Talking Heads – Once In A Life Time

Same as it ever was

David Byrne at his visual performance best with this video. According to David Byrne’s own words, this song is about how we, as people, tend to operate half-awake or on autopilot. Or perhaps a better way of explaining that statement is that we do not actually know why we engage in certain actions which come define our lives.

The members of Talking Heads…David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison – all contributed to the writing of this song along with the track’s producer, Brian Eno. And “Once in a Lifetime” itself originated from jam sessions. With this album the band wanted a more democratic process instead of Byrne writing all of the songs.

The song was on the Remain in Light album released in 1980. The song peaked at #103 in the US Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chat, #28 in Canada, and #14 in the UK in 1981.

In 1985 the song peaked at #91 in the Billboard 100 with a live version of the song off of the album Stop Making Sense.

The video was huge back in the early 80s and that is where I found the song. It was choreographed  by Toni Basil.

For this album they would improvise in the studio and take bits and pieces out. Their own version of  “sampling” and “looping.” The 1973 Afrobeat record by Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, became the inspiration for the album

Brian Eno: “It had all been done,” Eno says, “and the only thing left worth doing was some sort of urban pessimism of some kind, and that record is terribly optimistic in a way. It’s very up and, like, looking out to the world and saying, ‘What a fantastic place we live in. Let’s celebrate it.’ And I think we knew that was a fresh thought at the time.”

David Byrne:Most of the words in ‘Once in a Lifetime’ come from evangelists I recorded off the radio while taking notes and picking up phrases I thought were interesting directions. Maybe I’m fascinated with the middle class because it seems so different from my life, so distant from what I do. I can’t imagine living like that.”

From Songfacts

This song deals with the futility of not being happy with the things you have. Like trying to remove the water at the bottom of the ocean, there’s no way to stop life from moving on. The forces of nature (like the ocean) keep you moving almost without your conscious effort – like a ventriloquist moving a puppet.

Some of these evangelist recordings also made their way to a 1981 album called My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, by David Byrne and Brian Eno.

This stalled at #103 in February 1981, but when MTV launched that August, they played the video a lot, giving the song much more exposure.

David Byrne’s choreography in the video was done by the Toni Basil, who had a hit as a singer with “Mickey.” It was a very odd video, and for many viewers it was the first look they got at the Talking Heads (or at least Byrne – the full band didn’t appear in a video until “Burning Down the House” two years later).

As you watch David Byrne spasm like a malfunctioning robot interspersed with gesturing in Martian sign language, ponder this excerpt from the book MTV Ruled the World – The Early Years of Music Video, in which Toni Basil fills in some details about the choreography for this video: “He [Byrne] wanted to research movement, but he wanted to research movement more as an actor, as does David Bowie, as does Mick Jagger. They come to movement in another way, not as a trained dancer. Or not really interested in dance steps. He wanted to research people in trances – different trances in church and different trances with snakes. So we went over to UCLA and USC, and we viewed a lot of footage of documentaries on that subject. And then he took the ideas, and he ‘physicalized’ the ideas from these documentary-style films.”

Basil adds: “When I was making videos – whether it was with Devo, David Byrne, or whoever – there wasn’t record companies breathing down anybody’s neck, telling them what to do, what the video should look like. There was no paranoid A&R guy, no crazy dresser that would come in and decide what people should be wearing, and put them in shoes that they can’t walk in, everybody with their own agenda. We were all on our own.”

Basil also directed and choreographed the video for the Remain In Light track “Crosseyed And Painless,” which features dancers from a crew called The Electric Boogaloos. None of the band members appear in it.

Some critics have suggested that “Once In A Lifetime” is a kind of prescient jab at the excesses of the 1980s. David Byrne says they’re wrong; that the lyric is pretty much about what it says it’s about. In an interview with NPR, Byrne said: “We’re largely unconscious. You know, we operate half awake or on autopilot and end up, whatever, with a house and family and job and everything else, and we haven’t really stopped to ask ourselves, ‘How did I get here?'” 

