How Talking Heads and Brian Eno Wrote “Once in a Lifetime”

Colin Marshall in Open Culture:

Few albums of the late 1970s and early 1980s have held up as well as those by Talking Heads, but what to call the music recorded on them? Rock? Pop? New Wave? In the difficulty to pin it down lies its enduring appeal, and that difficulty didn’t come about by accident: impatient with musical categorizations and expectations, frontman David Byrne and the rest of the band kept pushing themselves into new territories even after they’d begun to find success. When they set out to create their fourth album, 1980’s Remain in Light, “they were looking to change the way they made songs.” Instead of leaving the writing to Byrne, “the band wanted a more democratic process. And so they tried something they never had before.”

So says the Polyphonic video above on how the band wrote “Once in a Lifetime,” surely the most beloved song on Remain in Light and quite possibly the most beloved in Talking Heads’ entire catalog. “Inspired by Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, the instrumentalists in the band recorded a number of jams,” such as the proto-“Once in a Lifetime” outtake “Right Start” (which itself followed on “I Zimbra” from Talking Heads’ previous album, Fear of Music).

When bassist Tina Weymouth came up with a striking bass line, the band “took that lick and extrapolated it, slowly building a piece around it. After weeks of jamming, David Byrne and producer Brian Eno came in to the studio to start adding arrangements and lyrics to the music pieces.”

More here.