Look at the sky turn a hellfire red!
Somebody's house is burning
Well I asked my friend where is that black smoke coming from?
He just coughed and changed the subject and said oh I think it might snow some.
So I left him sipping his tea
And I jumped in my chariot and rode off to see
Just why and who could it be this time.
Sisters and brothers daddies mothers standing 'round crying.
When I reached the scene the flames were making a ghostly whine.
So I stood on my horse's back
And I screamed without a rap
I said oh baby why'd you burn your brother's house down?
Well someone stepped from the crowd--he was nineteen miles high.
He shouts he’s tired and disgusted so we paint red through the sky.
I said the truth is straight ahead
So don't burn yourself instead
Try learning instead of burning, hear what I said.
So I finally rode away but I'll never forget that day
'Cause when I reached the valley I looked way down cross the way.
A giant boat from space
Landed with eerie grace
And came and taken all the dead away.
It is reported that House Burning Down is Jimi Hendrix’ comment on the violence during the Summer of 1968's riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. If so, it’s amazing that there is nothing racial suggested in the lyric. Rather the message seems to be that we are all brothers & sisters and can figure out a way to the “truth” together. I include it among the psychedelic protest songs pleading for peace. Jimi Hendrix was loathe to call attention to racial issues during his career with the Experience; perhaps he didn’t want to alienate the White audience that (let’s face it) at the time made up the great majority of his fans. But by Electric Ladyland, it is evident that Jimi Hendrix was beginning to celebrate his Black heritage more in straight blues tunes. He might have become more outspoken about political matters had he lived. As it stands, he managed to tell a similar tale to that in Castles Made of Sand which is included on the Axis: Bold as Love album, down to the spaceship coming around to take the dead away.
The music to House Burning Down is extremely various, with guitar work vividly evoking both sirens of fire trucks and the whir of flying saucers. The verses have a martial beat, somewhat like the ominous and threatening Five to One by the Doors on Waiting for the Sun, to carry Hendrix verbose vocal lines. The choruses provide a passionate springboard for guitar breaks that seem to go up in flames. The intro sets the stage with its own shrieking melody, and the coda goes for quite some time as a separate movement of the song, allowing for much virtuoso improvisation.