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No. 70: Talking Heads, ‘Burning Down The House’ – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs

Talking Heads Burning Down The House
Sire Records

The next artist on our Top 100 Classic Rock Songs had the first show of their career opening for the Ramones at famed NYC club CBGB’s in 1975. Not a shabby way to kick-start your career.

‘Burning Down The House’ from the Talking Heads‘ 1983 album ‘Speaking In Tongues’ was the group’s biggest hit, no doubt thanks to the endless rotation of the song’s innovative video on MTV. The single peaked at the No. 8 position on the Billboard Hot 100 singles.

Characterized by the very new-wave sound with which the band was associated, the song is perhaps most notable for the nonsensical phrases sung by vocalist David Byrne. If there was a hidden meaning or agenda behind lyrics such as “Cool babies, strange but not a stranger,” he wasn’t letting the audience in on the gag.

When discussing the song’s lyrics in an NPR interview conducted in 1984, Byrne said he had been simply trying to sing phrases that fit with the rhythm of the song, a technique that was influenced by their producer friend Brian Eno. Stating that he had “loads of phrases” that he thought “thematically had something to do with one another,” Byrne merely cherry-picked from those phrases to compile the lyrics heard in the song.

Interestingly, after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, ‘Burning Down The House’ was put onto the list of media giant Clear Channel’s list of possibly inappropriate songs for airplay.

Next Song: Wake Up, We've Got Something to Say to You

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Watch the Talking Heads Perform ‘Burning Down The House’

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