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Speaking in Tongues (Talking Heads album)

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Speaking in Tongues
Studio album by
ReleasedJune 1, 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
  3. "Swamp"
    Released: December 1983 (NL and AUS)[4]
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 the 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", which reached No. 9 in the Billboard Chart.[5]

The album's tour was documented in the 1984 Jonathan Demme-directed 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.[6] It is the group's highest-charting album on the US Billboard 200, peaking at number 15. It was also their biggest-selling album in Canada, where it was certified platinum in 1983.


Talking Heads frontman 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, which featured a clear vinyl disc in clear plastic packaging along with three clear plastic discs printed with similar collages in three different colors.

Byrne has said, as a partial explanation of the album's title, "I originally sang nonsense, and ... made words to fit that. That worked out all right."[7]


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", 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.

In 2021, Rhino Entertainment re-released the album on sky blue vinyl.[8]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Chicago Tribune[10]
Rolling Stone[2]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[13]
Smash Hits9/10[14]
Spin Alternative Record Guide7/10[15]
The Village VoiceA−[1]

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 yet avoid the genre's common pretensions with a laid-back attitude and compelling dance rhythms, making it an ideal party album.[2] For The Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau described the album as "quirkily comfortable," opining that without Brian Eno the band's rhythms sounded less portentous but also less meaningful. He added that "the disjoint opacity of the lyrics fails to conceal Byrne's confusion about what it all means", but praised the second side of the LP.[1]

In a retrospective review for AllMusic, William Ruhlmann said that the album saw the band "open up the dense textures of the music they had developed with Brian Eno", and that they were "rewarded with their most popular album yet." He felt the additional musicians made the sound "more spacious, and the music admitted aspects of gospel," particularly on "Slippery People" and "Swamp". He noted Byrne's "impressionistic, nonlinear lyrics" and lauded the return of his "charming goofiness", calling the music "unusually light and bouncy."[9]

In his book on funk music, Rickey Vincent describes Speaking in Tongues as "deeply thumping funk disguised as modern rock."[17]


In 1989, Speaking in Tongues was ranked number 54 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 best albums of the 1980s.[18] In 2012, Slant Magazine listed it as the 89th best album of the 1980s.[19]

"Burning Down the House" was later covered by Welsh singer Tom Jones with the Cardigans, on his album Reload, reaching number 7 in the UK Charts. It has also been covered by screamo band the Used, pop-punk band Paramore, pop rock band Walk the Moon, blues singer Bonnie Raitt and R&B singer John Legend. The song has also appeared in the movies Revenge of the Nerds, Nymphomaniac, 13 Going on 30, The Banger Sisters, and the TV series The Walking Dead.

"This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" has been covered by artists such as folk musicians the Lumineers and Iron & Wine, and indie rock band Arcade Fire. The song was also featured in the movies Wall Street and its sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Crazy, Stupid, Love., He's Just Not That Into You, Lars and the Real Girl, and the TV shows Little Fires Everywhere and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..

"Swamp" appears in the movies Risky Business, The King of Comedy and The Simpsons episode 3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage. "Girlfriend Is Better" appeared in an episode of the TV series Entourage. "Slippery People" appeared in the movie American Made and the TV series The Americans.

In 2022, the song "Burning Down the House" was used as a sample in the song "Keep It Burning" from Donda 2 by Kanye West, featuring a performance by rapper Future. The song was removed from the album after a day and was released later that year on Future's album I Never Liked You, under the same name, but without the sample.

Track listing[edit]

LP/early CD version[edit]

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

Side one
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 two
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 one
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 two
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

  • David Byrne – vocals, guitars, keyboards, synthesizers, bass guitar, percussion
  • Jerry Harrison – keyboards, synthesizers, guitars, backing vocals
  • Tina Weymouth – bass guitar, backing vocals, synthesizer, guitar
  • Chris Frantz – drums, backing vocals, synthesizer

Additional musicians


  • Talking Heads – producers
  • Butch Jones – recording
  • John Convertino – recording assistant
  • Alex Sadkin – overdubbing, mixing
  • Frank Gibson – overdubbing assistant, mix assistant
  • Jay Mark – overdubbing assistant, mix assistant
  • Ted Jensen – mastering at Sterling Sound (New York City, New York)
  • Brian Kehew – 2006 Dual Disc bonus mixes
  • Robert Rauschenberg – limited edition cover art
  • David Byrne – original cover design



Certifications for Speaking in Tongues
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[39] Platinum 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[40] Platinum 15,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[41] Silver 60,000
United States (RIAA)[42] Platinum 1,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ a b c Christgau, Robert (September 27, 1983). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Fricke, David (June 9, 1983). "Talking Heads' Arty Party". Rolling Stone. No. 397. pp. 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.
  3. ^ Gesko, Brian (18 April 2012). "The Strange, Tense Power of Talking Heads' 'Fear of Music'". The Atlantic. Retrieved 6 January 2022.
  4. ^ "Swamp".
  5. ^ "Talking Heads – Chart History: Hot 100". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco: 1974–2003. Record Research. p. 253.
  7. ^ "David Byrne on Letterman (1983)". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  8. ^ ""Start Your Ear Off Right" with Limited Edition Vinyl Releases | Rhino". Rhino.com. January 7, 2021. Retrieved January 17, 2021.
  9. ^ a b Ruhlmann, William. "Speaking in Tongues – Talking Heads". AllMusic. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  10. ^ Kot, Greg (May 6, 1990). "Talking Heads On The Record". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  11. ^ Cameron, Keith (July 2020). "New Feelings". Mojo. No. 320. pp. 68–69.
  12. ^ Anderson, Stacey (April 23, 2020). "Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  13. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2004). "Talking Heads". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 802–803. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  14. ^ Steels, Mark (June 23 – July 6, 1983). "Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues". Smash Hits. Vol. 5, no. 13. p. 13.
  15. ^ Salamon, Jeff (1995). "Talking Heads". In Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig (eds.). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. pp. 394–395. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  16. ^ Gill, Andy (August 2015). "Buyers' Guide". Uncut. No. 219. pp. 40, 42.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "100 Best Albums of the Eighties". Rolling Stone. November 16, 1989. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  19. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s". Slant Magazine. March 5, 2012. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "Austriancharts.at – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues" (in German). Hung Medien. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  22. ^ "Top RPM Albums: Issue 6315a". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  23. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  24. ^ Pennanen, Timo (2006). Sisältää hitin – levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972 (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava. ISBN 978-951-1-21053-5.
  25. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  26. ^ "Ísland (LP-plötur)". DV (in Icelandic). July 22, 1983. p. 37. ISSN 1021-8254 – via Timarit.is.
  27. ^ "Charts.nz – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues". Hung Medien. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  28. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues". Hung Medien. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  29. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues". Hung Medien. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  30. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  31. ^ "Talking Heads Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  32. ^ "Rock Albums" (PDF). Billboard. Vol. 95, no. 36. September 3, 1983. p. 26. ISSN 0006-2510 – via World Radio History.
  33. ^ "Talking Heads". Billboard.
  34. ^ "The Top Albums of 1983". RPM. Vol. 39, no. 17. December 24, 1983. p. 15. ISSN 0033-7064 – via Library and Archives Canada.
  35. ^ "Top Selling Albums of 1983". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  36. ^ "Top Pop Albums of 1983". Billboard. December 31, 1983. Archived from the original on September 5, 2012. Retrieved May 29, 2022.
  37. ^ "Top Selling Albums of 1984". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved February 2, 2022.
  38. ^ "Top Pop Albums of 1984". Billboard. December 31, 1984. Archived from the original on December 31, 2012. Retrieved May 17, 2022.
  39. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues". Music Canada. November 1, 1983.
  40. ^ "New Zealand album certifications – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  41. ^ "British album certifications – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues". British Phonographic Industry. February 5, 2021. Retrieved February 9, 2021.
  42. ^ "American album certifications – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues". Recording Industry Association of America. December 15, 1986.

External links[edit]