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

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

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

itoggle caption 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.

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Rex Harrison

  • Album: My Fair Lady [Original Soundtrack]
  • Song: A Hymn to Him

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A Hymn to Him
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My Fair Lady [Original Soundtrack]
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Original Soundtrack
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Columbia
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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]
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Loaded [Fully Loaded Edition]
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The Velvet Underground
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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
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Has Been
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William Shatner
Label
Shout! Factory
Released
2004

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The Modern Lovers

  • Album: The Modern Lovers
  • Song: She Cracked

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She Cracked
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The Modern Lovers
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The Modern Lovers
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Rhino
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1976

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U2

  • Album: Unforgettable Fire
  • Song: Pride (In the Name of Love)

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Pride (In the Name of Love)
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Unforgettable Fire
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U2
Label
Island/Universal
Released
1984

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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]
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Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
Artist
Rene Jacobs
Label
Harmonia Mundi

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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"]
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Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire; Herzgewächse; Ode to Napoleon
Artist
Christine Schäfer
Label
Deutsche Grammophon
Released
1998

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Laurie Anderson

  • Album: Mister Heartbreak
  • Song: Blue Lagoon

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Blue Lagoon
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Mister Heartbreak
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Laurie Anderson
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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
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Solitude Standing
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Suzanne Vega
Label
A&M Records
Released
1987

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The Mountain Goats

  • Album: Sunset Tree
  • Song: Love Love Love

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Love Love Love
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Sunset Tree
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The Mountain Goats
Label
4AD
Released
2005

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Wilco

  • Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  • Song: I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

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I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
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Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
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Wilco
Label
Nonesuch
Released
2009

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