Burning Down The House

Album: Speaking In Tongues (1983)
Charted: 9


  • Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz and bass player Tina Weymouth, married since 1977, are big fans of funk. When they went to a P-Funk show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the crowd started chanting, "Burn down the house, burn down the house" (this is before "The Roof Is on Fire"), which gave Frantz the idea for the title. As he explained in a 1984 interview with National Public Radio (NPR), he and Weymouth created the original track in a jam, then took it to the band where they refined the groove. To form the lyrics, they picked words that fit the rhythms, which is why the words don't make a lot of sense. This is common practice in the world of funk, where you don't want the lyric to get in the way of the groove on a feel-good song.
  • With a lot of help from MTV, who gave the video a lot of play, this song became Talking Heads' biggest hit. It didn't get a great deal of radio play at the time, but has endured as an '80s classic and is often used in movies and TV shows, including Gilmore Girls, 13 Going on 30, Six Feet Under, Revenge of the Nerds and Someone Like You.
  • The French keyboard player Wally Badarou, known for his work with Grace Jones and Level 42, overdubbed the synthesizer parts on this track, a key addition. Percussionist Steve Scales contributed concert toms to the song.
  • This was an exhilarating live song for Talking Heads, who played it when they toured for Speaking In Tongues in 1983 and 1984. Like many of their songs, they needed additional musicians to pull it off, so their touring band included Steve Scales, who played percussion on the track; guitarist Alex Weir; and Bernie Worrell, who was part of P-Funk when Frantz and Weymouth saw the show that inspired this song.

    A few of the shows were recorded for the concert film (and soundtrack album) Stop Making Sense, which shows the band in peak form, especially on this track, which works the crowd into a frenzy. After the tour, David Byrne ordered the band to stop touring. They released three more albums but never played any of those songs live; they reunited on stage just once: in 2002 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With Worrell and Scales joining them, they closed their set with "Burning Down The House," making it the last song Talking Heads ever played.
  • The music video was directed by David Byrne and was the first Talking Heads video to show the full band - their famous "Once In A Lifetime" video is just Byrne. The house seen in the video was located in Union, New Jersey, but it was shot at a New York City club called The World.
  • The small version of David Byrne in the video was played by Max Illidge, who was 12 years old at the time and grew up to be the lead singer of a group called 40 Below Summer.
  • Many heard this song on the Stop Making Sense soundtrack, which outsold the Speaking In Tongues album. In the studio version, the song gradually fades to a close, but the live version heard on Stop Making Sense comes crashing to a cold ending as the band shouts the line, "Burning down the house!"

    Why didn't they do the cold ending when they recorded it in the studio? Because the lyrics were written after the track was recorded.
  • In February 2020, The Strokes performed this at a New Hampshire political rally in support of Bernie Sanders.

Comments: 15

  • Jj from DetroitAlso used to great effect in Neil Barsky's KOCH documentary...during a short flyover of Manhattan....
  • Markantney from BiloxeMay 2015,

    Chris, not certain if it's true but I recall (many years ago, late 80s or early 90s?) that Byrne was always PO'd that his bandmates had a MAJOR Hit (especially on the R&B side) with their Tom-Tom Club Album and/or they did the album behind his back,...the beef has something to do with their success independent of Byrne.

    But if that's true, you'd probably have to mix it with Franz and Weymouth probably wanted a bigger cut while being in the group after that hit?

    Regardless, like the Police, VHalen, Guns & Roses,...it's a shame a group breaks up that's slated for more success.
  • Chris from Norman, OkDoes anyone know why David Byrne refuses to have a reunion? Are there bad feelings?
  • Anne from Sanilac County, MiMy favorite part of the song is the extremely quiet guitar intro. Sadly, since I don't know when it's going to come on the radio beforehand, I usually miss it when I hear the song that way. I actually have to put the track on for myself to hear my favorite part at an audible volume, then I stick around for what is just a really great rest of the song.
  • Ryan from Aberdeen, SdI think the movie involving Bill Gates and Steve Jobs would have been "The Pirates of Silicon Valley." There was a lot of period music used in the soundtrack to denote the different years in which the story took place.
  • Paula from Laredo, TxThis song makes me move
  • Sunny from Kl, -The song appeared at the end of a movie where Bill Gates suggested to Steve Jobs collaboration between Microsoft and Apple.

    What's the name of that movie?
  • Bonnie from Long Beach, MsI have always loved this song, especially the DRUMS!!
  • Jon from Nyc, NyI recall the song from an episode of 'Hunter'
  • April from Raleigh, Ncit was used in the movie "True Stories" David Byrnes played a part. The Talking Heads did all the music for the film which stars John Goodman, Swoozie Kurtz & others. It also parody's another song "Once in a Lifetime" at a scene where a dance is going on, people copy the video of "Once in a Lifetime". funny.
  • John from Grand Island, NyIn the film "Stop Making Sense", David Byrne yells out "Who's Got a Match" right before this song starts.
  • John from Grand Island, NyThis song was used on the last episode of "Home Improvement" when Tim and Al actually burned down the "Tool Time" set after they cancelled the show.
  • Chris from Sevierville, TnIs one of those songs i always heard blaring at my uncle's house when I was a kid!!! Love it!!!
  • Jim from Kennett Square, PaOne of my favorite songs too. The Talking Heads did some great material. Sort of intellectual space cadets and their music was a lot of fun. The live version of this song in their concert film was wonderful!
  • Courtney from Orlando, FlI can't believe no one has commented on this freakin awesome song!
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