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Flashback Video: 'Once in a Lifetime' by Talking Heads

Ever since the dawn of MTV and Friday Night Videos, the music video has significantly impacted musical tastes and pop culture. It might not be as extreme as when the Buggles declared that "Video Killed the Radio Star", but there is no arguing that the music video certainly could make or break a song's popularity. So this regular Flashback Video feature will serve to remember some of the music videos from the great '80s decade that made an impact on me in one way or another.


This issue we will cover "Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads. Released in February of 1981, "Once in a Lifetime" was the lead single from Talking Heads' fourth studio album, Remain in Light. This unique and awesome song stalled at #103 when initially released, but when MTV launched that August, it played this unique and awesome music video in heavy rotation which helped the song grow in popularity.


Lead singer David Byrne is the only band member to appear in the music video (the full band didn't appear in a video until "Burning Down the House" two years later). The majority of the music video features Byrne dancing and gyrating while wearing a suit with a bowtie and glasses. Behind him are images of multiples of Byrne and/or footage from religious rituals. Very strange and odd, but also oddly captivating.


"Once in a Lifetime" was choreographed by Toni Basil and co-directed with Byrne. Toni Basil is probably best known to many for her worldwide hit single "Mickey", but that was not released until 1982 so this was before that. Basil had been a professional actress/dancer/choreographer since the late-60s well before she hit it big with "Mickey". She was one of the original members of the dance group The Lockers and helped bring street dance into the mainstream. Her film choreography had included American Graffiti (1973) and The Rose (1979) and later went on to include Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Something to Talk About (1995), That Thing You Do (1996), My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), Legally Blonde (2001), Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003), Charlie Wilson's War (2007), The House Bunny (2008) and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019). Many do not realize how much more she has done than just "Mickey".


It is reported that Basil and Byrne studied archive footage of preachers, evangelists, people in trances, African tribes and Japanese religious sects to see how Byrne could incorporate them into his performance. Basil set up a camera in a room, left Byrne alone and let him do his thing. They then edited together what was on the film and made the video needing only a small budget to complete it. Toni Basil discussed the choreography for this video in the 2011 book MTV Ruled the World - The Early Years of Music Video:

"He [Byrne] wanted to research movement, but he wanted to research movement more as an actor, as does David Bowie, as does Mick Jagger. They come to movement in another way, not as a trained dancer. Or not really interested in dance steps. He wanted to research people in trances - different trances in church and different trances with snakes. So we went over to UCLA and USC, and we viewed a lot of footage of documentaries on that subject. And then he took the ideas, and he 'physicalized' the ideas from these documentary-style films."


Like I said, it turned out to be a very cool and unique video for a very cool and unique song. Check out the music video for "Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads...



"Once in a Lifetime" was created before the music video evolved into the artform it became in the mid-80s and before the MTV Video Music Awards began, but it is certainly one of the most memorable contributions to the artform in its earlier stages. Same as it ever was.


Hope you enjoyed another trip back to the '80s thanks to Flashback Video!


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