Storytelling and spoken word has long been a way for people to connect because of how viscerally it captures the human experience. Music is also a route to translate to and pierce the soul. The interplay of these languages, commonly known as talk music or spoken word, is poignant and perfect. When a musician takes an aside and speaks, it sticks out amidst the rest of their music, and stays with the listener long past the end of the song. Here are a few musicians who have continued the oral tradition.
“9th and Hennepin” – Tom Waits (1985)
Tom Waits’ is a man who croons, sings and wails with soul just as well as he plainly speaks. “9th and Hennepin” is a quiet, eerie interlude, tucked away amidst the boisterous songs of the acclaimed Raindogs. A wonky piano and vibraphone dance along as Waits’ raspy voice paints a scene of a city with bricks scarred like jailhouse tattoos and a dark sky slung over it like a tarp. The sound of steam whistles pipe off in the distance and Tom mutters, “the steam comes out of the grill like the whole god damn town’s ready to blow.”
“Ghost Song” by The Doors (1978)
Jim Morrison had a voice that was half sung, half spoken, and wholly bad ass. His smooth voice was featured posthumously when The Doors released American Prayer using recordings of the late Morrison reading his poetry. From that album is “Ghost Song,” a funk groove accented by a calmly delivered poem that belongs in the annals of some psychedelic future utopia. Morrison speaks of masses assembling in ancient, insane theatres to propagate their lust for life, where they dance to escape the divine mockery of words.
“Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head” by Gorillaz (2005)
Damon Albarn, the maestro of Gorillaz, sings alongside his hip-hop infused electro-funk under the moniker 2D, often with the help of a slew of different big names (Lou Reed, MF Doom and Little Dragon to name a few). “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head” can be found on the superb sophomore album, Demon Days, and it features none other than the voice Dennis Hopper. Hopper tells the story of the Happyfolk living on the mountain called monkey whose lives are changed when shadowy folk arrive from far off lands to mine their sacred mountain. The story and music build into a calamitous explosion and it leads perfectly into the final two tracks of Demon Days, righteously wrapping up an already awesome album.
“Fitter Happier” by Radiohead (1997)
The lyrics to “Fitter, Happier,” spoken via a computer synthesized voice a la Steven Hawking or Microsoft Sam, come off like a list made by modern man looking to basely live a simple and calculated suburban life. Odd imagery of caged pigs on antibiotics and sickly cats unable to escape their frozen doom provide analogies for modern life: cooped up and powerless. An eerie solo piano strolls along as synthy noises flitter and wave. “Fitter Happier” fits well on Radiohead’s Ok Computer, despite being wildly different than the rest of the album.
“Wooden Heart” by Listener (2010)
The beautiful ranting poetry that Dan Smith belts out gives Listener a distinct flavor of spoken word music or “talk music.” Every track is a heartfelt blast of lyricism, bringing the listener along on journeys of sinking ships, and better days. In “Wooden Heart,” Smith shouts that he’s “made from shipwrecks,” but through the wooden splinters he sees hope. What Listener does is simple, and it speaks to the soul.
“On Docetic Mountain” by Current 93 (2009)
David Tibet of Current 93 is no stranger to spoken word. The British avant-folk outfit blends medieval sounding folk with Tibet’s soft voice. This track is one part of the epic story of Aleph, a man who travels to the top of a hallucinatory mountain. Tibet follows the traveler through the Satanic trials of Adam and Eve, and toward a galaxial alignment. The stoner/doom rock of Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain is a break from their folk roots, but the heaviness fits well with Tibet’s powerful and idiosyncratic imagery.