White Houses (Vanessa Carlton song)

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"White Houses"
White Houses single cover.jpg
Single by Vanessa Carlton
from the album Harmonium
Released August 30, 2004 (U.S. radio)[1]
October 13, 2004 (Japan)
November 1, 2004 (UK)
Format Promo single, 5" CD single
Genre Piano pop
Length 3:44
Label A&M (U.S.)
Universal Records (Japan)
Songwriter(s) Vanessa Carlton, Stephan Jenkins
Producer(s) Stephan Jenkins
Vanessa Carlton singles chronology
"Big Yellow Taxi"
"White Houses"
"Private Radio"
"Big Yellow Taxi"
"White Houses"
"Private Radio"

"White Houses" is a song written by American singer Vanessa Carlton and Stephan Jenkins (lead singer of Third Eye Blind), and recorded for Vanessa Carlton's second album Harmonium (2004). Produced by Jenkins, it was released as the album's first single in 2004.

Production and composition[edit]

"White Houses" is structured around a 4/4 time signature which Blender magazine has described as "bright" and "un-girly",[2] and is backed by an orchestral arrangement that PopMatters magazine said "would make Jim Steinman blush".[3] Carlton said of the song: "It's about jealousy, it's about losing your virginity, it's about living on your own. It's a story that most people can relate to ... It's really the journey of one girl and her perception of her environment and how she starts out as a wide-eyed person, but everyone gets hardened by life, but not necessarily to the point where you can't feel anymore." She has also said it is about "rites of passage."[4] "White Houses" was the first song Carlton and Jenkins wrote together, and Lindsey Buckingham of the band Fleetwood Mac played acoustic guitar on the track after Jenkins met Buckingham, who was recording in the same building as Carlton, and invited him to listen to the song. Carlton said, "he just came in, played this great riff, recorded it and then he left, it all happened very fast, and turned out amazing." The song provided the inspiration for a charity project, Building White Houses. It began on November 9, 2004 and ended on December 31, 2005, its aim was to raise money for Habitat for Humanity International.

Critical reception[edit]

Rolling Stone compared the song to Carlton's debut single "A Thousand Miles" from 2002, defining "White Houses" as "another spazzy, arpeggiated single ... which is not about the real White House but does kind of conjure the Bush twins jamming in a drop-top".[5] A critic for Billboard said of the song: "it bears the do-it-my-way signature of a singer/songwriter who relies on piano; a meandering, storytelling lyrical style; and deceptively sweet vocals that underlie an intellectual bent ... The result is a highly original composition that makes you really want to listen and understand — and then sing along."[6] PopMatters magazine presented a much more negative summary of the song, by saying that it "basically sums up everything that's wrong with Harmonium: An overly familiar vocal melody, juvenile "Dear Diary" lyrics (with lots of references to 'boys' plus a cringe-worthy reference to John Steinbeck) ... And a bombastic backing arrangement."[3] Billboard critic Jonathon Newan describes White Houses as "beautifully humble and amazingly crafted. The in-depth lyrics which almost any nomad can relate to on a person level gives it an extraordinary inner-meaning, and the spectacular background arrangement is something that most pop songs lack. It's profound, it should be Carlton's next hit."

Commercial performance[edit]

The single reached number 86 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, though it peaked within the top 40 on Billboard's Top 40 Mainstream and Adult Top 40 charts. Slant magazine named it the sixth best single of 2004, writing: "[it's] the kind of song that truly cements a career ... poignant, bloody, fleeting, and beautiful, much like adolescence".[7] Blender magazine ranked "White Houses" at number 43 on its "100 Best Songs of 2004" list.[8] The song failed to chart in Japan, and in Taiwan, "Private Radio" was the album's first single.

Live performances[edit]

Anti-folk singer Kimya Dawson performed a cover of "White Houses" during a live concert at Falmouth, Maine in May 2005.[9] Carlton had previously contributed backing vocals to a track on Dawson's 2004 album Hidden Vagenda.


Carlton appeared to world-premiere the video on MTV's Total Request Live in the U.S. on August 11, 2004, and it debuted on VH1 on August 26.[10][11] MTV, VH1 and some radio stations censored the song because of its lyrics. Carlton later described the situation as "just, you know, frustrating sometimes because they can pick and choose, which I don't think is fair if you want to make a statement."[12] She attributed the censoring of the song to the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy involving Janet Jackson, which had occurred earlier that year.[13]


"White Houses" became the subject of a prank that Ashton Kutcher pulled on Carlton for the MTV television show Punk'd. During Carlton's rehearsal for a scheduled performance on The Tonight Show in November 2004, Kutcher's Punk'd crewmembers (disguised as staff from The Tonight Show) said Carlton needed to change both the bridge of the song and the line "I'm too thin" (in light of the publicity surrounding Mary-Kate Olsen's bout of anorexia nervosa). Upon realisation that it was a trick, Carlton told Kutcher, "All I have to say is 'thank the fucking Lord.'" (She performed the original version of the song on The Tonight Show on November 18, 2004, and the Punk'd episode was aired in May 2005.)


Music video[edit]

Track listings[edit]

  • Japanese 5" CD single
  1. "White Houses"
  2. "C'est la Vie" (live)
  3. "Papa" (live)


Chart (2004) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 86
U.S. Billboard Pop Songs 25
U.S. Billboard Adult Top 40 27
Japanese Oricon Singles Chart


  1. ^ "Going For Adds - CHR/Top 40". Radio & Records. Retrieved September 19, 2006.
  2. ^ Powers, Ann. "Review — Vanessa Carlton: Harmonium". Blender. Retrieved June 10, 2006.
  3. ^ a b Horan, Mark. "Vanessa Carlton — Harmonium". PopMatters. March 1, 2005. Retrieved June 10, 2006.
  4. ^ People.com : The #1 Celebrity Site on the Web
  5. ^ Sinagra, Laura. "Vanessa Carlton — Harmonium". Rolling Stone. November 25, 2004. Retrieved June 10, 2006.
  6. ^ CT. "Vanessa Carlton — 'White Houses'". Billboard. August 21, 2004. Retrieved June 10, 2006.
  7. ^ Cinquemani, Sal. "Best of 2004". Slant. Retrieved June 10, 2006.
  8. ^ "The 100 Best Songs of 2004". Blender. December 2004. Retrieved June 10, 2006.
  9. ^ Parker, Aaron. "Kimya Dawson Live at The Bike Barn on 2005-05-19 (May 19, 2005)". May 19, 2005. Retrieved June 10, 2005.
  10. ^ "The TRL Archive - August 2004". Popfusion. Retrieved September 24, 2006.
  11. ^ "VH1's Music Radar". PR Newswire. August 25, 2004. Retrieved September 24, 2006.
  12. ^ Kuo, Iris. "Q&A with Vanessa Carlton and the Ying Yang Twins". The UTD Mercury. April 18, 2005. Retrieved June 10, 2006.
  13. ^ Dionne, Bethany. "Not just an 'ordinary night' with Vanessa Carlton". Quinnipiac Chronicle. April 6, 2005. Retrieved June 10, 2006.


External links[edit]