U.S. vinyl edition cover
|Single by Talking Heads|
|from the album Talking Heads: 77|
|Talking Heads singles chronology|
"Psycho Killer" is a song written by David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth and first played by their band the Artistic in 1974, and as Talking Heads in 1975, with a later version recorded for their 1977 album Talking Heads: 77. 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" features lyrics which seem to represent the thoughts of a serial killer. Originally written and performed as a ballad, "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."
"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.
The song was composed near the beginning of the band's career and prototype versions were performed onstage as early as December 1975. 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. Although the band always insisted that the song had no inspiration from the notorious events, the single's release date was "eerily timely" and marked by a "macabre synchronicity".
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.
|Lyrics in French||Translation|
Ce que j'ai fait, ce soir-là
What I did, that evening
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 later, 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, 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.
- David Byrne – lead guitar, vocals
- Jerry Harrison – rhythm guitar
- Tina Weymouth – bass guitar
- Chris Frantz – drums
The song has been recorded in cover versions by many bands including Julie Christensen, Velvet Revolver, James Hall, Cage the Elephant, Phish, Antiseen, Richard Thompson, The Bobs, Moxy Früvous, Rico, Victoria Vox and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at the 2009 BBC Proms.
There is a Polish version ("Psychobójca") by Mariusz Lubomski and in 2009, the song was covered by Italian X Factor winner Marco Mengoni. The song was later included in his debut EP, Dove si vola.
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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"
- 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
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- 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.
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