Now a beloved and poignant ballad about the roots found in one’s childhood home, the song had a long journey before Miranda Lambert released it in March 2010. The two men initially wrote a 10-minute version filled with personal details and after they gave it to their publisher, it sat on a shelf for nearly seven years. In 2009, Douglas called Shamblin and suggested they revisit the tune.
It was during this writing session where they penned the hook: “If I could just come in/ I swear I'll leave/ Won't take nothing but a memory.” “We didn't have that until the very last day,” Douglas recalls. “Once we had that, the whole thing just locked in place.”
The song was first pitched to Blake Shelton along with several other tracks. As Shelton was listening to a CD of demos while driving around Oklahoma, then-girlfriend Miranda Lambert was beside him in the passenger’s seat and started crying upon hearing the track. Thanks to Shelton’s urging, Lambert decided to record “The House That Built Me.” Lambert’s stunning version became her first No. 1 song and resonated with the industry, winning multiple CMA and ACM Awards, as well as a Grammy for best female country vocal performance.
Lambert’s stirring vocal delivery alongside the deeply personal yet universal lyrics struck a chord with listeners. Shamblin says around the time he and Douglas began writing the song, he was longing for home and for a simpler time. After 9/11, he found himself realizing that the world he grew up in was drastically different than the one his three children would live in.
“Something about the timing of that in our culture, with so much moving from place to place and lack of community, I think it helped remind people of their childhoods,” Shamblin explains.
In 2010, American culture was changing, and so was country radio. Douglas says the song was released at a transitional time for country music when story songs were less common. “Right after ‘The House That Built Me,’ [was released] the world changed. Literally within months we went from this narrative storytelling to [Florida Georgia Line’s] ‘Cruise.’ The era of bro-country was ushered in. So it was, honestly, the end of an era."