The Isolated Vocal Tracks of the Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime” Turn David Byrne into a Wild-Eyed Holy Preacher

Same as it ever was

Same as it ever was

Same as it ever was

…until you isolate the vocal tracks, above.

Talking Heads’ Afrobeat-inflected "Once In A Lifetime " has become one of the band’s most iconic numbers. Even casual fans are prone to aping lead singer David Byrne’s shouty, freaked out preacher man delivery, a style born of experiments in human sampling, and cowriter Brian Eno's interest in early hip hop, Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, and combining multiple rhythmic elements in a single song.

Byrne insists that the infectious lyrics are not a critique of consumerism, as is popularly believed. Instead, he explains, they’re about mindfulness and the unconscious:

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?

Cut loose from the bass, guitar, keyboards and drums, the lyrics seem less like semi-improvisational art-geek constructions than the semi-sinister ramblings of a self-styled holy man, maybe the wild-eyed preacher character Byrne channels in the original video below.

People who’ve listened to the stripped down version online gather in the comments section like friends comparing notes near the exit of a haunted house:

I feel like David Byrne is holding me at gunpoint and yelling at me in an abandoned warehouse.

This sounds like David Byrne is lost alone in a cave and shouting nonsense into the darkness.

It's like hearing a cult somewhere in a cavern.

This sounds like something you'd hear before being murdered??




Readers, what associations do you have with this song, and where do you find yourself after listening to it sans orchestration?

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!

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down

Letting the days go by, water flowing underground

Into the blue again in 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

And you may ask yourself

What is that beautiful house?

And 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 to 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 in to 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

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)

Letting the days go by (same as it ever was)

Once in a lifetime 

Letting the days go by

Letting the days go by

via Dangerous Minds

Related Content:

Talking Heads Perform The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” Live in 1977 (and How the Bands Got Their Start Together)

Talking Heads Featured on The South Bank Show in 1979: How the Groundbreaking New Wave Band Made Normality Strange Again

Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” Performed on Traditional Chinese Instruments

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Thursday June 28 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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