1001 Songs Challenge,  1980s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #545: Once in a Lifetime (1980)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime (1980)

After a long stay in the UK, we are heading back to the US, dear reader, and we find ourselves in New York. Talking Heads previously appeared on our list in 1979 with the track, Heaven. When we join the group in 1980 they are working on their fourth album, Remain in the Light. Experimenting with the likes of funk and African music, this latest album is considered to be, arguably, the group’s finest and 1001 Songs have opted for the lead single – Once in a Lifetime

In Once in a Lifetime, David Byrne sings in the style of a preacher delivering a sermon with some elements of the track spoken and others sung. The song has been interpreted in different ways with a popular definition being that is about the kind of existential crisis that comes with reaching middle age and suddenly wondering what the hell is going on. Byrne himself has said the song is more about how we unconsciously go through life, how we are not fully aware of what is going on and then one day we gain some clarity and look around at where we are and what we have and wonder how all this came to be. In the song the narrator sings of achieving things the average person might be expected to, such as a nice house, a lovely spouse and a car but yet the question is posed, “how did I get here?” I think Byrne wants us to open our eyes more to the lives that we lead and now in my late thirties I can understand and appreciate some of the observations being made here. I feel it’s a song that resonates more the older you get.

Once in a Lifetime is one of the great songs from the 1980s. It sounds very much of that decade and is frighteningly catchy and addictive to listen to. The music video is worth your time with Byrne dancing erratically, wearing spectacles, a nice suit and sweating a lot. This one of the finest tracks by Talking Heads and burrowing down into its meaning only augments its quality. It’s best to sign off by lifting a fantastic comment from YouTube about Talking Heads and indeed this song i.e. “How is David Byrne these days? Same as he ever was.”


Favourite songs so far:

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Doors – The End (1967)

The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)

Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)

Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)

Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)

The Police – Message in a Bottle (1979)

Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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