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.[3] 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.


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."[4]

In 2021, Rhino Entertainment re-released the album on sky blue vinyl.[5]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Chicago Tribune[7]
Rolling Stone[1]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[10]
Smash Hits9/10[11]
Spin Alternative Record Guide7/10[12]
The Village VoiceA−[14]

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, Speaking in Tongues was ranked number 54 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 best albums of the 1980s.[15] In 2012, Slant Magazine listed it as the 89th best album of the 1980s.[16]

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


Along with Remain In Light, Speaking in Tongues is regarded as one of the band's strongest albums. Music critic Anthony Fantano placed the album as his second favourite album by the band.[18]

'Burning Down The House' was later covered by Welsh singer Tom Jones along 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 rock band Walk The Moon, blues singer Bonnie Raitt and R&B singer John Legend. The song has also appeared in the movies Nymphomaniac, 13 Going on 30, 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 movie 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.

The song 'Burning Down the House' was used as a sample in the song 'Keep it Burning' from Donda 2 by Kanye West, and had a performance by rapper Future (rapper). The song was removed from the album after a day, and was eventually released in Future's album I Never Liked You (album), 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 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

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

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 and sales[edit]

Sales certifications for Speaking in Tongues
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[34] Platinum 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[35] Platinum 15,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[36] Silver 60,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[37] 2× Platinum 2,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Gesko, Brian. "The Strange, Tense Power of Talking Heads' 'Fear of Music'". The Atlantic. Retrieved 6 January 2022.
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco: 1974–2003. Record Research. p. 253.
  4. ^ "David Byrne on Letterman (1983)". Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  5. ^ ""Start Your Ear Off Right" with Limited Edition Vinyl Releases | Rhino". Rhino.com. January 7, 2021. Retrieved January 17, 2021.
  6. ^ a b Ruhlmann, William. "Speaking in Tongues – Talking Heads". AllMusic. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  7. ^ Kot, Greg (May 6, 1990). "Talking Heads On The Record". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  8. ^ Cameron, Keith (July 2020). "New Feelings". Mojo. No. 320. pp. 68–69.
  9. ^ Anderson, Stacey (April 23, 2020). "Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Steels, Mark (June 23 – July 6, 1983). "Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues". Smash Hits. Vol. 5, no. 13. p. 13.
  12. ^ Salamon, Jeff (1995). "Talking Heads". In Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig (eds.). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. pp. 394–95. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  13. ^ Gill, Andy (August 2015). "Buyers' Guide". Uncut. No. 219. pp. 40, 42.
  14. ^ Christgau, Robert (September 27, 1983). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  15. ^ "100 Best Albums of the Eighties". Rolling Stone. November 16, 1989. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  16. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s". Slant Magazine. March 5, 2012. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  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. ^ "Talking Heads: Worst to Best". YouTube. August 8, 2018. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  19. ^ 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.
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  21. ^ "Top RPM Albums: Issue 6315a". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  22. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  23. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  24. ^ "Charts.nz – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues". Hung Medien. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  25. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues". Hung Medien. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  26. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues". Hung Medien. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  27. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved =February 1, 2022.
  28. ^ "Talking Heads Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  29. ^ "Top RPM Albums: Issue 4435". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 17 May 2022.
  30. ^ "Top Selling Albums of 1983 — The Official New Zealand Music Chart". Recorded Music New Zealand. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  31. ^ "Talent Almanac 1984: Top Pop Albums" (PDF). Billboard. 24 December 1983. p. TA-16. Retrieved May 17, 2022.
  32. ^ "Top Selling Albums of 1984 — The Official New Zealand Music Chart". Recorded Music New Zealand. Retrieved February 2, 2022.
  33. ^ "Top Pop Albums of 1984". Billboard. December 31, 1984. Archived from the original on 31 December 2012. Retrieved May 17, 2022.
  34. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Talking Heads – Speaking in tongues". Music Canada.
  35. ^ "New Zealand album certifications – Talking Heads – Speaking in tongues". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  36. ^ "British album certifications – Talking Heads – Speaking in tongue". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 9 February 2021.
  37. ^ "American album certifications – Talking Heads – Speaking in tongue". Recording Industry Association of America.