Album: Speaking in Tongues
. . .
After putting out four albums between 1977-1980, it wasn’t until June of 1983 before Talking Heads put out another record, which might have been a recipe for disaster: even with The Name of This Band is Talking Heads to keep them in the public eye, three years was a long long time to be gone in the early 1980s, and whole movements had come around, gone away and been revived in that time. Instead, people had been catching up with them kinda like how Breaking Bad got so popular because it was on Netflix, and when Speaking in Tongues came out, the art/dance/pop/punk fusion that Talking Heads had helped pioneer was way more mainstream.
With Brian Eno gone, Speaking in Tongues was more straightforward funk than even Remain in Light, and you could definitely hear that in the opening song, the ebullient “Burning Down The House,” which actually opened with a bit of a feint: a swirling acoustic guitar, which soon meshed with synths — provided by Jerry Harrison, session guy Wally Badarou and Tina Waymouth on bass synth — and drums to provide the twitchy funk background over which Byrne sang.
Watch out, you might get what you’re after
Cool, babies – strange but not a stranger
I’m an ordinary guy
Burning down the house
Byrne’s voice is halting and stilted — he. is. pro. noun. cing. ev. ry. syll. a. ble. — and this is probably a good time to point out that I don’t like the vocal production on Speaking in Tongues: Byrnes lead vocals sound think and pinched, and the backing vocals lack any kind of force. Not the singing, mind you, the sound. Anyways, there are some cool drum fills each time Byrne yells “burning down the house” courtesy of either Chris Frantz or Steve Scales — Scales being one of the holdovers from the expanded band tour to play on Speaking in Tongues, though they didn’t ever try to put everybody in a room to record new songs, going back to the core four for the basic tracks.
The synths got super bubbly for the choruses dancing with David Byrne’s vocals, which loosen up considerable during the choruses.
Here’s your ticket, pack your bag, it’s time for jumping overboard
The transportation is here
Close enough but not too far, maybe you know where you are
Fighting fire with fire, ah!
There are a couple of synth solos on “Burning Down The House,” a jumping jivey one in the middle of the song, and an arty airy that dominates the outro. You know, the part of the video where David Byrne’s face is projected over the broken white line dividing a two-lane road so it looks like he’s kinda eating them.
Said video, of course, which came out during the ascension of MTV to the most powerful force in the music business, was definitely part of the reason that “Burning Down the House” was Talking Head biggest hit single here in the U.S., making it to #9 on the U.S. pop charts — well and truly their only massive hit single here, and if it wasn’t for “Take Me to The River” making it to #26, they would have been a true one-hit-wonder, as well, as the follow-up single, Future Certain Song “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” stalled out at #62. But we’ll talk about that one tomorrow.
“Burning Down The House”
“Burning Down The House” Official Music Video
“Burning Down The House” from Stop Making Sense
“Burning Down The House” live at the 2002 Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony
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