John Mayer – “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” – Song Discussion

2006’s Continuum is an alum that I came to adore years after its initial release. When I first started really listening to John Mayer, that was the first of his records that actually stuck with me. And it wasn’t even in a sentimental way; to me, that record just made a lot of sense. From the way he sang to how each song was so polished to all of the spectacular guitar pieces, the list goes on and on. Growing up playing guitar myself, I always looked up to how cool and different John Mayer seemed. I even remember taking lessons and my teacher telling me how hard it is to play without a pick and just use your fingers on the electric guitar, but somehow John Mayer could do it. Maybe it really wasn’t that spectacular of a thing, but it lingered in my thoughts for a long time. That’s probably why his music was so memorable too, because of the perception that he was doing something extraordinary. I loved the way his music seemed so effortless but was conveyed with such a charisma that only John Mayer holds. If anyone else tried to do it like him, it just wouldn’t be the same. Many years later, and there are songs on Continuum that resonate in my mind like no other, from “Vultures” to “Gravity” and his cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love”.

There are so many great aspects of this entire record that I could easily write about every single song on it. But that’s not what I wanted to do. I specifically only wanted to talk about one song, and not because it’s any more important to me than the others, but because I find it to be one of the most interestingly produced songs John Mayer has to offer. “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” was, surprisingly enough, not released as a single, yet remains a fan favorite even still. I was lucky to see him live during his Summer 2019 tour and when he played this song, the entire crowd went wild. Confetti was released as we all sang along to rather melancholy lyrics and jammed out about being lonely. (I still have my piece of confetti in a jar with the rest of my concert tickets, as a matter of fact). And it really made me wonder, why is this such a standout song in his discography?

One of the main reasons this song is so notable is the production and overall sound of it. We start out with a soft, bluesy guitar backing and an even drum beat, with a high pitched guitar riff layered on top of it shortly after. The instrumental builds up slightly during the chorus, relaxing back into the notable guitar riff after the first chorus before it leads us into the first verse. After the two verses are done, we’re introduced to a short, but nonetheless fun, guitar solo which leads us smoothly into the outro of the track. The high riff comes back to us one more time, the backing guitar changes a bit and takes on a life of its own, and the vocals become a little more melodic with Mayer singing “go cry about it, why don’t you?”. As far as the rest of the lyrical component goes, it’s very blatantly written about this relationship that just isn’t working, no matter how hard they’re trying. The first verse outlines how they got the point they’re at, saying how they’ve also been there multiple times before. The second verse goes into detail how they both really did care for each other but how he’s slowing coming to the realization that the relationship needs to end. The ending sums it all up, as the song fades out we’re all left singing along to “Don’t you think we ought to know by now? / Don’t you think we should have learned somehow?”.  They’re clearly just taking their time together while their world is slowing falling apart around them. Maybe it’s a sign of love, but maybe it’s just crazy.

The thing that stands out to me most in this track is the desperation of making this relationship work but packaging in a way that’s pleasant to listen to. The overall tone is perfectly produced where everything is in the right spots, and it gives us enough to work with in terms of lyrics. Mayer’s vocals on the track are also worth noting. There are times when I can’t tell if he’s genuinely upset about having to lose this person or if he’s just bored of the situation, but I think those two elements added together help create this weird, conflicting feeling that makes the song relatable. Even despite the image of them dancing together during a house fire, the feeling of relief that the relationship is over is something so obvious at the end. Once it’s over, one of the most remarkable aspects of this song is its ability to turn a ruined relationship into something more, something a little brighter and a little less negative. The relatability behind the melancholy paired with the pleasant arrangement and optimism that ensues is what makes this track a stellar one. Along with the fact that this track had all of the potential to be released as a single but wasn’t makes it feel like a hidden gem, and makes it that much more special to the fans.

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