It was a few months ago that Echorich supplied this blog with a very classy ICA on Talking Heads; it was one that concentrated on the band’s first four albums from the debut in 1977 through to Remain In Light in 1980. It was hard to argue with his selections but what was noticeable is that he omitted the single that really brought the band to attention here in the UK thanks to it reaching #14 in the charts in March 1981, some six months after the album had been released.

mp3 : Talking Heads – Once In A Lifetime

It’s a great and memorable pop song but there’s no doubt its sales were boosted by the promo video – one that back in 1981 seemed so clever, stylish and futuristic as well as containing a quirky but memorable performance from David Byrne.

I had always assumed that the 45 had been massive in America but was astonished to learn that it didn’t dent the Top 100. A short time later it might have been different in that MTV launched in August 1981 and the promo for Once In A Lifetime was on very heavy rotation; but by then the single wasn’t available in the shops albeit it did help the sales of the parent LP. It also set the band up nicely for mainstream success in their home country by the time the follow-up Speaking In Tongues was released in 1983.

To show how unprepared the band and Sire Records were for a hit single in the UK, it was only made available in the 7″ format (with an edited version that was tailor-made for radio) with its b-side also lifted from Remain In Light and thus not really providing an incentive for fans who already owned the album to shell out for the 45:-

mp3 : Talking Heads – Seen And Not Seen

Both sides still sound pretty sensational, modern and vibrant 37 years after they were recorded.



  1. You put your finger on it, JC. We didn’t buy Talking Heads singles in the US because the b-sides were usually album tracks or radio edits.

  2. I may have said this before, though more likely I bowed to all the approbation and chickened out. I never liked Talking Heads and own none of their material (even on compilations, I think). I do have a few DB guesting on dance/other stuff. And obviously Tom Tom Club.

    Am I alone in my Talking Heads disinterest?

  3. To expand on JTFL’s comment, I was an avid collector of 12″ singles in the ’80s, and Talking Heads didn’t really have one worth having until the remixes Slippery People/Making Flippy Floppy on one maxi single in 1983. Before that, as JTFL said, the singles were the album versions or, even worse, radio edits. There were plenty of remixes and extended versions after 1983, but the music wasn’t quite the quality of the band’s earlier work. Having said that, I do own quite a few of those later 12″ singles.

    As often as Once in a Lifetime was on MTV in the early ’80s, you would have thought it was a smash over here. As you say, JC, those plays came well after the release.

  4. So to answer the question, “Where was Once In A Lifetime on your ICA?”…I think it is the weakest song on Remain In Light. I also saw it as a very commercial attempt at a hit. By all rights Life During Wartime should have been a top 10 single a year earlier and it wasn’t. I was quite annoyed by that, and am to this day.
    I have mellowed to Once In A Lifetime over the years, but for a very long time Americans only new Talking Heads for Take Me To The River, Once In A Lifetime, Burning Down The House and Road To Nowhere – that I’ve never mellowed to.

    But Brain and JTFL are quite right, Talking Heads were never a singles band and it was an era when singles were of little consequence to record sales – radio airplay sold albums in the USA.

    As for the “b-side” Seen And Not Seen is some lovely Fela Kuti Afro Beat appropriation with that left field TH interpretation.

  5. You’re right JC, a song made all the better by an unforgettable video, David Byrne coming across like Clark Kent on acid against some very freaky backdrops, very state of the art for 1981. From the album, I think I prefer Houses In Motion, it’s just so odd. Grace Jones could do a great cover of that one.

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