Saturday, January 21, 2012

Song #95 of 9999 - Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads

Song #95 of 9999

Title: Once in a Lifetime
Artist: Talking Heads
Year: 1980
Album: Remain in Light

Less a song than a work of art, "Once in a Lifetime" is a production of famed producer Brian Eno who pieced together the independent contributions of the members of Talking Heads. The song is so revolutionary that it has been named one of the 100 most important musical works of the Twentieth Century by NPR and its video is exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. To further evidence its greatness, it didn't even crack the Billboard Hot 100 in America. :-\

For me, this is one of a very few songs that manages to sustain listener interest with absolutely no harmonic progression. Tina Weymouth's bass line gives the impression of two chords, but she's really just alternating between the 3rd and 5th of the D Major chord that is sustained throughout the piece. It's not until the guitar power chords at 3:05 (D-C-G) that we hear anything in contrast to the D Major groove. (By the way, I use D Major loosely—the sustained and sparkling keyboard that hovers over the song appears to contain almost all of the notes of the D Major scale and enough pitch modulation to disorient.)

Of course, as interesting as the polyrhythmic musical kaleidoscope manufactured by Eno is, it's David Byrne's manic preacher existentialist rant that makes the song. "And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack!" It's like one of those intriguing first lines from a novel that you can't put down. The verses are contrasted by a call-and-response chant that lets you know you're not alone in your midlife crisis and invites you to participate in the ritual.

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