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Once in a Lifetime (Talking Heads song): Wikis


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"Once in a Lifetime"
Single by Talking Heads
from the album Remain in Light
Released October 8, 1980
Format 7", 12", CD
Recorded 1980
Genre Post-punk
Length 4:19
Label Sire Records
Writer(s) David Byrne
Producer Brian Eno
Talking Heads singles chronology
"Crosseyed and Painless"
"Once in a Lifetime"
"Houses in Motion (Remix)"

"And She Was"

"Once in a Lifetime (Live)"

"Wild Wild Life"

"Once in a Lifetime" is a song by Talking Heads, from their album Remain in Light. Written by David Byrne and Brian Eno, it was named one of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century by National Public Radio.[1] It made #14 in the UK charts and #31 in The Netherlands.[citation needed]



The verses of the song consist of David Byrne speaking rather than singing. With the lyrics "Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down," the song has an existential vibe to it, although it is usually interpreted to be a song dealing with the midlife crisis and the inevitable sacrifice of youthful ideals and dreams for conventional success:

And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!

The main portion of the lyric is said to be based on a preacher heard on the radio by Byrne and Eno while they were driving through New York.

Music video

The music video features a bespectacled David Byrne dancing much like a marionette. The choreography was done by Toni Basil, famous for her hit song "Mickey". Byrne is shown making sudden flings of his arm, tapping his head, and getting on his hands and knees to pat the floor, much like simple tricks which can be done with actual marionettes. In the background, Byrne dances in perfect synchronisation; in the foreground, a larger Byrne is getting further and further out of synch. Some of Byrne's mannerisms (such as physical spasms, unfocussed eye movements, and sharp intakes of breath) were inspired by choreographer Basil showing him footage of epilepsy sufferers.

The video is noted for being exhibited in the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Stop Making Sense

Byrne's performance of Once in a Lifetime in the concert film Stop Making Sense is notable for its almost 4-minute long, unbroken chiaroscuro shot of Byrne.

This version of the song also plays over the opening titles of Down and Out in Beverly Hills. The song was remixed to remove the live audience.

Cover versions/samples

  • In 1988, rapper Sugar Bear sampled the main riff on his single Don't Scandalize Mine.
  • The following year, 1989, hip-hop/house rapper KC Flightt sampled the chorus, the main riff, and the refrain of "same as it ever was" from "Once in a Lifetime" on his racism-themed single "Planet E". The music video for this single featured David Byrne lip-synching along with the sampled lyrics and mimicking some of the choreography from the music video for "Once in a Lifetime."
  • In the same year, Rapper/DJ Chuck Chillout sampled the main riff in "Rhythm Is The Master" on his album, The Masters of Rhythm.
  • Cabaret duo Kiki and Herb have covered the song in their live performances, often as part of a medley. One such medley, performed at Carnegie Hall in 2004, was recorded and released as Kiki and Herb Will Die for You: Live at Carnegie Hall.
  • "Once in a Lifetime" was covered by P. M. Dawn on their 1995 album Jesus Wept in a medley entitled "Fantasia's Confidential Ghetto".
  • Argentinian band Cienfuegos covered the song on their album NSNC.
  • Smashing Pumpkins did a cover version of "Once in a Lifetime", with alternate lyrics, on their tour in support of the album "Machina/The Machines of God" in 2000.
  • Earthsuit covered the song on their 2003 album The Rise of Modern Simulation. They significantly altered the lyrics of every verse after the first, as well as the music of the closing portion of the song.
  • Jimmy Buffett did a cover version of the song two times during his 2007 Bama Breeze tour.


External links



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