Each month we take a look at a classic track or album and discuss it from a music production perspective, examining any innovations that took place during its recording. This month we take a look at `Once In A Lifetime` by Talking Heads. Released in 1981, it was named by NPR as one of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century.
The track saw the band and producer Brian Eno take on the dual influences of hip hop and Afro-beat, and create something truly unique by twisting these inspirations through their own art rock filter. Together, band and producer decided to scrap their old process of writing songs outside of the studio before embarking on recording sessions. Instead, they attempted to write Afro-beat inspired grooves in the studio; capturing this creative process on tape. `Once In A Lifetime` emerged from one of these sessions.
The track started with the bass line; bassist Tina Weymouth is hazy on the details but thinks that Talking Heads drummer (and her husband), Chris Frantz wrote the riff during one of their jam sessions. This idea was pulled from the recording and used as the basis for `Once In A Lifetime`. Although Weymouth then re-played the bass part on the track – it wasn`t sampled - the selection and looping of a small portion of a longer track owes much to the aesthetics of hip hop.
The band and producer gradually built the track up in the studio from this foundation. An interesting side-note is that on listening back to the groove, Eno counted the track from a different position than the band had – he imagined the start of the bar to be at a different point. This means that the phrasing of certain musical parts is slightly unusual; all adding to the complexity of the song`s rhythmical structure.
The story of the recording of `Once In A Lifetime` is one that demonstrates how it is possible to assimilate a wide range of influences and put your own stamp on them. It also shows how a band can change their creative process, and in doing so, develop in an entirely new direction.