TK20: 20 Years of “Don’t Speak”

Here at Beacon Street Online, we’ve been celebrating No Doubt’s 20th anniversary of their iconic Tragic Kingdom record with retrospectives, fan favorites, polls, tributes and more in honor of the album’s release. Though the anniversary has come and gone, we’ll still continue sharing milestones from the album that introduced the band to so many around the world and you can check out more coverage in our new TK20 section. Let us know if you have any special requests or things that you would like to share!

Photo courtesy of Interscope
Photo courtesy of Interscope

On April 15, 1996, No Doubt released their third single from Tragic Kingdom “Don’t Speak” in the US which helped propel them into superstardom. “Don’t Speak” is quintessential No Doubt from the soaring melodies to Gwen’s heartfelt and personal lyrics. It was unexpected for No Doubt and what risk it may have seemed at the time paid off in a huge way. The song is the band’s most successful single to date claiming the top spot around the world and helped Tragic Kingdom sell over 15 million copies. “Don’t Speak” gave No Doubt the opportunity to see the world and gained lifelong fans with their truly inspiring sound.

For how iconic the song is for No Doubt, it’s unfortunate knowing that the single was never released officially in the US making it ineligible for the Billboard Hot 100. Fans had to get their hands on imported versions of the single that were released in the UK, Germany, Australia and Japan which featured acoustic and alternate studio versions of “Don’t Speak” and “Hey You”. “Greener Pastures” from The Beacon Street Collection (re-relesed partially due to the success from “Don’t Speak”) was included as a B-side as well on the single.

“Don’t Speak” nabbed the band’s first Grammy nominations including Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and Best Song in 1998 (unfortunately losing out on both).

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“Don’t Speak” Origins

As universal as “Don’t Speak” is, many fans may not know that it was originally written as a love song. No Doubt co-founder and brother Eric Stefani came up with the melody (that instantly drew Gwen in) and she helped penn lyrics which at the time was an ode to boyfriend Tony Kanal. The song was simple and featured a different melody throughout the verses than the version we’re used to today. Lyrically, the track was much happier and had Gwen saying “throw it out to the birds cause I’ve already heard those words”, telling him to “don’t speak” cause she “knows exactly what [Tony was thinking] and said [he] might as well hold on to [his] words.”

On the early version of “Don’t Speak”, Gwen said that it was written “pre-breakup” so the original version was about “knowing you so good, gonna be together forever, everything’s wonderful…”. In 2007, Gwen sat down for an interview with VH1 saying, “‘Don’t Speak’ was one of those songs that was labored over. I actually wrote the words at Tony’s house on his computer, and thinking to myself when I was writing them, ‘this is really, really real, this is exactly how I feel. And it makes me want to cry… I never thought that song in my wildest dreams would ever be so powerful.”

Tom recalled getting asked to play guitar on the song by Eric and he says that even though the verses were different, “the vibe was there, the choruses were almost exactly perfect.” “The song went through a lot of different changes and it kind of evolved.”

Another solid version of “Don’t Speak” came together before the band headed into the studio with Tragic Kingdom producer Matthew Wilder. Gwen said, “It used to be more upbeat, more of a Seventies rock-type thing. When Tony and I broke up… it turned into a sad song.” After her heartbreaking split from Tony, Gwen recalled on VH1’s Storytellers, “Eric and I went into the garage, stubbornly and very irritated about the situation, and sat down at the piano and rewrote the verses. Tony broke up with me and I re-wrote the lyrics… and those are the lyrics that you know.”

Gwen said in 2007, “‘Don’t Speak’ sold 16 million copies of Tragic Kingdom so it’s a really amazing mind-blowing story.”

Tony reflected on how major things became for the band after the album (and “Don’t Speak”) took off in an interview with InSixty in 2012. “We went through some crazy stuff during the Tragic Kingdom period after the breakup. We’re sitting in a room with journalists that only wanted to talk about that. So for two-and-a-half years, we’re reopening the wounds over and over again 20 times a day sometimes in many different countries. That was gnarly.”