Brian Eno produced this song and wrote the chorus, which he also sang on. David Byrne wrote the verses, which he talk/sings in an intriguing narrative style. Remain In Light was the fourth Talking Heads album, and the third produced by Eno, whose artistic bent and flair for the unusual were a great fit for the group.

Unlike their previous album, the songs on Remain In Light were mostly written in the studio (Compass Point, the Bahamas) and all credited to the four band members plus Eno.

A surprising number of musicians cite “Once In A Lifetime” as one of the best songs ever recorded. Here are three:

Charlotte Church, who named it the first song she fell in love with. “The first time I heard it, my mind was blown,” she told NME. “There’s so magic in that song. I think David Byrne is an absolute G.”

Nick Feldman of Wang Chung, who loves the “almost randomly cacophonous keyboard burblings, the wonderful bass line and rhythm section groove and David Byrne’s slightly preacher-like vocals.” He told Songfacts: “When my personal life started to unravel many years later, the lyrics to this song still resonated for me. Byrne’s mesmeric and intense physical performance in the video to this track still compels today, and compliments and reflects the music it is interpreting.”

Glen Ballard, who produced and co-wrote hits for Alanis Morissette, Dave Matthews and Aerosmith. “That song can’t be touched,” he said in a Songfacts interview. “I listen to it like once a month because everything about it is so perfect.”

The video broke new ground when it was exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art as part of a 1982 exhibition called “Performance Video.” The exhibit helped explain to parents what their kids were watching on MTV. It explained how the “Once In A Lifetime” video “expands upon the song’s complex interweaving of moods and images as well as Byrne’s interest in African music and percussion.”

When Talking Heads toured to support their next album, Speaking in Tongues, in 1983, Byrne did the movements from the video when he performed the song. Not only that, he added movements to other songs they performed on that tour as well, making for some very unorthodox visual expression. Audiences were used to seeing pyro and flashing lights, but had never seen anything like the full band running in place (“Burning Down the House”) or Byrne turning himself into a human corkscrew (“Life During Wartime”). The experience was so striking it got the attention of director Jonathan Demme, who filmed a few of the shows and turned it into the acclaimed concert film Stop Making Sense.

This was used in the pilot episodes of That ’80s Show (2002) and Numb3rs (2005). It was used twice on The Simpsons (“Days of Future Future” – 2014, “Trust But Clarify” – 2016) and in these series:

The Deuce (“Morta di Fame” – 2019)
Being Erica (“Being Adam” – 2010)
Chuck (“Chuck Versus the Suburbs” – 2009)
WKRP in Cincinnati (“Real Families” – 1980)

It also shows up in these movies:

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Secret Window (2004)
Rock Star (2001)
Alice and Martin (1998)

The live version from Stop Making Sense was used in the opening sequence of the 1986 movie Down And Out In Beverly Hills, which shows a homeless Nick Nolte pushing his grocery cart of possessions around Los Angeles and doing some dumpster diving. His character is in a classic, “How did I get here?” situation, but soon his fortunes take a turn. This version of the song was re-released as a single that year and charted at #91 in America.

The Exies released a haunting version of this song in 2006, releasing a video to go with it. It has also been covered by Smashing Pumpkins and sampled by Jay-Z on his song “It’s Alright.”

Phish covered the entire Remain In Light album on Halloween, 1996 at the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta. It took up the entire second set of their show and featured guest brass players. The performance is considered one of the best Phish “album-cover” attempts. 

Benin superstar Angélique Kidjo covered this song along with the rest of Remain in Light in 2018. She explained to Mojo: “I wanted to bring the resilience of the Africans, and the joy, despite everything they throw at us.”

On May 5, 2018, Kidjo sang “Once In A Lifetime” with David Byrne at Carnegie Hall. She told Mojo: “It was not rehearsed or planned. I think if I thought about it I wouldn’t have been able to sing one note.”

In his 2019 Broadway production American Utopia, David Byrne evokes this song a few times, doing the movements associated with it and at one point asking, “How did I get here?” He does the song in the play as well, and on February 29, 2020, Byrne performed it on Saturday Night Live with his cast members. Later that year, American Utopia was released on HBO as a movie.

Once In A Lifetime

And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

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!

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was

Water dissolving and water removing
There is water at the bottom of the ocean
Under the water, carry the water
Remove the water at the bottom of the ocean!
Water dissolving and water removing

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again into silent water
Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

You may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself
“My God! What have I done?”

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again into the silent water
Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Look where my hand was
Time isn’t holding up
Time isn’t after us
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Letting the days go by
Same as it ever was
And here the twister comes
Here comes the twister

Letting the days go by (same as it ever was)
Same as it ever was (same as it ever was)
Letting the days go by (same as it ever was)
Same as it ever was
Once in a lifetime
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by

David Bowie – Heroes

The song was written by David Bowie and Brian Eno and was on the Heroes album released in 1977. The song peaked at #24 in the UK Charts, #35 in New Zealand, and #11 in Australia in 1978. The song recharted again in 2016. The album peaked at #35 in the Billboard Album Charts, #3 in the UK, #15 in New Zealand, #6 in Australia, and #44 in Canada.

After burn out because of touring Bowie moved to Berlin and rented a cheap apartment above an auto-repair shop, which is where he wrote this album.

Bowie made a video for this song which aired on the Bing Crosby Christmas special. In 1977 Crosby recorded a Christmas special in London called Merrie Olde Christmas, playing the England theme to the hilt. Bowie agreed to sing a duet with Crosby, which became the famous “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth” mashup. Bowie’s “Heroes” video also aired on the show with an introduction by Crosby. The show aired in November 1977, about a month after Crosby died.

Bowie talked about the song:

“It’s a bitch to sing, ‘cos I really have to give it some towards the end. I pace myself throughout the show and often place it near to a point where I can take a vocal break afterward. As long as I’m touring I don’t see a time when I won’t be singing ‘Heroes.’ It’s a good one to belt out and I get a kick out of it every time.”

From Songfacts

This song tells the story of a German couple who are so determined to be together that they meet every day under a gun turret on The Berlin Wall. Bowie, who was living in Berlin at the time, was inspired by an affair between his producer Tony Visconti and backup singer Antonia Maass, who would kiss “by the wall” in front of Bowie as he looked out of the Hansa Studio window. Bowie didn’t mention Visconti’s role in inspiring this song until 2003, when he told Performing Songwriter magazine: “I’m allowed to talk about it now. I wasn’t at the time. I always said it was a couple of lovers by the Berlin Wall that prompted the idea. Actually, it was Tony Visconti and his girlfriend. Tony was married at the time. And I could never say who it was (laughs). But I can now say that the lovers were Tony and a German girl that he’d met whilst we were in Berlin. I did ask his permission if I could say that. I think possibly the marriage was in the last few months, and it was very touching because I could see that Tony was very much in love with this girl, and it was that relationship which sort of motivated the song.” 

Robert Fripp, formerly of King Crimson, played guitar on this track. His band, King Crimson, performed the song at the Admiralspalast in Berlin on September 11, 2016 in celebration of Bowie. This version was released on an EP called Heroes in 2017.

Brian Eno, formerly of Roxy Music, helped Bowie write and produce this. Eno moved to Berlin with Bowie and worked on his albums LowHeroes, and Lodger. These albums were much more experimental and less commercial than Bowie’s previous work, but they still sold well in England.

Co-writer Eno said of this in the April 2007 Q Magazine: “It’s a beautiful song. But incredibly melancholy at the same time. We can be heroes, but actually, we know that something’s missing, something’s lost.”

Bowie released versions of this song in English, German, and French. The German version is called “Helden”; the French is “Héros.”

Featured in this song are not only Brian Eno’s synthesizer and Robert Fripp’s guitar, but also producer Tony Visconti banging on a metal ashtray that was lying around the studio.

This song is featured in the films Christiane F (1981) and The Parole Officer (2001). It also ended up as a Microsoft commercial theme.

Bowie played this at Live Aid from Wembley Stadium, England in 1985, and also at the Berlin Wall in 1987. Regarding the later performance, Bowie said in his Performing Songwriter interview: “I’ll never forget that. It was one of the most emotional performances I’ve ever done. I was in tears. They’d backed up the stage to the wall itself so that the wall was acting as our backdrop. We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn’t realize in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. When we did ‘Heroes’ it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer. However well we do it these days, it’s almost like walking through it compared to that night, because it meant so much more. That’s the town where it was written, and that’s the particular situation that it was written about. It was just extraordinary. We did it in Berlin last year as well – ‘Heroes’ – and there’s no other city I can do that song in now that comes close to how it’s received. This time, what was so fantastic is that the audience – it was the Max Schmeling Hall, which holds about 10-15,000 – half the audience had been in East Berlin that time way before. So now I was face-to-face with the people I had been singing it to all those years ago. And we were all singing it together. Again, it was powerful. Things like that really give you a sense of what performance can do. They happen so rarely at that kind of magnitude. Most nights I find very enjoyable. These days, I really enjoy performing. But something like that doesn’t come along very often, and when it does, you kind of think, ‘Well, if I never do anything again, it won’t matter.'”

The Wallflowers covered this in 1998. Their version was used on the soundtrack to the movie Godzilla.

The single version, which appears on the ChangesBowie album, is shortened, leaving out a good chunk of the first verse.

Bowie first performed this on a television show hosted by his friend Marc Bolan, who was the lead singer for T-Rex. A week later, Bolan died when his girlfriend crashed their car into a tree.

Bowie played this at the “Concert For New York.” Organized by Paul McCartney, it was a tribute to the police, firemen, and rescue workers involved in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.

Blondie recorded a live cover on January 12, 1980 at The Hammersmith Odeon. It can be found on the disc Blondie and Beyond.

This was originally an instrumental composition, whose title was a reference to the 1975 track “Hero” by the German Krautrock band Neu!.

The finalists from the seventh series of The X Factor released a cover version in November 2010 in aid of armed forces charity Help For Heroes, which topped both the UK and Irish Singles Charts. The choice of song follows a trend as in 2008, the fifth series of X Factor finalists reached #1 with a cover of Mariah Carey’s “Hero.”
Despite a plethora of cover versions from other acts over the years, the X Factor 2010 Finalists are the first act aside from Bowie ever to have a hit single with the song.

What became the “official” video for the song was shot later in September 1977 and directed by Nick Ferguson, a painter who also did set design and directed various film and TV projects.

Janelle Monae recorded a cover for a 2014 Pepsi football-based advertising campaign “Now Is What You Make It.” Asked by The Guardian if she needed Bowie’s permission to use his song, the R&B songstress replied: “Oh, he’s a fan. He’s aware of me. His wife Iman is a huge supporter and she has told me countless times what a big fan he is. So he had to clear me doing the song and I’m so grateful.”

This song is central in the 2012 film The Perks of Being a Wallflower, starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson. You hear it more than once throughout the movie. 

Something of an underachiever when originally released, “Heroes” peaked at a lowly #24 back in 1977 in the UK and failed to make the Hot 100. In the week after David Bowie’s death, the song finally made the Top 20 in the country of his birth, leaping into the chart at #12.

Album Version

Single Version

Heroes

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins
Like dolphins can swim

Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh, we can be heroes just for one day

I, I will be King
And you, you will be Queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes just for one day
We can be us just for one day

I, I can remember
(I remember)
Standing by the wall
(By the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads
(Over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
(Nothing could fall)

And the shame, was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes just for one day

We can be heroes
We can be heroes
We can be heroes just for one day
We can be heroes