Study Guide

Once in a Lifetime

Once in a Lifetime Introduction

In a Nutshell

Ah, the '80s: big hair, neon everything, and spastic marionette dance moves in front of videos of tribal Africa? 

It seems fitting that one of the songs that kicked off the Decade of Decadence was Talking Head's "Once in a Lifetime," a weirdly political New Wave tune that was perfect for MTV when it launched a few months later.

You may find yourself wondering why people were so weird in the '80s. You may find yourself laughing at the ridiculous fashions and hairstyles. You may find yourself looking at photos of your parents and dying of embarrassment. You may find yourself cringing whenever they play their music. 

You may ask yourself: Well, how do I know my kids won't do the same thing in 30 years?

About the Song

ArtistTalking Heads
Year1980
LabelSire
Writer(s)David Byrne, Brian Eno, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth
Producer(s)Brian Eno
Musician(s)David Byrne (vocals), Chris Frantz (drums), Jerry Harrison (guitar), Tina Weymouth (bass)
Learn to play
AlbumRemain in Light

Music Video

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Influences on Talking Heads

Fela Kuti
Brian Eno
Al Green
Philip Glass
Velvet Underground

Influenced by Talking Heads

Kate Bush
Radiohead
Phish
White Lies
Widespread Panic
Metric

Once in a Lifetime Resources

Books

Ian Gittins, Talking Heads—Once in a Lifetime: The Stories Behind Every Song (2004)
Go in-depth with every Talking Heads song in this study by Ian Gittins.

Frank Olinsky, Talking Heads, What the Songs Look Like: Contemporary Artists Interpret Talking Heads' Songs (1987)
This beautiful book is perhaps more interesting in terms of art history, but it's still really cool.

Sytze Steenstra, Song and Circumstance: The Work of David Byrne from Talking Heads to Present (2010)
Of Sytze Steenstra's book on him, Byrne said, "this book makes me seem both smarter than I am and possibly stranger than I am."

Albums

Open & Close (1973)
Fela Kuti's 1973 Afrobeat formed the template for "Once in a Lifetime" early in the recording and writing process.

Fear of Music (1979)
The predecessor to Remain in Light, Fear of Music represents the move of Talking Heads to the funk and African influences that would define their next releases.

Remain in Light (1980)
Eno and Talking Heads reinvented their musical process for this album—which includes "Once in a Lifetime"—and centered their sound on hip-hop style looping and African polyrhythms.

Images

"Once in a Lifetime" Single Cover Art
The single art for "Once in a Lifetime" is as artsy as the band's lyrics.

Remain in Light Cover Art
The agreed masterpiece of Talking Heads, Remain in Light, was also one of the first albums to use digital art on the cover.

Movies & TV

Stop Making Sense (1999)
Watch Talking Heads' famous concert video from 1983 on DVD.

Rome Concerts 1980: Talking Heads (2009)
See if you can find the hints of Talking Heads' subsequent musical directions in this pre-Remain in Light concert footage.

Websites

Talking Heads Website
Here's the official Talking Heads website.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Talking Heads
Read a quick bio of the band on their official inductee web page.

Video & Audio

"Once in a Lifetime"
Of courses, here's our track of the hour.