Tom’s memorable Spanish guitar solo featured in the song was recorded and split from six different takes. “I was thinking about how any true classical players would’ve hated the way I did it,” he said. “I played it with a pick – a huge no-no.”

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“Don’t Speak” Music Video

In November 1996, No Doubt landed one of their first major features for SPIN magazine… but only Gwen landed on the cover. The incident was both exiting and heartbreaking for No Doubt since the cover felt like a slap in the face to not see the whole band representing themselves on the magazine but only their lead singer. A new light was shining on Gwen and she began to be forced into the front line ahead of the group that had worked so hard for what they had earned to that point together. No Doubt turned their anger and frustrations with the media into art with the music video for “Don’t Speak”, putting a main focus on the theme of turmoil that had been reportedly stirring up between the band. Tom once said of the video, “If it looks like we’re acting well, it’s probably because we weren’t really acting,” and it was reported that the band were actually fighting during filming.

Tony said that the band didn’t want the video to be about “a normal break-up”, so he commented saying, “So we thought: ‘What would be the saddest thing that could happen? The band splitting up?’ So that’s what the video’s about.”

He also spoke in 2012 about how the band was staring to be feel like they were being treated differently saying, “…and for the first time also, we had been a band for all these years and then we were being treated like a weird separation happening with the way they looked at Gwen and the way that looked at us [Tom, Tony and Adrian]. It’s all these things. And the good thing about it was we had been together all these years and it was a friendship that was holding us all together. And you look back at it now and it seems so trivial and small and you understand so much of it and why it happened, but at the time it was a struggle.”

The “Don’t Speak” music video had No Doubt teaming for the first time with director Sophie Muller, which would lead to a careers worth of collaborations and close friendships. The video starts off with a scene featuring Tony picking off a rotten orange from a tree (which was usually cut when it was later played on music video channels). “Don’t Speak” was taped on-set in a prop room on Mack Sennett Studios in Los Angeles, California, where silent films were once filmed. The video shows the band playing together live and on-set of a photo shoot with obvious tension between the group having all of the focus on Gwen herself with the band in the background. No Doubt played into the theme which in the end became very therapeutic.

Gwen wanted to channel her emotions on-set but ended up crying hysterically so most of the footage ended up being cut.

No Doubt invited UK’s Kerrang magazine on-set of the video where they shared details about the filming.

Right now, beautiful Southern California sunlight pouring onto the ‘rustic’ set and No Doubt are waiting to do the first of many, many takes. Singer Gwen Stefani wanders around barefooted, plays with the hem of her blue dress, and then starts lip-synching — during the first close-up, she actually gets so involved in the song she starts crying. A small portion of this take will remain in the finished video — so look out for a flash of genuinely teary-eyed Gwen.

At the end of the take, Gwen puts her hand over Kanal’s mouth while she sings ‘Don’t Speak’. Tony later claims she did it because he’s currently suffering from “garlic breath.” When Gwen does the same thing to guitarist Tom Dumont in the third take, he plants a wad of spit into her palm. The charmer.

Foo Fighter’s Pat Smear and close friend of the band appeared in the video as part of a dream-sequence.

The second portion of the video features live footage from No Doubt’s show at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City with Goldfinger and Dog Eat Dog on August 21, 1996. Gwen reportedly lost her voice after the show and the band ended up canceling some of their European tour.

An alternate video was later released featuring more raw live footage from the band’s show in NYC. No Doubt included this version of the “Don’t Speak” music video on their The Videos 1992-2003 DVD in 2003.

“Don’t Speak” was nominated and won for Best Group Video at the 1997 MTV Music Video Awards.

In January 2015, “Don’t Speak” became one of the few music videos to be Vevo Certified hitting over 100,000,000 views on YouTube (it has since passed over 200 million).

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“Don’t Speak” Live Around the World

After countless performances, “Don’t Speak” still holds the same charm over the last 20 years. Gwen continues to pour her heart out and fans all around the world still cherish it as highlight during the band’s sets in their past tours. No Doubt have been performing versions of the track since the early 90s which makes it one their oldest songs still be played today. We can always expect “Don’t Speak” during the band’s shows and it’s incredible to see No Doubt still being able to capture the emotions and hearts of fans old and new.

