"Talk down" enthusiast Lou Reed

One recurring element in pop music that never fails to amuse me is something I call a “talk down,” in which the artist stops singing and opts instead for a mid-song spoken word interlude that lays it all out for the listener.

Primarily used in doo wop (and subsequently doo wop parodies), this characteristic still occasionally appears in other genres. While its usage can sometimes border on cheesy, there are a select few examples that deserve our attention. I’ve compiled 13 of these best “talk down” songs, and you can listen via individual links or the Spotify playlist below:

 

1) The Velvet Underground - “I Found a Reason”

Clearly indebted to doo wop, this 1970 song by The Velvet Underground uses Lou Reed’s spoken vocals to a beautiful effect as he plaintively describes how he walked “down life’s lonely highways, hand in hand with myself.”

2) Michael Jackson - “Thriller”

1950s horror icon Vincent Price makes a spooky spoken addition to Michael Jackson’s megahit, predicting a gruesome fate for those “without the soul for getting down.”

3) King Khan & BBQ Show - “Crystal Ball”

Speaking of 1950s horror, King Khan & BBQ Show appear to channel the narration from "Plan 9 From Outer Space" midway through this song.

4) The Mothers of Invention - “Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder”

Another loving lampoon of doo wop, Frank Zappa’s dopey protagonist laments how his lover doesn’t “dig” him, despite having his “car reupholstered” and purchasing “a new pair of khakis.”

5) Devendra Banhart - “Shabop Shalom”

Telling of the “heebie jeebies” when it comes to falling in love, this song may well be the only one in recorded history to use the word “hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia” (fear of the number 666).

6) Frederick Knight - “I’ve Been Lonely For So Long”

In addition to the spoken word section towards the song’s end, Birmingham-based singer Frederick Knight provides both the falsetto and baritone portions.

7) Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones - “Lonely Ones”

“No matter who you are, there’s someone out there for you,” speaks Aceyalone during an interlude in this 2009 rap song.

8) Glass Candy - “Warm in the Winter”

Perhaps the most nonsensical “talk down” of the bunch, Glass Candy vocalist Ida No's words seem rather... addled during the middle portion of the song. She's willing to accept “that heart to heart, whenever you’re ready,” and assured that her listeners “came from heaven...to fill out the dark corners with your everlasting light.”

9) Beastie Boys - “Netty’s Girl”

A bizarre riff on The Seekers’ “Georgy Girl,” Mike D’s off-key wails of love are complemented by his spoken word section, proclaiming how he would “win the whole prize...skee ball tickets for you.” Mike D would later marry Tamra Davis, the director of the music video.

10) Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - “Home”

Edward Sharpe aka Alex Ebert reminisces with Jade Castrinos about a fateful accident, telling of how he fell “deep, deeply in love with [her].”

11) War (feat. Eric Burdon) - “Spill The Wine”

Eric Burdon casually recounts a summer dream that “really blew [his] mind” over a funky groove to open this hit from War.

12) The Beatles - “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)”

This “Let It Be” B-side is allegedly one of Paul McCartney’s favorite Beatles songs “...because it’s so insane.”

13) Lou Reed - “Street Hassle”

Since I began this list with a Lou Reed-penned song, it seems fitting to close it with one. A young Bruce Springsteen provides the spoken word vocals right before the 11-minute song’s stirring finale.