I’ve been to over 13 concerts in my life and Paramore remains one of my favorites I’ve ever been to.
When I saw Paramore, they were at the end of their “After Laughter” era. The band’s lead singer Hayley Williams stepped out wearing a hot pink jacket, yellow Doc Martens, bright colored eye shadow and curled hair. Her outfit was right for the vibe of the album and the vibe of Paramore in general: straight out of the 80s. If you don’t feel comfortable believing that a Gen Z-er gives any sort of ’80s categorization, don’t take it from me: take it from my dad, who lived through the ’80s and attended the concert with me.
Paramore is included in the pop, rock and punk genres. Talking Heads, who had their commercial peak in the 1980s, are also listed in these genres. Many times a good cover comes from a pairing like this: similar genres but with a newer vibe added by the cover. That’s why it was a pleasure and no surprise to hear that Paramore will be covering Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.”
The cover begins. You hear the familiar synth opening riff. Pause.
“Who has a match?” Williams breathlessly echoes in a near whisper.
It was a nice touch by Paramore because it pays homage to Talking Heads’ live performances of the song. Knowing this little detail and being intentional about including it shows some respect on Paramore’s part. Respect for the original artist is critical to the cover approach. This opening detail was not included on the original Talking Heads recording, but rather is only heard when they perform it live. It can be heard in the live performance of the song featured in the band’s 1984 concert documentary Stop Making Sense.
Paramore’s cover of the song is the first of many covers of Talking Heads songs that will go on the band’s tribute album, titled Stop Making Sense, named after the documentary. Last year, A24 acquired the rights to the film and re-released it in theaters for the documentary’s 40th anniversary.
Four decades allows enough time for the song’s popularity to fade and fall out of fashion. However, the original song has stood the test of time. It remains an iconic classic.
While I love the original, Paramore adds a lot to the song that almost makes me like their version more (not to blaspheme the work of the heralded Talking Heads.)
To name one, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s vocals feel like he’s holding back a bit, while Williams’ strong, punchy belts sound like she could in fact burn down a house. Those vocals are on full display right before the cover’s final instrumental, when Williams sings “Fighting fire with fire” and then lets out a charged and electrifying scream. This song is about breaking free from the safety nets that hold you back, and Williams sounds like he’s trying harder to tear those nets apart.
The theme of this song has a hidden melancholic feel under the surface when you stop and think about it, and yet it’s a very upbeat, danceable song. Many of Paramore’s songs also have this formula: a deep theme set over brighter sounding music. This is what the two bands have in common in addition to their similar genres.
As I mentioned, such genres usually make for a good cover. Since Talking Heads and Paramore have similar sounds, Paramore is an obvious choice for this tribute album. Some of the other artists on the lineup for the tribute album include Lorde, Miley Cyrus and The National. These choices, on the other hand, don’t feel as obvious based on the genres of these artists, but I’m still just as excited to see these artists cover some of Talking Heads’ iconic songs.
Covers tend to cross genre boundaries anyway.
Take, for example, Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt,” which was originally a Nine Inch Nails song. You wouldn’t necessarily expect the iconic country singer to cover an alternative rock band’s song. Cash’s cover is a beautiful performance that the music world wouldn’t have known it was missing if the genre gap had gotten in the way.
Like “Hurt”, sometimes the cover becomes more popular than the original to the point where some people assume the cover is the original. I’m ashamed to admit that for a while I thought Whitney Houston was the original singer of “I Will Always Love You” and not Dolly Parton. I know. I’m sorry. You can take my Tennessee card.
Even the Talking Heads themselves have a popular cover that many people don’t know isn’t their original song. The band covers Al Green’s “Take Me to The River” four years after its original release.
A song that recently went through this was “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman. While I’m not a big fan of modern country myself, I’m glad Luke Combs paid attention to the original.
And really, that’s the beautiful thing that comes out of covers: it draws attention to music that’s new to you and that you might not have listened to otherwise.
Whether you listen to a cover because you’re a fan of the original, or you listen to a cover because you’re a fan of the cover, your musical taste has the opportunity to expand in listening to a cover. By being introduced and exposed to a new artist, genre, or song, you may find yourself down a rabbit hole of listening to the new track and end up loving it as much as what made you listen to the cover in the first place.
Because my father had shared 80’s music with me and broadened my musical taste, I was able to observe, appreciate and enjoy the 80’s influence in Paramore’s music. Then, conversely, I have to share Paramore with my dad and expand his. Paramore’s cover of one of the most iconic songs of the 1980s now seems to have come full circle.
Paramore’s cover of “Burning Down the House” is streaming on Spotify, YouTube and other music platforms. The release date for the rest of the “Stop Making Sense” tribute album remains to be seen.