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"Psycho Killer" is a song written by David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth and first played by their band the Artistic in 1974,[1] and as Talking Heads in 1975,[2] 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"[3] features lyrics which seem to represent the thoughts of a serial killer. Originally written and performed as a ballad,[4] "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."[5]

"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.[6]

Lyrics[edit | edit source]

The song was composed near the beginning of the band's career and prototype versions were performed onstage as early as December 1975.[7] 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.[8][9] Although the band always insisted that the song had no inspiration from the notorious events, the single's release date was "eerily timely"[7] and marked by a "macabre synchronicity".[9]

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: Template:Quotation

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 | edit source]

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.[10]

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 Stop Making Sense, the band's concert movie. The film opens with Byrne alone onstage, announcing "'Hi. I've got a tape I want to play'...[and] strumming maniacally like Richie Havens",[5] 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.

Personnel[edit | edit source]

Chart performance[edit | edit source]

Chart (1978) Peak
Chart (2009) Peak
Belgium (Back Catalogue Singles Flanders)[11] 24

Legacy[edit | edit source]

The song has been recorded in cover versions by many bands including Julie Christensen,[12] Velvet Revolver,[13] James Hall,[14] Cage the Elephant,[15] Phish,[16] Antiseen,[17] Richard Thompson,[13] The Bobs,[18] Moxy Früvous,[19] Rico[20] and Victoria Vox.[21]

There is Polish version ("Psychobójca") by Mariusz Lubomski[22] 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.[23]

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.[24]

Rapper Ice-T says that "Psycho Killer" was a starting influence for Body Count's controversial hit "Cop Killer".[25]

Singer Selena Gomez samples the bassline on her 2017 single "Bad Liar."[26]

A Talking Heads tribute band based in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., active since 2011, call themselves the Psycho Killers.[27]

References[edit | edit source]

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  9. 9.0 9.1 Template:Cite book
  10. Template:Cite AV media
  11. Kids
  12. Kids
  13. 13.0 13.1 Kids
  14. Kids
  15. Kids
  16. Kids
  17. Kids
  18. Kids
  19. Kids
  20. Kids
  21. Kids
  22. Kids
  23. Kids
  24. Kids
  25. Template:Cite book
  26. Template:Cite magazine
  27. Template:Cite newspaper

External links[edit | edit source]

  • Kids

Template:Talking Heads

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