rewarded with their most popular album yet. Ten backup singers and musicians accompanied the original quartet, but somehow the sound was more spacious, and the music admitted aspects of gospel, notably in the call-and-response of "Slippery People," and John Lee Hooker-style blues, on "Swamp." As usual, David Byrne determinedly sang and chanted impressionistic, nonlinear lyrics, sometimes by mix-and-matching clichés... Some of his charming goofiness had returned since the overly serious Remain in Light and Fear of Music, and the accompanying music, filled with odd percussive and synthesizer sounds, could be unusually light and bouncy.[15] In his book on funk music, Rickey Vincent describes Speaking in Tongues as "deeply thumping funk disguised as modern rock."[16]

Track listing[edit]

LP/early CD version[edit]

All tracks are written by David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison and Tina Weymouth.

Side A
1."Burning Down the House"4:01
2."Making Flippy Floppy"4:34
3."Girlfriend Is Better"4:22
4."Slippery People"3:31
5."I Get Wild/Wild Gravity"4:07
Total length:20:35
Side B
7."Moon Rocks"5:03
8."Pull Up the Roots"5:08
9."This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"4:53
Total length:20:16 (40:51)

Cassette/later CD versions[edit]

Side A
1."Burning Down the House"4:01
2."Making Flippy Floppy" (extended version)5:54
3."Girlfriend is Better" (extended version)5:44
4."Slippery People" (extended version)5:05
5."I Get Wild/Wild Gravity" (extended version)5:15
Total length:25:59
Side B
2."Moon Rocks" (extended version)5:44
3."Pull Up the Roots"5:08
4."This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"4:53
Total length:20:57 (46:56)

2006 DualDisc reissue bonus tracks[edit]

10."Two Note Swivel" (unfinished outtake)5:51
11."Burning Down the House" (alternate version)5:09
Total length:57:56


Talking Heads[edit]

Additional musicians[edit]

  • Wally Badarou – synthesizer on "Burning Down The House", "Swamp" and "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"
  • Raphael DeJesus – percussion on "Slippery People", "I Get Wild/Wild Gravity" and "Pull Up the Roots"
  • Nona Hendryx – backing vocals on "Slippery People"
  • Richard Landry – saxophone on "Slippery People"
  • Dolette McDonald – backing vocals on "Slippery People"
  • Steve Scales – percussion on "Burning Down The House" and "Moon Rocks"
  • L. Shankar – double violin on "Making Flippy Floppy"
  • David Van Tieghem – percussion on "I Get Wild/Wild Gravity" and "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"
  • Alex Weir – guitar on "Making Flippy Floppy", "Swamp", "Moon Rocks" and "Pull Up the Roots"
  • Bernie Worrell – synthesizer on "Girlfriend Is Better"

Technical personnel[edit]

  • John Convertino – assistant engineer
  • Franklin Gibson – assistant overdubbing engineers, mixing
  • Ted Jensenmastering
  • Butch Jones – recording engineer
  • Brian Kehew – 2006 Dual Disc bonus mixes
  • Jay Mark – assistant overdubbing engineers, mixing
  • Robert Rauschenberg – limited edition cover art
  • Alex Sadkinoverdubbing engineer, mixing


Sales chart performance for Speaking in Tongues
Chart (1983) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[17] 15
USA (Billboard 200[18] 15

Certifications and sales[edit]

Sales certifications for Speaking in Tongues
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[19] Platinum 100,000^
France (SNEP)[21] none 150,100 [20]*
New Zealand (RMNZ)[22] Platinum 15,000^
United States (RIAA)[23] 2× Platinum 2,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ a b c Fricke, David (June 9, 1983). "Talking Heads' Arty Party". Rolling Stone (397): 53–54. Retrieved February 4, 2016. Note: The online version of the review retains most of the text of the original print edition, but omits the title.
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco: 1974–2003. Record Research. p. 253.
  3. ^ "David Byrne on Letterman (1983)". Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  4. ^ ""Start Your Ear Off Right" with Limited Edition Vinyl Releases | Rhino". Rhino.com. January 7, 2021. Retrieved January 17, 2021.
  5. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Speaking in Tongues – Talking Heads". AllMusic. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  6. ^ Kot, Greg (May 6, 1990). "Talking Heads On The Record". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  7. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  8. ^ Anderson, Stacey (April 23, 2020). "Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  9. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2004). "Talking Heads". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 802–03. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  10. ^ Steels, Mark (June 23 – July 6, 1983). "Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues (Sire)". Smash Hits: 13.
  11. ^ Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig, eds. (1995). "Talking Heads". Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. p. 394. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  12. ^ Christgau, Robert (September 27, 1983). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  13. ^ "100 Best Albums of the Eighties". Rolling Stone. November 16, 1989.
  14. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s - Feature". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  15. ^ "Speaking in Tongues - Talking Heads - Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  16. ^ Vincent, Rickey (1995). "Essential Eighties Underground Funk". Funk: The Music, The People, and The Rhythm of The One. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 343. ISBN 0312134991.
  17. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 304. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  18. ^ "Talking Heads Chart History: Billboard 200". Billboard.com. 2019. Archived from the original on April 4, 2019.
  19. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Talking Heads – Speaking in tongues". Music Canada.
  20. ^ "InfoDisc : Les Meilleurs Ventes d'Albums "Tout Temps" (33 T. / Cd / Téléchargement)". www.infodisc.fr. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  21. ^ "French album certifications – Talkinge Heads – Speaking in tongue" (in French). Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique.
  22. ^ "New Zealand album certifications – Talking Heads – Speaking in tongues". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  23. ^ "American album certifications – Talking Heads – Speaking in tongue". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH.