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

Talking Heads – Take Me To The River

Take Me To the River was written by Al Green with his guitarist, Teenie Hodges, “Take Me To The River” first appeared on Green’s 1974 album Al Green Explores Your Mind. It wasn’t a hit, but attracted lots of cover versions.

The song is about a baptism, a topic that makes sense with Al Green, who later became an ordained minister and has his own church in Memphis Tennessee.

I never knew this was a cover song until this past year. The Talking Heads make this song their own.

Brian Eno, known for his work in Roxy Music and David Bowie, produced this track. Eno was was a great fit for the Talking Heads. The song was on the album More Songs About Buildings and Food. 

The album peaked at #29 in the Billboard Album Charts, #27 in Canada, #4 in New Zealand, and #21 in the UK.

Take Me To The River peaked at #26 in the Billboard 100, #37 in Canada, and #20 in New Zealand in 1978…I thought it would have peaked higher in the US…I’ve heard this song more than a lot of their others.

From Songfacts

Green and Johnson’s versions were well known in R&B circles, but the Talking Heads brought it to the New Wave rock crowd and had the highest charting version of the song, reaching #26 in the US.

 You wouldn’t think a New York City-based art-rock band could pull off a gospel-tinged song by a Southern soul singer, but Talking Heads kept the spiritual feel of the song while putting their own spin on it – lead singer David Byrne doesn’t sound like a traditional vocalist and could inhabit a character quite believably. His version of preaching on “Take Me To The River” foreshadowed a later Talking Heads hit, “Once In A Lifetime.”

A key element that set Talking Heads’ version of this song apart from the other covers is the tempo. They had been playing the song live for a while and had a good feel for it when they entered the studio, but when they recorded it, they played it as slowly as they could without losing the groove. This gave the song a seductive feel that set it apart.

A track from Talking Heads’ second album, More Songs About Buildings And Food, “Take Me To The River” was their biggest hit to this point and the only single from the album. It earned them a spot on American Bandstand, getting them on national TV for the first time. The group didn’t strive for hits and didn’t rack up huge sales numbers, but they pushed musical boundaries throughout their career to end up with a very impressive discography that landed them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

The More Songs About Buildings And Food album was one of the first recorded at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. The studio was set up by Island Records owner Chris Blackwell, who cut the Talking Heads a deal because he needed to get some big acts in there to establish it. According to Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz, Blackwell ringed the perimeter of the grounds with chicken blood to keep evil spirits away. This voodoo worked: The band had a great experience at Compass Point and recorded their next two albums there.

This was the only cover song Talking Heads ever recorded. “David [Byrne] resented that it wasn’t one of his songs that was the hit,” Chris Frantz told Songfacts. “So he said, ‘I’m not doing any more cover songs.'”

Take Me To The River

I don’t know why I love her like I do
All the changes you put me through
Take my money, my cigarettes
I haven’t seen the worst of it yet
I wanna know that you’ll tell me
I love to stay
Take me to the river, drop me in the water
Take me to the river, dip me in the water
Washing me down, washing me down

I don’t know why you treat me so bad
Think of all the things we could have had
Love is an ocean that I can’t forget
My sweet sixteen I would never regret

I wanna know that you’ll tell me
I love to stay
Take me to the river, drop me in the water
Push me in the river, dip me in the water
Washing me down, washing me

Hug me, squeeze me, love me, tease me
Till I can’t, till I can’t, till I can’t take no more of it
Take me to the water, drop me in the river
Push me in the water, drop me in the river
Washing me down, washing me down

I don’t know why I love you like I do
All the troubles you put me through
Sixteen candles there on my wall
And here am I the biggest fool of them all

I wanna know that you’ll tell me
I love to stay
Take me to the river and drop me in the water
Dip me in the river, drop me in the water
Washing me down, washing me down.

Talking Heads – Psycho Killer

There are bands that are hard to tell apart from other bands…and then there are bands like Devo and The Talking Heads that sound like no one else.

Psycho Killer is a song from their 1977 album Talking Heads: 77. It was the only song from the album to appear on the Billboard charts, peaking at #92 in the Billboard 100.

Part of the chorus and the bridge are in French. The verse translates to “What I did, that evening, what she said, that evening fulfilling my hope I throw myself towards glory.” The chorus lyric “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” means “What is this?”

The lyrics were said to be inspired by the character Norman Bates in the movie Psycho.

David Byrne: “Chris and Tina helped me with some of the French stuff. I realized, ‘That holds up. That’s a song.’ I may have been inspired by other things when I was writing it, but I hadn’t heard anything quite like it before. I was also writing completely from the character’s point of view. We played it. People liked it. I thought, ‘Oh, I can do more.'”

