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The Many, Many Lives of Talking Heads’ ‘Once in a Lifetime’

Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime

Talking Heads‘ 1980 song “Once in a Lifetime” is one of the most durable songs of its era. Below, you can see how it has held up to numerous interpretations — via remixes, covers, mash-ups, samples and live takes.

Released on 1980’s Remain in Light, “Once in a Lifetime” shows the growing influence that producer Brian Eno, was having over the group. Eno had introduced them to the work of Fela Kuti when he first met the band in 1977, and the Afrobeat legend’s polyrhythms first made their way into their sound on 1979’s Fear of Music.

In addition, David Byrne‘s speak-singing on the verses was inspired by field recordings of American preachers that Byrne was listening to while working on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a collaborative album with Eno that he was working on at the same time as Remain in Light. Those recordings also factored into the lyrics.

“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,” he told Time Out (via Songfacts). “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.”

Byrne expanded on its portrayal of a middle-class suburban man when he spoke with NPR in 2000. “We’re largely unconscious,” he said. “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?'”

Yet for all its fame, the song wasn’t even a hit. Although the original version reach No. 20 on Billboard‘s Hot Dance Club Play chart, it failed to make Billboard‘s Hot 100. But its video was frequently shown on MTV in the network’s early days. Five years later, however, the live take from their concert film Stop Making Sense peaked at No. 91.

The recent viral video that mashes up President Donald Trump into “Once in a Lifetime” got us researching how often it’s been used. We discovered dozens of times it’s been sampled or had its lyrics referenced in hip-hop songs, plus cover versions, parodies and various live performances by Talking Heads or Byrne over the years.

1980 Original Version – Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime”

Music Video Set to Scenes From David Bowie’s The Man Who Fell to Earth

1980 – Talking Heads Live

1982 Live Version From a U.K. Documentary

1983 Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense

1986 Opening Credits, Down and Out in Beverly Hills

1986 “Weird Al” Yankovic, “Dog Eat Dog” (pastiche of several Talking Heads songs)

1988 Sample – Outlaw Posse, “Outlaws in Effect”

1988 Sample – KC Flightt, “Planet E” (With David Byrne in video)

1988 Sample – Sugar Bear, “Don’t Scandalize Mine”

1988 Sample – Alliance, “Pure Skill”

1989 Sample – Gigolo Tony, “Dance With the Boogie”

1989 Sample – Corporation of One, “Son of a Taxi Driver”

1989 Sample – DJ Chuck Chillout and Kool Chip, “Rhythm Is the Master”

1991 Sample – Bassheads, “Is There Anybody Out There?”

1991 Sample – Tim Dog, “Step to Me”

1991 Sample – Triplex, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent”

1992 Sample – Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, “If It Ain’t Rough, It Ain’t Right”

1992 Sample – 4 Hero, “Where’s the Boy”

1993 Sample – John Oswald, “Temperature (Beastie Shop Beach)”

1993 Sample – John Oswald, “Massive (Ozzie Osmond)”

1994 David Byrne, Live in Toronto

1994 – Beavis and Butthead Compare Byrne’s “Angels” to “Once in a Lifetime”

1995 Cover – P.M. Dawn, “Fantasia’s Confidential Ghetto: 1999/Once in a Lifetime/Coconut”

1996 Cover – The Muppets, Muppets Tonight

1996 Cover – Phish

1998 Sample – Jay-Z, “It’s Alright”

1999 Sample – Phoebe One, “Once in a Lifetime”

2000 Cover – Smashing Pumpkins

2000 Sample – Class A, “Same as It Ever Was”

2001 David Byrne Live in Austin, TX

2003 Cover – Earthsuit

2005 Lyrical Reference – Buckshot and 9th Wonder feat. Phonte and Keisha Shontelle, “Birdz (Fly the Coop)”

2007 Cover – The Exies

2008 – David Byrne (With Dancers)

2009 Lyrical Reference – Mcabre Brothers, “Some Cold S—“

2009 Cover – Michael Franti

2010 David Byrne and Crowded House

2010 Mash-up With Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”

2010 Sample – Eligh, “Find Yourself”

2010 Cover – Chico Mann

2011 – Cappo, “Twice in a Lifetime”

2011 Cover – Josh Ritter

2013 Sample – Milo, “Kenosha, WI”

2013 Cover – Frank Turner

2013 Sample – The Reflex, “Once in a Lifetime (The Reflex Revision)”

2014 Sample – Neil Cicierega, “D’oh”

2014 Sample – ClearVisionDream Productions, “Seagull Scientific”

2015 Mash-up With LCD Soundsystem’s “Home”

2015 Cover – Bush

2015 Cover – Amanda Palmer and Antibalas

2015 Cover – Lotus

2015 Sample – Harry “Choo Choo” Romero, “My Beautiful House”

2016 Cover – Tom Hanks from A Hologram for the King

2016 Cover – Kent Brockman on The Simpsons

2017 Cover – Stephen Colbert

2017 Remix – Krystal Klear

2017 David Byrne With Angelique Kidjo

2017 Trailer for Downsizing

2017 Cover – Miley Cyrus

2017 Donald Trump

Next: Talking Heads Albums Ranked

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