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"Burning Down the House"
Single by Talking Heads
from the album Speaking in Tongues
Released 1983
Format 12", CD
Genre New wave
Length 4:00
Label Sire Records
Writer(s) David Byrne
Producer 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 1983 song by Talking Heads, from their album Speaking in Tongues. It became their highest-charting hit single in North America, reaching #9 on the US Charts and #8 in Canada in the year of its release. Outside of North America it was not a hit; in the UK, where Talking Heads would release 14 charting singles, it failed to make the charts at all, and in Australia it peaked at a very modest #94.

Chris Frantz thought of the titular chorus after seeing a Parliament-Funkadelic show where the crowd chanted "Burn down the house." 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 Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums). 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 had 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 he tried but ultimately didn't use in the song's recorded "verses" 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.'"

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, "Burning Down the House" was one of the songs put on Clear Channel's list of possibly inappropriate songs.

"Burning Down the House" is #29 on VH1's list of "The 100 Greatest Songs of the '80s".


Music video

The house used in the "Burning Down the House" video is on Myrtle Street in Union, New Jersey. 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.


A section of the song was covered by "Weird Al" Yankovic on his "Polkas on 45" polka medley. It was also covered by Tom Jones with The Cardigans in Jones's 1999 album Reload. Bonnie Raitt covered the song on her live album, Road Tested. Even Montreal DJ/Producer Tiga recorded a cover of this song for his 2006 album, Sexor. John Legend also covered the song on his "Live at SOB's" album. A version by the Vienna Boys' Choir can be found on their 2002 album Vienna Boys' Choir Goes Pop. Marcus Miller also did a jazz/funk cover of this song. Dave Matthews Band covered the song during its 2008 and 2009 summer tours, debuting the tune at Louisville Slugger Ballpark on August 1, 2008.[1] Heather Luttrell sang this song on Rock Star: INXS Toby Rand sang this song on Rock Star Supernova. The Radiators have covered the song since 2003, and it has become one of their most frequent and popular covers. The Used also covered the song in 2009 and is included on the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen soundtrack.

In popular culture

  • In the movie 13 Going on 30, Matt plays "Burning Down the House" at Jenna's birthday party.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, "Homer Goes to College" (episode 1F02), the Itchy & Scratchy cartoon watched by Bart and Lisa is titled "Burning Down the Mouse".
  • In an episode of the TV show Six Feet Under, Ruth Fisher sings "Burning Down the House" in front of the rest of the family on karaoke at a drunken family party.
  • In the final episode of the sitcom Home Improvement on Tool Time all the show's favourite guests return and perform the song (played on tools) while Tim and Al almost burn down the studio.
  • It has also been used extensively as a closing number by the popular dance group Momix.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Soultaker, a shot of a speeding highway causes Crow to wonder, "Where's David Byrne's head?", in reference to the video.
  • The movie Revenge of the Nerds, features the song as background when the Alpha Betas set fire to their frat house.
  • The movie Pirates of Silicon Valley featured this song on its soundtrack, playing during the closing credits.
  • Dave Matthews Band began covering the song on their 2008 tour, with Tim Reynolds on electric guitar.
  • The 2009 film, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen features The Used's version of the song during a frat party scene.




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