 

From Songfacts

This was the result of lead singer David Byrne trying to write an Alice Cooper song, but it came out much more introspective. It ended up being about the thoughts of a murderer.

The “Fa Fa” part comes from an Otis Redding song called “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).” Redding and other Soul singers were a big influence on Talking Heads.

Byrne wrote this two years before it was recorded. It was Talking Heads’ first album.

Byrne never thought this would be a hit. He considered it a “silly song” at the time, and was surprised when it took off.

The Tom Tom Club, a group led by former Talking Heads Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, often plays this at their concerts with Tina singing the lead vocal.

This is the first song played in the Talking Heads movie Stop Making Sense.

An acoustic version was the flip side of the single.

This appears on the live albums Stop Making Sense and The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads.

Artist to cover this song include Barenaked Ladies, Phish, Brand New, Local H and Velvet Revolver.

The 2017 Selena Gomez hit “Bad Liar” samples the bassline from this track. David Byrne has no problem with it. “I would have an issue if somebody took, say, ‘This Must Be The Place,’ which is a very personal love song,” he told Rolling Stone. “Other than that, yeah, repurpose the stuff.”

Psycho Killer

I can’t seem to face up to the facts
I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax
I can’t sleep ’cause my bed’s on fire
Don’t touch me I’m a real live wire

Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better
Run run run run run run run away oh oh
Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better
Run, run, run, run, run, run, run, away oh oh oh
Yeah yeah yeah yeah!

You start a conversation you can’t even finish it
You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed
Say something once, why say it again?

Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better
Run run run run run run run away oh oh oh
Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better
Run, run, run, run, run, run, run, away oh oh oh oh!
Yeah yeah yeah yeah!

Ce que j’ai fais, ce soir la
Ce qu’elle a dit, ce soir la
Realisant mon espoir
Je me lance, vers la gloire, OK
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
We are vain and we are blind
I hate people when they’re not polite

Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better
Run run run run run run run away oh oh oh
Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better
Run, run, run, run, run, run, run, away oh oh oh
Yeah yeah yeah yeah oh!

Talking Heads – And She Was

This song is about an acid trip. According to David Byrne, it was written about a girl he knew who used to take LSD in a field next to the Yoo-Hoo drink factory. it took me a while to warm up to The Talking Heads but I ended up really liking them. They always made interesting videos.

The song peaked at #54 in the Billboard 100 and #17 in the UK in 1985. The song was off of the “Little Creatures” album that peaked at #20 in the Billboard Album Charts. Byrne is listed as the sole author of Little Creatures’ nine songs, with the band credited only with arrangements.

It is a very good… catchy pop song.

From Songfacts.

The video was the first created by Jim Blashfield, who pioneered a collage-animation style with his short film, Suspicious Circumstances. That got the attention of Talking Heads, which wanted a similar motif for their “And She Was” video. The resulting clip earned MTV Video Music Award nominations for Best Group Video and Best Concept Video. Blashfield was commissioned for more videos in this style; his work can be seen in “The Boy in the Bubble” (Paul Simon), “Sowing the Seeds of Love” (Tears For Fears) and “Leave Me Alone” (Michael Jackson).

 

And She Was

Hey!

And she was lying in the grass
And she could hear the highway breathing
And she could see a nearby factory
She’s making sure she is not dreaming

See the lights of a neighbor’s house
Now she’s starting to rise
Take a minute to concentrate
And she opens up her eyes

The world was moving she was right there with it and she was
The world was moving she was floating above it and she was
And she was

And she was drifting through the backyard
And she was taking off her dress
And she was moving very slowly
Rising up above the earth

Moving into the universe and she’s
Drifting this way and that
Not touching the ground at all and she’s
Up above the yard

The world was moving, she was right there with it and she was
(Hey, hey)
The world was moving, she was floating above it and she was
(Hey, hey, hey)

She was proud about it, no doubt about it
She isn’t sure about what she’s done
No time to think about what to tell him
No time to think about what she’s done and she was
(Hey hey, hey hey, hey)

And she was looking at herself
And things were looking like a movie
She had a pleasant elevation
She’s moving out in all directions oh, oh oh

Hey, hey, hey
Hey-hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey-hey hey!

Hey, hey, hey
Hey-hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey-hey hey!

The world was moving, she was right there with it and she was
(Hey, woo hoo)
The world was moving, she was floating above it and she was
(Hey, hey)

Joining the world of missing persons and she was
Missing enough to feel all right and she was

And she was
And she was
And she was
And she was
And she was
Hey!
And she was!
And she was
And she was!