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The Story Behind Miranda Lambert’s ‘The House That Built Me’

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Every artist has a watershed moment. Carrie Underwood had “Before He Cheats.” Little Big Town had “Girl Crush.” Cam had “Burning House.” And for Miranda Lambert, 2009’s “The House That Built Me” is arguably that moment.

The third single off her third album Revolution, “The House That Build Me” became Lambert’s fastest-rising single and her first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country charts. It also won a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Plus a nomination for Song Of The Year and Best Country Song.

In other words, it was the rare gem that was as successful critically as it was commercially. So it stands to reason there’s an interesting story behind the song.

A Long Time Coming

At that point in her career, Lambert already established herself as a fiery newcomer with a big Texas attitude. Her previous singles included “Kerosene” and “Gunpowder & Lead,” both energetic songs with a take-no-prisoners vibe.

She also wrote and co-wrote nearly all of her own material. Except this one.

Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin actually wrote “The House That Built Me.” In Nashville, it’s common to write a hit song in one three-hour session. Heck, sometimes it only takes 45 minutes.

But as Douglas tells it, this one took seven years. Which is, you know, way longer than it takes to build an actual house.

Douglas told The Tennessean that Shamblin came to him with the song idea while at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in the early 200s. The two instantly thought they had a classic. But when they started sending the song out to trusted sources, they got crickets.

“We were so convinced we had a classic, we’d get together for years and think, ‘What is wrong with it? Why isn’t it resonating?'” Douglas says. Eventually they realized they were trying to put too much story in the original version. They cut it down, re-writing over the course of a few years. Including the crucial addition of the line, “If I could just come in, I swear I’ll leave — I won’t take nothing but a memory.”

Did You Write The Song, Or Did The Song Write You?

Miranda Lambert was 26 when she first heard “The House That Built Me.” Douglas and Shamblin originally figured a male would sing the tune, so they sent it over to Scott Hendricks, who has a track record of finding the hits in Nashville. Hendricks included it on a CD of potential songs for his client, Blake Shelton.

But Lambert, who was dating Shelton at the time, heard the songs too. And her reaction was immediately more visceral. “It was beautiful,” Lambert told Today at the time. “I mean, I just started bawling from the second I heard it. [Shelton] was like, ‘If you have a reaction to this song like that, then you need to cut it.'”

When Lambert’s parents first heard the song, they couldn’t believe she didn’t write it. That’s because it so closely mirrored a painful point in their lives that it felt like a page right out of her diary.

Read More: See Miranda Lambert’s Updated Airstream, Remodeled by the Junk Gypsies

When she was younger, the Lamberts fell on hard times. They essentially became homeless, staying with family and friends until they found an old house, which was about to be bulldozed. They all lived in one room while slowly fixing the home — adding windows, doors and floor-to-ceiling repairs. They planted a garden and hunted local game.

And yes, the upstairs room is where Lambert did her homework. And they did bury their 14-year-old dog in the backyard. The coincidences were so eerie it felt like the song practically wrote Lambert.

An Instant Classic

Just like all those “10-year overnight success stories,” the song that took seven years to write and found its perfect artist by happenstance became an instant classic. Lambert released it as her third single from the album after “White Liar,” racing to the top of the charts (imagine that, a ballad on country radio).

Similar to her recent performance of “Tin Man,” Lambert’s live rendition was bare and soulful. And her performance on the song ultimately won her her first Grammy Award. That put her in rare company in the mainstream country world, alongside greats such as Sugarland, Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Lady Antebellum.

Lambert also captured Song of the Year, Single of the Year and Music Video of the Year from the Academy of Country Music awards. She took home Song of the Year and Music video of the year from the CMA Awards.

Even now, eight years later, “The House That Built Me” remains a staple in Lambert’s catalog. The music video hits home too. In it, Lambert gets off a tour bus and tours her childhood home, now owned by another family.

“The House That Built Me” Lyrics

I know they say you can’t go home again.
I just had to come back one last time.
Ma’am I know you don’t know me from Adam.
But these hand prints on the front steps are mine.
Up those stairs, in that little back bedroom
Is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar.
And I bet you didn’t know under that live oak
My favorite dog is buried in the yard.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here it’s like I’m someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself
If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave.
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me.

Mama cut out pictures of houses for years.
From ‘Better Homes and Garden’ magazine.
Plans were drawn, concrete poured,
And nail by nail and board by board
Daddy gave life to mama’s dream.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here it’s like I’m someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself.
If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave.
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me.

You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can.
I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here it’s like I’m someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself.
If I could walk around I swear I’ll leave.
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me.

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The Story Behind Miranda Lambert’s ‘The House That Built Me’