Once in a Lifetime

Once in a Lifetime

Updated Jan 16, 2020 at 12:02PM EST by Mike.

Added May 18, 2019 at 07:00PM EDT by VinchVolt.

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"Once in a Lifetime" is a song by American post-punk band Talking Heads, originally released on their 1980 album Remain in Light. Noted for its blend of post-punk, New Wave music, Afrobeat, old-school hip-hop, avant-garde music, and spoken-word, "Once in a Lifetime" is often considered Talking Heads' signature song and has become a popular subject for references, pastiches and parodies, both online and in mainstream popular media, in the years since its release.


"Once in a Lifetime" was first released on October 8th, 1980, as the fourth track on Talking Heads' fourth album, Remain in Light. Produced by Brian Eno and combining elements of post-punk, New Wave music, and Afrobeat,[1] the album was developed from improvised studio jams, with specific rhythms isolated from these jams and played ad infinitum to form the base of each song. "Once in a Lifetime" was specifically formed from a jam session titled "Right Start," consisting of repetitive guitar and bass parts written and performed by Talking Heads members Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. The jam was then elaborated upon by Eno and frontman David Byrne, who respectively contributed a repetitive synth part inspired by the works of minimalist composer Philip Glass and a spoken-word lyrical part inspired by the sermons and performance style of televangelists.[2]

In addition to being included on Remain in Light, "Once in a Lifetime" was released as the album's lead single on February 2nd, 1981. The single release was accompanied by a low-budget music video co-directed by choreographer Toni Basil (shown below). The video features Byrne performing erratic dances and rituals atop alternating chroma-keyed backdrops of a white void, religious rituals, computer-generated water ripples and four duplicates of himself. While the single itself received only modest sales, the music video was subject to frequent rotation on MTV in the network's infancy, allowing it and the song to garner widespread public attention.[3]


Stop Making Sense

On April 24th, 1984, the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Composited from three recorded performances from Talking Heads' 1983 Speaking in Tongues tour, the film included a live performance of "Once in a Lifetime," arranged in the style of the Speaking in Tongues album (shown below). A modified audio recording of this performance was included on the accompanying Stop Making Sense live album, released in September 1984, and was released as its lead single the preceding February.[4]

In the years following its release, "Once in a Lifetime" became a popular subject for parody in other media. One of the earliest known parodies of the song appeared in an episode a 1996 episode of Muppets Tonight, in which Kermit the Frog loosely recreates the song's performance in Stop Making Sense.[5] During the performance, Kermit wears an oversized white business suit similar to the one Byrne wears when performing "Girlfriend is Better" in the film and mimics his dance moves from both Stop Making Sense and the "Once in a Lifetime" music video against a slideshow of stock images related to the song's lyrics (shown below, left).

In 1998, the song was featured in a trailer for the film The Truman Show (shown below, top-right), relating the lyrics to the film's premise of an everyman unknowingly living in a reality television show.

In addition to being parodied in popular media, "Once in a Lifetime" has also been a popular source of parody online. On January 27th, 2016, YouTuber MAVNMAVN uploaded a 14-minute Insane Edition video of the song's secondary chorus, consisting of Byrne repeating the phrase "same as it ever was" ad infinitum (shown below, left). The video garnered over 3,000 views as of May 2019. On August 10th, 2016, YouTube user Ross Hudson uploaded a video containing Byrne's isolated vocal track from the song (shown below, right). The video amassed nearly 66,000 views as of May 2019.

On September 10th, 2017, Imgur user stonekaiju uploaded a facetious pie chart based on the lyrics to the song (shown below, left), receiving more than 800 points and nearly 72,000 views in less than two years.[6] On November 30, 2017, YouTube channel swedemason posted an edit of the video themed around incumbent United States President Donald Trump (shown below, right). As of May 18, 2019, the video has acquired 72,000 likes, 2,100 dislikes, and 3.4 million views.

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In December 2017, Tumblr user The World's First posted an audio recording combining the isolated vocals with the introductory dialogue to the 1994 Philips CD-i game Hotel Mario alongside a GIF depicting a scene from the accompanying in-game cutscene, with Mario and Luigi replaced by two duplicates of Byrne from the music video (shown below, left). As of May 2019, the post has gained nearly 10,000 notes.[7] The following spring, Tumblr user yungsquidward posted an Energy Sword Sunday meme depicting an edited still from the music video (shown below, right). As of May 18, 2019, the post has gained over 14,000 notes.[8]


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