Psycho Killer

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"Psycho Killer"
Talking heads psycho killer USA vinyl.jpg
U.S. vinyl edition cover
Single by Talking Heads
from the album Talking Heads: 77
  • "Psycho Killer" (Acoustic version)
  • "I Wish You Wouldn't Say That"
ReleasedDecember 1977
Talking Heads singles chronology
"Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town"
"Psycho Killer"
"Pulled Up"

"Psycho Killer" is a song by the American band Talking Heads, released on their 1977 debut album Talking Heads: 77. The group first performed it as the Artistics in 1974.[4][5]

In the liner notes for Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads (1992), Jerry Harrison wrote of the B-side of the single, an acoustic version of the song that featured Arthur Russell on cello, "I'm glad we persuaded Tony [Bongiovi] and Lance [Quinn] that the version with the cellos shouldn't be the only one."

The band's "signature debut hit"[6] features lyrics which seem to represent the thoughts of a serial killer. Originally written and performed as a ballad,[7] "Psycho Killer" became what AllMusic calls a "deceptively funky new wave/no wave song" with "an insistent rhythm, and one of the most memorable, driving basslines in rock & roll."[1]

"Psycho Killer" was the only song from the album to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at number 92. It reached number 32 on the Triple J Hottest 100 in 1989, and peaked at number 11 on the Dutch singles chart in 1977. The song is included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[8]


The song was composed near the beginning of the band's career and prototype versions were performed onstage as early as December 1975.[9] When it was finally completed and released as a single in December 1977, "Psycho Killer" became instantly associated in popular culture with the contemporaneous Son of Sam serial killings.[10][11] Although the band always insisted that the song had no inspiration from the notorious events, the single's release date was "eerily timely"[9] and marked by a "macabre synchronicity".[11]

According to the preliminary lyric sheets copied onto the 2006 remaster of Talking Heads: 77, the song started off as a semi-narrative of the killer actually committing murders. In the liner notes of Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads, Byrne says:

When I started writing this (I got help later), I imagined Alice Cooper doing a Randy Newman-type ballad. Both the Joker and Hannibal Lecter were much more fascinating than the good guys. Everybody sort of roots for the bad guys in movies.

The bridge lyrics are in French, as is the prominent chorus line "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" ("What is this/it?"). The bridge lyrics are:

Lyrics in French Translation

Ce que j'ai fait, ce soir-là
Ce qu'elle a dit, ce soir-là
Réalisant mon espoir
Je me lance vers la gloire... OK

What I did, that evening
What she said, that evening
Fulfilling my hope
Headlong I go towards glory... OK

Later releases[edit]

Talking Heads performed the song on the BBC2 television show The Old Grey Whistle Test on January 31, 1978. The performance was later released on a DVD compilation of performances from the show.[12]

A live version was released on The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads in 1982 and the later CD release included a second, later live version from the Remain in Light tour. In 1984, another live version was included on the soundtrack for the band's concert movie Stop Making Sense. The film opens with Byrne alone onstage, announcing "'Hi. I've got a tape I want to play'...[and] strumming maniacally like Richie Havens,[1] playing an acoustic version of "Psycho Killer", backed only by a Roland TR-808 drum machine whose sound appears to be issuing from a boombox.

The song also appears on their 1992 compilation album Sand in the Vaseline: Popular Favorites and, over a decade later, on another compilation album The Best of Talking Heads.



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Italy (FIMI)[18]
sales since 2009
Gold 25,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[19]
sales since 2011
Silver 200,000double-dagger

double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone


The song has been recorded in cover versions by many bands including Julie Christensen,[20] Velvet Revolver,[21] James Hall,[22] Cage the Elephant,[23] Phish,[24] Antiseen,[25] Richard Thompson,[21] The Bobs,[26] Moxy Früvous,[27] Rico,[28] Victoria Vox[29] and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at the 2009 BBC Proms.[30]

Massachusetts-based band The Fools parodied the song and entitled it "Psycho Chicken"; it was included as a bonus record with their major-label debut album Sold Out in 1980.[31] Ice-T says that "Psycho Killer" was a starting influence for his band Body Count's controversial song "Cop Killer".[32] Singer Selena Gomez samples the bassline on her 2017 single "Bad Liar."[33] A Talking Heads tribute band based in Baltimore, active since 2011, call themselves the Psycho Killers.[34]


  1. ^ a b c d Janovitz, Bill. "Psycho Killer – Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  2. ^ Leicht, Angelica (January 1, 2015). "10 '70s Songs That Will Give You Your Groove Back". Houston Press. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  3. ^ Potton, Ed (August 15, 2015). "David Byrne: composer, curator, cyclist — not just a Talking Head". The Times. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  4. ^ Flynn, Clare (December 13, 2011). "Talking Heads, 'Chronology'". NPR. Retrieved September 13, 2012. CBGB in 1975, and see footage of an acoustic version of "Psycho Killer" from that performance
  5. ^ Smith, Andy (2003). Buckley, Peter (ed.). The Rough Guide to Rock (3rd ed.). Rough Guides. p. 1052. ISBN 978-1-85828-457-6. Byrne and Franz formed a quintet called The Artistic (they sometimes appeared as The Autistic), playing mainly 60s covers but throwing in the occasional Byrne original, most notably "Psycho Killer"
  6. ^ Jones, Chris (2003). "Talking Heads – Talking Heads 77 Review". BBC Music. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  7. ^ "David Byrne talking about 'Psycho Killer'". SoundCloud. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  8. ^ "Experience The Music: One Hit Wonders and The Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  9. ^ a b Greene, Andy (July 11, 2013). "Flashback: Talking Heads Perform 'Psycho Killer' at CBGB in 1975". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
  10. ^ Mayo, Mike (2008). American Murder: Criminals, Crimes and the Media. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-57859-191-6.
  11. ^ a b Gittins, Ian (2004). Talking Heads: Once in a Lifetime: The Stories Behind Every Song. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-634-08033-3.
  12. ^ The Old Grey Whistle Test (DVD). Warner Home Video. 2003.
  13. ^ " – Talking Heads – Psycho Killer" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  14. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Talking Heads - Psycho Killer" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  15. ^ " – Talking Heads – Psycho Killer" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  16. ^ "Talking Heads Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  17. ^ "50 Back Catalogue Singles – 17/10/2009". Ultratop. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  18. ^ "Italian single certifications – Talking Heads – Psycho Killer" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved November 26, 2020. Select "2019" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "Psycho Killer" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Singoli online" under "Sezione".
  19. ^ "British single certifications – Talking Heads – Psycho Killer". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  20. ^ "Julie Christensen – Where the Fireworks". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  21. ^ a b "Rare Performances: Talking Heads Live in 2002". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. August 29, 2012. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  22. ^ Liles, Jeff (January 24, 2002). "James Hall and Pleasure Club". Dallas Observer. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  23. ^ Heaney, Gregory. "Cage the Elephant – Live from the Vic in Chicago". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  24. ^ Schneider, Eric. "Phish – Live Phish: 12.07.97 Ervin J. Nutter Center, Dayton, Oh". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  25. ^ "ANTiSEEN – 15 Minutes of Fame, 15 Years of Infamy". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  26. ^ "The Bobs On Mountain Stage". NPR. December 6, 2013. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  27. ^ Robinson, Matthew. "Moxy Früvous – Live Noise". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  28. ^ Downie, Alec (August 12, 2009). "Take Me Out – Alec Downie's Top 20 Scottish Cover Versions (20-11)". Dear Scotland. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  29. ^ deNobel, Jacob (April 15, 2015). "Ukulele player, 'mouth trumpeter' Victoria Vox coming to Carroll Arts Center". Carroll County Times. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  30. ^ "The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain Performs Stunning Covers of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" & More". Open Culture. October 17, 2006. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  31. ^ Viglione, Joe. "The Fools – Sold Out". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  32. ^ Ice-T; Century, Douglas (2011). Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption-from South Central to Hollywood. One World. pp. 141–149. ISBN 978-0-345-52330-3.
  33. ^ Leight, Elias (May 18, 2017). "Hear Selena Gomez Sample Talking Heads in 'Bad Liar'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 22, 2017.
  34. ^ Weigel, Brandon (September 8, 2015). "Thomas Dolby to join Talking Heads tribute group Psycho Killers at charity show". Baltimore City Paper. Retrieved February 12, 2018.

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