The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #170: Burning Down the House by The Talking Heads (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Somgs in Modern Music History.

Song #170: Burning Down the House by The Talking Heads.

“Burning Down the House” holds a special place in the career of The Talking Heads because it was the very last song that the band ever played together on stage. The occasion was their induction into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. That performance was the first as a group since the band broke up in 1991.

In the very beginning, David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison were a band that approached their music from the viewpoint that each song was a piece of Art. Thus, their songs didn’t always make sense, lyrically, because the intent of their lyrics was not usually to tell a story. What they often did was use words that complemented the rhythms and beats that stood out as the main focal points of their songs. And, what songs those were! The Talking Heads were very influenced by the genre of Funk, along with, an eclectic collection of songs from across the globe that became known in North America as “World Music”.

The story of “Burning Down the House” comes from a concert experience that husband and wife, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, had in NYC when they attended a concert at Madison Square Garden by the legendary Funk group, Parliment-Funkadelic, lead by George Clinton. In their prime, Parliament-Funkadeic put on ferocious shows that were rooted in grooves that pulsated and bass notes that throbbed. One of their most popular songs was called, “The Roof is on Fire” in which the band encourages the audience to chant back the phrase, “Burn Down the House”, which the band does with high octance Funk. Anyway, a few days following that concert, the members of The Talking Heads were jamming together in studio. David Byrne had the musical structure for the song and was starting to ad-lib phrases that he thought fit the rhythm of their music. Frantz and Weymouth mentioned “Burn Down the House” from their Parliament-Funkadelic concert. Byrne thought the phrase was a good match for the vibe they were after and, after a few tweaks, “Burning Down the House” became a living, breathing entity.

The song was initially released on one of their top selling albums, “Speaking in Tongues”. But, while the album sold well, the song didn’t chart all that high and, at the time, was not considered one of their top studio songs. The funny thing about music is that, sometimes, it isn’t the song, itself, that causes it not to resonate completely with audiences, it is, instead, the format with which the song is presented. Despite slow sales of the song as a single, the band always loved playing it live and always got a great response from concert goers in attendance whenever “Burning Down the House” was played. One thing that helped make a difference between the in-studio version of the song and the live version of the song was that The Talking Heads managed to recruit a man named Bernie Worrell to join them live. *(Worrell was an active member of Parliament-Funkadelic.) His addition to the live band upped the Funk calibre of the song and that, in the end, ended up making all the difference in the world. A live concert film called, “Stop Making Sense” was released a few years later; with the raucous live version of “Burning Down the House” finally available to be viewed and enjoyed by the masses. It was this live, funked-up version of “Burning Down the House” that is the one that we have all come to know and love. I know from my own experiences…..way back when house parties were still a factor in my life…..that this song always sounded awesome coming out of stereo speakers that had good bass! There is just something about good Funk and good Bass that seem to go hand in hand.

So, not surprisingly, when The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame came knocking upon the door of The Talking Heads, they agreed to reunite for one final performance. They played, “Once in a Lifetime”, “Life During Wartime” and then, brought the house down with “Burning Down the House” which was that night, as it was every night, a song whose essence was better felt when played live.

So, needless to say, you will all be getting an awesome live version of “Burning Down the House” for your video this fine day. Feel free to crank the volume; especially, if you have speakers with good bass. Here are The Talking Heads. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Burning Down the House”, by The Talking Heads, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Talking Heads, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “The Roof is on Fire” by Parliment-Funkadelic, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Parliment-Funkadelic, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting the funkiest of bands and artists from all over the world. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.