No Doubt didn’t make their breakthrough until their third album, Tragic Kingdom was released in 1995, but that breakthrough was a massive one. The band rode that album’s wave to the top on the strength of singles such as “Spiderwebs,” “Just a Girl,” “Sunday Morning,” “Excuse Me Mr.” and the biggest hit of all, “Don’t Speak”. The song was written about the breakup of lead singer Gwen Stefani and bassist Tony Kanal, which nearly caused the band to break up as well.
Twenty years later, “Don’t Speak” remains one of the most relatable songs to come out of mainstream rock, as most people have had a relationship end without having a say in the matter. When I first got the Tragic Kingdom (their last good album, in my not-so-humble opinion) CD, and spun it into oblivion, I found the song so heartbreaking, even though I had barely entered my teen years and hadn’t yet experienced a traumatic breakup. Years back, an old friend told me that when he worked in a certain New Jersey convenience store, he would conduct a silent social experiment whenever this song would play over the in-store radio. He would look around at customers and co-workers alike, and the vast majority of them were silently mouthing the words, humming along, or even singing out loud, every time. While I never replicated the experiment myself, I had no reason not to believe him based the emotion power of the song.
The music video, which I have linked to below, provides for some awkwardness between Stefani and Kanal, because you know that the tension is real. Knowing that Kanal broke up with her, in a very one-sided decision, watching her singing the song to him, right up in his face goes beyond the concept of “art imitating life.” “Don’t Speak” is one of those songs that you’ll keep on every time it comes up on the radio, because you know that its subject matter happened to you too, and you remember quite vividly how it felt.
Come back next week for another edition of Growing Up 90’s! This weekly series will continue, every Tuesday for the foreseeable future, until I run out of songs I want to write about.