Video may have, allegedly, killed the radio star, but it was video that really made a star out of David Byrne, and by extension, Talking Heads, here in the UK.
The album Remain In Light had featured highly in the end of year round-ups, including #6 with NME and, #1 in Melody Maker. The critics’ soft spot could, in an era of real snobbery about music, be attributed partly to the fact that no singles had been lifted from it. Sire Records took the unusual decision to issue a single more than three months after the parent album had been released. It turned out to be an edited version of one of the upbeat and most accessible tracks from Remain In Light
I can’t honestly remember when I first saw the promotional video. I know that I tuned it one Thursday evening to Top of The Pops in the hope of seeing it when the single was riding reasonably high in the charts, only to be bemused by the fact that resident dance troupe Legs & Co were offering their interpretation on things. But it must have been shown at least once on the BBC’s flagship show, or perhaps it was aired over on ITV, possibly as a segment on Kenny Everett‘s show which blended music and comedy sketches. It certainly wasn’t on Channel 4 as it hadn’t yet begun to air, and the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1981 on BBC2 wasn’t known for airing promos, preferring live appearances, failing which the song being played to old cartoon silent films from the black and white era.
Whatever and whenever it was, the video got folk talking up and down the country, in schools, colleges and workplaces. It was, back in the day, truly ground-breaking and hugely innovative. The sight of a bespectacled man throwing weird shapes as he worked himself into a sweaty, frenzied trance as he sang the song, made for unforgettable and compelling viewing.
Once In A Lifetime was a slow burner over here. It came in at #63 in the first week of February 1981 on the back of some radio play. I’m guessing that some TV show aired the video that same week, as it climbed 25 places into the Top 40. It then didn’t do all that much for the next two weeks, before it catapulted up to #14, five weeks after its release. It hung around the Top 20 for three weeks, before drifting out of the charts after a near three-month stay.
Remain In Light, despite the love and praise showered on it by the critics, had spent just four weeks on the album chart in November 1980. The success of the single led to a re-entry on the album charts in February 1981, and a thirteen-week stay, which was well beyond any previous amount of success.