For the composition of Remain in Light (including “Once in a Lifetime”), Byrne built on the layered, production-centered composition techniques that developed from his collaboration with Brian Eno on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Essentially, the band went in with a blank slate and built up grooves, starting with a guitar lick or a drum beat. Others would add parts to the track. (All quotes are from Byrne’s How Music Works .)
Basically, they took away many of the regular composition tricks. “While punk rock was celebrated for needing only three chords, we had now stripped that down to one.” (p. 159) Writing melodies over these tracks was necessarily more difficult but he points out that this method has one main advantage: “more emphasis gets placed on the groove.”
As for the lyrics…
Okay, enough reading, here’s a video from a British Talking Heads documentary:
Americana singer-songwriter Josh Ritter goes off on a tangent at one of his concerts. He really milks that preacher style and looks like he’s receiving the light when he gets to the chorus:
Byrne says they couldn’t play these songs as a four piece, but he does a credible job with Crowded House (I love the guy with the mallet in the center behind Neil Finn at keyboards [the "Eno seat"]).
Pushing the trance aspect:
The Smashing Pumpkins deconstruct (not to the best effect) “Once in a Lifetime” (I link for completeness, but there’s a reason I didn’t embed — it kind of sucks). Here’s another link to what it would sound like if Nico (from the VU) covered the song.
A nice acoustic sound featuring a singer with a great accent:
Just wanted to point out the great Talking Heads cover band names:
This Must Be the Band, We Are Not Talking Heads, Start Making Sense, The Rocking Heads
Does the ecstatic groove remain when the Muppets cover “Once in a Lifetime”?: