Songs Where They May Sound Like, But Definitely Aren’t, Speaking in Tongues


This is a Public Service Announcement

I grew up in a Pentecostal tradition: people may have heard about its one notable characteristic: Pentecostals speak in tongues (mostly when we’re out of snakes). They consider it the primary physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit residing inside a believer.  The idea supporting this whole thing is that the Holy Spirit will enter you, as described in the Book of Acts, chapter 2, and you will be able to speak with unknown languages.

I’m not here to debate the veracity of glossolalia (as we nerds like to refer to our Heavenly Languages). But it also won’t prevent me from having a bit of fun with the idea. Depending on the part of the country you worship, your “heavenly language” may sound awfully similar to the other people in your church. A close approximation of the sounds were “Shouldda bought a Honda, but I bought a Hyundai.” Or “Who stole-ah the key to my Honda?” (spoken with an Italian accent). I’m not poking fun of parishoners who do speak in tongues; I will joke about its abuse and misuse though.

Here are a few musical clips of songs that are definitely NOT Pentecostal.

David Seville, “Witch Doctor”. Many people mistook speaking in tongues as something uniquely African, and in the paranoid ultra-white fifties, many suspected it as just as dangerous as voodoo or witchery.  This song wasn’t written with a speaking-in-tongues parody in mind; just saying…

Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” – As far as I know, they’re not speaking in tongues. But man it’s a fun song…

The Beatles also didn’t speak in tongues. This is John’s pseudospanish. And also a fantastic bit of vocal harmonies.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “Blinded By the Light.” Not glossolalia, but nobody has any idea what the singer’s saying, or smoking…

The Ran-Dells’ are also not speaking in tongues in “Martian Hop”.  Hence it’s not a “heavenly” language in the strictest sense. Orbital, maybe. Not heavenly.

Pentecostalism also isn’t surf lingo although theoretically, you could speak these lyrics to a surfer and they might understand you. But they’re a rare breed. “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen.

The ultimate mumbled lyrics.  Consider the Kingsmen singing “Louie, Louie.” It’s like they’re Freshmen in college, giving an oral presentation, having forgotten everything they were going to say until “OKAY, LET’S GIVE IT TO EM RIGHT NOW!!!” Then they go back to mumbling for a few more minutes.

Speaking in tongues also has nothing to being confused by talking about sex in public, and being Jamaican. Check out Harry Belafonte singing “Man Piaba.”

And, of course, Pentecostalism doesn’t condone Speaking of Tongues if it’s purely the sounds of orgasm in 1958. Consider Ray Charles singing “What’d I Say?” Then consider that this song was recorded over 50 years ago. Could it be any more raunchy?

That’s your lesson for the day. If you’re doing any of those things, you’re *probably* not speaking in tongues.  It’s 1:15 PM.  Do you know where your Heavenly Language is?

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