Talking Heads: “Once in a Lifetime” (from STOP MAKING SENSE)

July 14, 2006

ths.jpgOne of the most thrilling music performances I know is captured in Jonathan Demme’s film, STOP MAKING SENSE. The film documents David Byrne and the Talking Heads live in concert. One of my favorite moments is the video of “Once in a Lifetime.” (You saw the commercially released earlier video last week.)

In this performance, the ostinati (repeated musical figures) are more defined and have a greater sense of momentum. As far as I can tell, nearly every musical idea in this song is a loop. Meaning, it repeats over and over: Some are short loops (like the 3-note pattern in the synth vamp, set over a duple metric feel), the spasmodic bass and guitar figure that never stops, the cow bell “response” that places itself in between the two guitar licks, and the steady bass drum and snare back and forth foundation. Each of the vocal lines (they are not always a melody) is repeated over and over within its section. Even the chorus is made of one line that repeats over and over. The enigmatic hook of the piece is the dizzily spoken “same as it ever was, same as it ever was…” The intro/interlude vamp, the verse and the chorus are ALL sung over the same groove. Here is what that groove looks like in notation. The instrumentaion is: synth, bass, guitar, drums, David Byrne, and backup singers.

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Here is a compendium of most of the loops in the song. I have not included the opening speaking part “you might ask yourself” which is somewhat variable, but is a loop.

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