Burning Down the House

"Burning Down the House"

Standard cover art
Single by Talking Heads
from the album Speaking in Tongues
B-side "I Get Wild/Wild Gravity"
Released July 1983[1]
Recorded 1982
Length 4:00
Label Sire
Producer(s) Talking Heads
Talking Heads singles chronology
"Life During Wartime" (Live)
"Burning Down the House"
"This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"

"Burning Down the House" is a song by new wave band Talking Heads, released in July 1983 as the first single from their fifth studio album Speaking in Tongues.

Inspiration and composition

"This song started from a jam," says bassist Tina Weymouth in the liner notes of Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads. "Chris [Frantz, drummer] had just been to see Parliament-Funkadelic in its full glory at Madison Square Garden, and he was really hyped. During the jam, he kept yelling 'Burn down the house!' which was a P-Funk audience chant, and David [Byrne] dug the line, changing it to the finished version, 'Burning down the house'." (Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic joined Talking Heads' live incarnation.)

The initial lyrics were considerably different, however. In an interview on NPR's "All Things Considered" aired on December 2, 1984, David Byrne played excerpts of early worktapes showing how the song had evolved from an instrumental jam by Weymouth and Frantz. Once the whole band had reworked the groove into something resembling the final recording, Byrne began chanting and singing nonsense syllables over the music until he arrived at phrasing that fit with the rhythms—a technique influenced by former Talking Heads producer Brian Eno: "and then I [would] just write words to fit that phrasing... I'd have loads and loads of phrases collected that I thought thematically had something to do with one another, and I'd pick from those."

According to Byrne in the NPR interview, phrases that he tried but ultimately didn't use in the song included "I have another body," "Pick it up by the handle," "You travel with a double," and "I'm still under construction." As for the title phrase in the chorus, one early attempt (as heard on a worktape) had him singing a different line, "What are we gonna do?", and at another point in the process, "instead of chanting 'Burning Down the House,' I was chanting 'Foam Rubber, USA.'"[2]

Music video

The house used in the "Burning Down the House" video is located on Myrtle Street in Union, New Jersey. Throughout the video, Byrne's head is superimposed in front of the house. Max Illidge, vocalist of the band 40 Below Summer, is featured as a young boy in the video. This was revealed on an episode of Headbangers Ball. Rockets Redglare was also in the video playing Jerry Harrison's part.


Talking Heads

Additional personnel

Chart performance

"Burning Down the House" became Talking Heads' highest-charting hit single in North America, becoming their lone top ten single on the US Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #9, as well as reaching the top ten in Canada. Despite this success, the song was not a hit outside of North America. In Australia it peaked at a very modest #94, while in the UK, where Talking Heads would release 14 charting singles, it failed to make the charts at all (although a cover version of the song by Tom Jones and The Cardigans would make the UK Top 10 in 1999).


Weekly charts

Chart (1983) Peak
Australian Singles Chart[3] 94
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[4] 8
New Zealand Singles Chart[5] 5
US Billboard Hot 100[6] 9
US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks[6] 6

Year-end charts

Chart (1983) Position
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[7] 70

Usage in film and television

Tom Jones and The Cardigans version

"Burning Down the House"
Single by Tom Jones and The Cardigans
from the album Reload
  • "Unbelievable" (Live)
  • "Come Together" (Live)
Released 1999
Format CD single
Recorded 1999
Genre Pop rock, funk rock
Length 3:40
Producer(s) Tore Johansson
Tom Jones singles chronology
"You Can Leave Your Hat On"
"Burning Down the House"
"Baby, It's Cold Outside"
(with Cerys from Catatonia)
The Cardigans singles chronology
"Hanging Around"
"Burning Down the House"
"For What It's Worth"

In 1999, singer Tom Jones recorded a version of "Burning Down the House" with the group The Cardigans for his album of collaborations titled Reload. In common with the other tracks on the album, the recording was made with the collaborators' choice of producer and studios, in this case Tore Johansson and Tambourine Studios in Malmö, Sweden.

The track was released as the lead single from Reload in September 1999 and became a hit across Europe, reaching #2 in Sweden and the top ten in Finland, Norway and the United Kingdom. The single was backed with Jones' live recordings of the EMF song "Unbelievable" and The Beatles' "Come Together", as well as remixes of "Burning Down the House" by Delakota, Pepe Deluxe and DJ Scissorkicks.

As one of the major hits of Jones' later career, it appears on numerous compilations of Jones' work. It also features on The Cardigans' 2008 Best Of album.

Other covers


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