When Gwen Stefani walked into the Anaheim house she shared with her brother and bandmates, she heard Eric Stefani playing a tender piano figure that stopped her in her tracks. The pair immediately set about writing the song that would become "Don't Speak". Gwen gushed out some lyrics: "I can see it all in an eye blink/ I know everything about how you are/ I can understand exactly how you think/ Between you and me, it's not very far." The verses celebrated Gwen's long-standing relationship with her bassist, Tony Kanal. It was a pretty, if lyrically unexceptional, love song; unusual for a band more noted for an energetic ska-pop. Melodically, though, it sounded like a hit. "The vibes were there, the chorus was almost exactly perfect," said the band's guitarist, Tom Dumont.
When Stefani and Kanal's relationship hit the buffers, it demanded a review of their new song. "Eric and I went into the garage, stubbornly and very irritated about the situation, and sat down and rewrote the verses and lyrics," Gwen said. "Don't Speak" went through various overhauls, some at the behest of their producer, Matthew Wilder, and each more lachrymose than the last. "It used to be more upbeat, more of a Seventies rock-type thing," said Gwen. "[When] Tony and I broke up... it turned into a sad song." Dumont's Spanish guitar solo was spliced together from six different studio 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."
The song featured on the band's third album, 'Tragic Kingdom'. Much of their established fanbase took an instant dislike to the lighter-waving tear-jerker. "Mere words cannot describe how abysmally gutless and sugar-smothered it is," ran the review in 'Kerrang!' "No Doubt suck badly." The band decided not to bother Americans with the song, restricting its release to export territories. It made No.1 in the UK in February 1997. The video took a slightly different approach to the song's subject matter. "We didn't want [it] to be about a normal break-up," commented Kanal. "So we thought: 'What would be the saddest thing that could happen? The band splitting up?' So that's what the video's about."
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies