“I understand the Phil Spector wall-of-sound thing, but there comes a point where less is more”: How Tina Weymouth came up with her unforgettable bass riff on Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime

Island Life, A Celebration To Mark The 50Th Anniversary Of Island Records, Shepherds Bush Empire, London, Britain - 28 May 2009, Tom Tom Club - Tina Weymouth
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Talking Heads – comprising frontman David Byrne, drummer Chris Frantz, guitarist Jerry Harrison and bassist Tina Weymouth – made their first public appearance together in over 20 years at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Despite prior speculation, they did not perform or mention their tumultuous break-up. As Weymouth once told BP: “We don’t even think about that anymore, except when journalists bring it up. There was no falling out. I don’t think we ever had a fight, but I don’t think it’ll ever happen.”

If you’re familiar with the atmospheric 1981 single Once In A Lifetime, you may be aware of the story that accompanies it of producer Brian Eno asking each band-member to start a new bar in a different place, in order to create a weird shifting feel. As a result, Tina’s unforgettable bass riff is the song’s anchor. “We had this big jam. That’s how it came about. I credit Chris for this, because his rhythm is so rock-solid and steady. He hits really hard on the kick and snare, and he puts all this swing in his hi-hat. That’s where all the nuance comes from, and that makes it incredibly groovy. It was always fantastic to play with him.”

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Joel McIver

Joel McIver was the Editor of Bass Player magazine from 2018 to 2022, having spent six years before that editing Bass Guitar magazine. A journalist with 25 years' experience in the music field, he's also the author of 35 books, a couple of bestsellers among them. He regularly appears on podcasts, radio and TV.