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“Don’t Speak” on TV

No Doubt premiered and made their SNL debut with “Don’t Speak” back on December 7, 1996 and for as huge as the song was, the single was only performed a handful of times in the US after it’s release. After their SNL performance, Tragic Kingdom skyrocketed to the top of the charts, which went on to sell over 15 million copies. “Don’t Speak” was promoted heavily overseas with notable performances on Top of the Pops and TFI Friday. No Doubt treated the song to a string accompaniment when the band performed during VH1’s Race to Erase benefit in late 1997.

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“Don’t Speak” Impact

“Don’t Speak” was and still is a huge smash on US radio and topped Billboard‘s Hot 100 Airplay chart for a record 16 weeks. The single impressively ended 1996 at #1 on Billboard‘s year end Hot 100 Airplay chart as well. The band still holds the record with “Don’t Speak” as the second best song to hit #1 consecutively on the chart behind Goo Goo Doll’s “Iris” in 1998. The single landed No Doubt in the 1999 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records for having longest number of weeks with a #1 song. “Don’t Speak” peaked and held the #1 spot on the Adult Top 40 chart for 15 weeks, #2 on Modern Rock Tracks for 5 weeks (behind Bush), #6 on Adult Contemporary and #9 on the Rhythmic Top 40 charts.

The single was also super successful overseas taking the top spot on the charts in both the UK and Ireland after it’s debut in February 1997. “Don’t Speak” peaked at #1 on the European Hot 100 Singles chart for 9 weeks and also debuted at the top spot in Australia and maintaining it for 8 weeks. After “Don’t Speak” hit the top in the UK, the single helped both “Just a Girl” and “Spiderwebs” on the charts prompting re-releases of both.

Even after 20 years later, “Don’t Speak” can still be heard all around the world on radio and continues to make an impact. Technically since the track was never released as a “commercial single”, “Don’t Speak” unfortunately never had the chance to impact Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart due to the charting rules at the time. In retrospective, Billboard named “Don’t Speak” #7 on their Top 100 Pop Songs 1992-2012 chart in October 2012.

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“Don’t Speak” Lyrics

You and me
We used to be together
Everyday together always

I really feel
That I’m losing my best friend
I can’t believe
This could be the end

It looks as though you’re letting go
And if it’s real
Well I don’t want to know

Don’t speak
I know just what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts
Don’t speak
I know what you’re thinking
I don’t need your reasons
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts

Our memories
They can be inviting
But some are altogether
Mighty frightening

As we die, both you and I
With my head in my hands
I sit and cry

Don’t speak
I know just what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts no no no
Don’t speak
I know what you’re thinking
And I don’t need your reasons
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts

It’s all ending
I gotta stop pretending who we are…

You and me
I can see us dying… are we?

Don’t speak
I know just what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts, no, no
Don’t speak
I know what you’re thinking
And I don’t need your reasons
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts

Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts
I know what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t speak, don’t speak, don’t speak

No, I know what you’re thinking
And I don’t need your reasons
I know you good, I know you good
I know you real good, oh

La la la la la la la la la
Don’t, don’t, ooh, ooh
Hush, hush darling
Hush, hush darling
Hush, hush, don’t tell me ’cause it hurts

Hush, hush darling
Hush, hush darling
Hush, hush, don’t tell me ’cause it hurts

“Don’t Speak” is incredible. Everyone knows it. “Don’t Speak” is the song that literally put No Doubt on the map and introduced them to the rest of world. Though the song went through many early changes, the “Don’t Speak” we all know has been performed at pretty much every No Doubt show since it’s reign in 1997. Gwen’s heartfelt lyrics still resonate with fans and she is known to step back and let the audience sing the verses no matter which country they were playing in. It’s also amazing to see the band continue to deliver the same passion throughout the song considering how many times they have performed it over the years.

Do you have a special memory or favorite performance of “Don’t Speak”?

In case you missed it, check out our 20 year retrospective on “Just a Girl”.

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