Burning Down the House

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"Burning Down the House"
Talking heads burning down the house standard cover art.jpg
Standard cover art
Single by Talking Heads
from the album Speaking in Tongues
B-side"I Get Wild / Wild Gravity"
ReleasedJuly 1983
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[edit]

"Burning Down the House" is a new wave[1] and funk[2] song. "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] 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 did not 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.'"[3]

Music video[edit]

The video, produced and directed by Byrne, alternates primarily between footage of the band performing the song in an empty ballroom, Byrne playing while facing a projection screen that displays a concert crowd or a wall of flames at different times, and images projected on the outside wall of a house. A young boy resembling Byrne takes his place from time to time; eventually, younger counterparts start moving the arms of all four band members to play the music. After the screen goes blank, both young and adult Byrne leave the stage, and the video ends with an extended close-up of Byrne's face projected on a highway at night.

The house used in the video is located on Myrtle Street in Union, New Jersey. Max Illidge (credited as Max Loving), vocalist of the band 40 Below Summer, and Rockets Redglare appear as the younger selves of Byrne and Jerry Harrison, respectively.

Chart performance[edit]

"Burning Down the House" became Talking Heads' highest-charting hit single in North America, becoming their only top ten single on the US Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 9, as well as reaching the top ten in Canada[citation needed]. Despite this success, the song was not a hit outside of North America. In Australia it peaked at a modest No. 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).


[citation needed]

Talking Heads

Additional personnel


Tom Jones and the Cardigans version[edit]

"Burning Down the House"
Single by Tom Jones and the Cardigans
from the album Reload
  • "Unbelievable" (live)
  • "Come Together" (live)
ReleasedSeptember 13, 1999 (1999-09-13)[10]
Producer(s)Tore Johansson
Tom Jones singles chronology
"You Can Leave Your Hat On"
"Burning Down the House"
"Baby, It's Cold Outside"
The Cardigans singles chronology
"Hanging Around"
"Burning Down the House"
"For What It's Worth"
Music video
"Burning Down The House" (Official Video) on YouTube

Welsh singer Tom Jones recorded a version of "Burning Down the House" with Swedish pop band the Cardigans for his 1999 collaborations album, 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 on September 13, 1999, and became a hit across Europe and Australia, reaching No. 1 in Iceland, No. 2 in Sweden, and the top ten in Australia, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, 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 Deluxé 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.


Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (1999) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[11] 8
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[12] 21
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[13] 2
Denmark (IFPI)[14] 6
Europe (Eurochart Hot 100)[15] 15
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[16] 10
France (SNEP)[17] 21
Germany (Official German Charts)[18] 27
Hungary (Mahasz)[19] 5
Iceland (Íslenski Listinn Topp 40)[20] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[21] 18
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[22] 58
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[23] 13
Norway (VG-lista)[24] 4
Scotland (OCC)[25] 5
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[26] 2
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[27] 31
UK Singles (OCC)[28] 7
UK Indie (OCC)[29] 2

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1999) Position
Australia (ARIA)[30] 82
Europe (Eurochart Hot 100)[31] 95
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[32] 26
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[33] 45


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[34] Gold 35,000^
Sweden (GLF)[35] Gold 15,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ Sonis, Rachel (May 3, 2016). "Lady Gaga Covers Talking Heads' "Burning Down The House" At The Met Gala Afterparty". Idolator. Retrieved November 11, 2017.
  2. ^ Crouse, Richard (1998). Who Wrote The Book Of Love?. Doubleday Canada. ISBN 0385257325.
  3. ^ "Here at the NPR Library and Archives, we've been..." nprchives. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  4. ^ "Discography Talking Heads". Australian-charts.com. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
  5. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 4385." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  6. ^ "Discography Talking Heads". charts.nz. Retrieved August 14, 2011.
  7. ^ a b "Talking Heads > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
  8. ^ "Cashbox Top 100: October 29, 1983". cashboxmagazine.com. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  9. ^ "The Top Singles of 1983". RPM. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  10. ^ "New Releases – For Week Starting 13 September, 1999" (PDF). Music Week. September 11, 1999. p. 27. Retrieved July 24, 2021.
  11. ^ "Tom Jones and The Cardigans – Burning Down the House". ARIA Top 50 Singles. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  12. ^ "Tom Jones and The Cardigans – Burning Down the House" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  13. ^ "Tom Jones and The Cardigans – Burning Down the House" (in Dutch). Ultratip. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  14. ^ "Top National Sellers" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 16, no. 41. October 9, 1999. p. 14. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  15. ^ "Eurochart Hot 100 Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 16, no. 40. October 2, 1999. p. 10. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  16. ^ "Tom Jones and The Cardigans: Burning Down the House" (in Finnish). Musiikkituottajat. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  17. ^ "Tom Jones and The Cardigans – Burning Down the House" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  18. ^ "Tom Jones and The Cardigans – Burning Down the House" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  19. ^ "Top National Sellers" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 16, no. 47. November 20, 1999. p. 19. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
  20. ^ "Íslenski Listinn Topp 20 (30.9 – 7.10 1999)". Dagblaðið Vísir (in Icelandic). October 1, 1999. p. 10. Retrieved October 6, 2019.
  21. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Burning Down the House". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  22. ^ "Tom Jones and The Cardigans – Burning Down the House" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  23. ^ "Tom Jones and The Cardigans – Burning Down the House". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  24. ^ "Tom Jones and The Cardigans – Burning Down the House". VG-lista. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  25. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  26. ^ "Tom Jones and The Cardigans – Burning Down the House". Singles Top 100. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  27. ^ "Tom Jones and The Cardigans – Burning Down the House". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  28. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  29. ^ "Official Independent Singles Chart Top 50". Official Charts Company. Retrieved November 11, 2018.
  30. ^ "ARIA Top 100 Singles for 1999". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  31. ^ "Year in Focus – Eurochart Hot 100 Singles 1999" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 17, no. 1. January 1, 2000. p. 11. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  32. ^ "End of Year Charts 1999". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved October 6, 2019.
  33. ^ "Årslista Singlar, 1999" (in Swedish). Sverigetopplistan. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
  34. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 1999 Singles" (PDF). Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved March 21, 2019.
  35. ^ "Guld- och Platinacertifikat − År 1999" (PDF) (in Swedish). IFPI Sweden. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 17, 2011. Retrieved June 27, 2019.

External links[edit]