The Retro-Rock Allure of “Talking in Your Sleep” by The Romantics

In late 1983, the video for The Romantics’ “Talking in Your Sleep” was inescapable on MTV. The gently grooving tune became the band’s biggest hit of their career and its racy video—featuring the band members walking through and performing in a warehouse full of standing women asleep and clad in lingerie and sleepwear—was a big hit with teenage boys back then.

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The song was the lead single from the group’s fourth album In Heat, which was the first to feature guitarist Coz Canler, with Rich Cole migrating from guitar to bass. The album had a nice, polished production from the late Peter Solley, whose career credits included Oingo Boingo, Motörhead, and Peter Frampton. Solley had produced The Romantics’ first two albums, and he knew how to capture their pleasing blend of ‘50s and ‘60s rock merged with other influences.

Although retro in inspiration, “Talking in Your Sleep” stood out in the early ‘80s pop music scene. The ‘50s had made a cultural comeback in the ‘70s (the quartet formed in 1977), and their signature look, where they often wore matching black or red vinyl suits along with sporting pompadour hairstyles, was also memorable. And unlike on a lot of ‘80s rock songs that had an eighth-note chug, Cole played his bass more sparingly here, often cued in to Jimmy Marinos’ kick drum. Featuring guitarist/main frontman Wally Palmar on vocals, the song was a subdued and sexy mid-tempo track with ethereal riffing in the choruses and direct lyrics.

When you close your eyes and go to sleep
And it’s down to the sound of a heartbeat
I can hear the things that you’re dreamin’ about
When you open up your heart and the truth comes out

You tell me that you want me
You tell me that you need me
You tell me that you love me
And I know that I’m right
‘Cause I hear it in the night

I hear the secrets that you keep
When you’re talkin’ in your sleep

Almost an Afterthought

Like many famous songs, “Talking in Your Sleep” was almost an afterthought as the band were assembling their fourth album. Quoted in Greg Prato’s book MTV Ruled the World, Romantics drummer/co-lead singer Jimmy Marinos said it was the last song to be recorded for In Heat. “All we had was a backtrack, the instrumental part of the song,” Marinos said. “And we realized it was too good a track to leave unfinished. So everybody put their heads together, and in a couple of days we finished up the song melodically and lyrically.”

Amusingly, the group were rather sleepy-eyed in the song’s video as filming in Detroit began at 8 a.m. As with many bands, these were “not really rock ‘n’ roll hours.”

Retro in flavor but modern (then) in sound, “Talking in Your Sleep” became the one big hit of The Romantics’ career. It soared to number No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, No. 2 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock radio chart, and No. 1 on the U.S. Dance music chart. Additionally, it went No. 1 in Canada, No. 5 in Sweden, and Top 20 in Australia, Germany and Switzerland.

The extended 12-inch dance mix ran two minutes longer than the nearly four-minute running time of the original song, which has 152 million Spotify listens and 54 million YouTube views. There’s also an alternate version of the video featuring just the band performing on a moody, backlit set with a couple of trash cans on fire—it’s very ‘80s.

To be fair, “What I Like About You” from their 1980 debut album ultimately turned out to be a very popular song for the Detroit band. While it originally hit No. 49 on the Billboard Hot 100, it went to No. 2 in Australia, selling 50,000 copies there, and its stature has grown over time as it now has 246 million Spotify listens and 20 million YouTube views. “One in a Million” also performed respectively back in the day, hitting No. 37 on the Hot 100. The album In Heat was certified Gold for sales of 500,000.

The Influence of “Talking in Your Sleep”

While “Talking in Your Sleep” failed to chart in the UK at the time, it became a keyboard-laced hit with thick ’80s production for British band Bucks Fizz, who recorded it for their fourth album I Hear Talk. Their rendition went No. 15 in the UK and No. 14 in Ireland. “Talking In Your Sleep” was used as the song perfomed by the murderous animantroic animals in the 2023 movie Five Nights at Freddy’s. It was also heard on the season two premiere of Stranger Things.

The band The Civil Wars did a mellow, breathy piano and vocal cover of the song in 2014 with both male and female vocals. Snoop Dogg and Kokane covered and reworked it as their R&B-flavored hip-hop track “Secrets” in 2009, with Snoop providing additional rap lyrics. In 2016, The Weeknd interpolated “Talking in Your Sleep” (basically, he used a variation of the vocal melody for the chorus) within his own pop tune entitled “Secrets,” a track that has over 200 million YouTube views and 350 million Spotify plays.

In late 2016, Romantics guitarist Mike Skill told Billboard he liked The Weekend’s integration of the chorus and noted how “he doesn’t follow the melody that we use. He kind of adds his own melody. It’s kind of a mash-up. Kind of a jam on top of a groove.” Skill liked that a new group of listeners got exposed to the tune: “I think it kicks the original song into gear, sort of a next gear. You can’t ask for something like that. Good songs will last the test of time. Good melodies, good attention to production. The band always had that. And there’s a thirst for the ’80s, I guess, because of the structures of the songs, the melodies. It’s kind of a throwback to that.”

The Romantics had a special sound that combined rock and pop elements of different decades, and they worked it well in the early and mid-1980s. Due to a dispute with their management over unauthorized licensing of “What I Like About You” for various commercials, the foursome did not release any new music for several years after their 1985 album Rhythm Romance. Their sixth album 61/49 arrived in 2003. The Romantics’ music is still fondly remembered today, and the group has performed intermittently over the last few years. If you haven’t done so, check out In Heat—it’s a solid album.

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Photo courtesy theromanticsdetroit.com

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