The Speak-Singing Debate: Just Sing The Damn Song!

 Clockwise from upper left: Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, The Mountain Goats, Suzanne Vega.

hide caption Clockwise from upper left: Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, The Mountain Goats, Suzanne Vega.

Courtesy of the artists

Few people can easily define it, but nearly everyone knows it when they hear it. Speak-singing, the murky marriage of spoken lyrics and sung melodies, can be heard in everything from 17th-century opera to The Velvet Underground and the latest Mountain Goats record. On this edition of All Songs Considered, hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton argue over the pros and cons of this polarizing art form and take a look at some of their favorite (and not-so-favorite) speak-singing artists. Plus, listeners chime in with some of their own picks.

Songs Featured On This Episode

Cover for My Fair Lady [Original Soundtrack]

Rex Harrison

  • Album: My Fair Lady [Original Soundtrack]
  • Song: A Hymn to Him
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  • "A Hymn to Him"
  • Album: My Fair Lady [Original Soundtrack]
  • Artist: Original Soundtrack
  • Label: Columbia
  • Released: 1994
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Cover for Loaded [Fully Loaded Edition]

The Velvet Underground

  • Album: Loaded [Fully Loaded Edition]
  • Song: Sweet Jane [Full Length Version]
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  • "Sweet Jane [Full Length Version]"
  • Album: Loaded [Fully Loaded Edition]
  • Artist: The Velvet Underground
  • Label: Atlantic
  • Released: 1997
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Cover for Has Been

William Shatner

  • Album: Has Been
  • Song: Common People
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  • "Common People"
  • Album: Has Been
  • Artist: William Shatner
  • Label: Shout! Factory
  • Released: 2004
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Cover for The Modern Lovers

The Modern Lovers

  • Album: The Modern Lovers
  • Song: She Cracked
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  • "She Cracked"
  • Album: The Modern Lovers
  • Artist: The Modern Lovers
  • Label: Rhino
  • Released: 1976
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Cover for Unforgettable Fire

U2

  • Album: Unforgettable Fire
  • Song: Pride (In the Name of Love)
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  • "Pride (In the Name of Love)"
  • Album: Unforgettable Fire
  • Artist: U2
  • Label: Island/Universal
  • Released: 1984
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Cover for Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro

Mozart

  • Album: Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
  • Song: Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), opera, K. 492 [Act 1. Scene 1 & 2. No. 2. Duettino. Se a caso madama]
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  • "Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), opera, K. 492 [Act 1. Scene 1 & 2. No. 2. Duettino. Se a caso madama]"
  • Album: Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
  • Artist: Rene Jacobs
  • Label: Harmonia Mundi
 
Cover for Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire; Herzgewächse; Ode to Napoleon

Christine Schäfer

  • Album: Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire; Herzgewächse; Ode to Napoleon
  • Song: Pierrot lunaire, melodrama for voice & chamber ensemble, Op. 21 [Act I, No. 1, "Mondestrunken"]
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  • "Pierrot lunaire, melodrama for voice & chamber ensemble, Op. 21 [Act I, No. 1, "Mondestrunken"]"
  • Album: Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire; Herzgewächse; Ode to Napoleon
  • Artist: Christine Schäfer
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • Released: 1998
 
Cover for Mister Heartbreak

Laurie Anderson

  • Album: Mister Heartbreak
  • Song: Blue Lagoon
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  • "Blue Lagoon"
  • Album: Mister Heartbreak
  • Artist: Laurie Anderson
  • Label: Warner Bros.
  • Released: 2010
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Cover for Solitude Standing

Suzanne Vega

  • Album: Solitude Standing
  • Song: Tom's Diner
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  • "Tom's Diner"
  • Album: Solitude Standing
  • Artist: Suzanne Vega
  • Label: A&M Records
  • Released: 1987
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Cover for Sunset Tree

The Mountain Goats

  • Album: Sunset Tree
  • Song: Love Love Love
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  • "Love Love Love"
  • Album: Sunset Tree
  • Artist: The Mountain Goats
  • Label: 4AD
  • Released: 2005
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Cover for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Wilco

  • Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  • Song: I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
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  • "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"
  • Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  • Artist: Wilco
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2009
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