Talking Heads

Psycho Killer

Composed by Chris Frantz / David Byrne / Tina Weymouth

Song Review by

David Byrne is a compelling Anthony Perkins-like figure on this deceptively funky new wave/no wave song from 1977. When they released the song on 1977's Talking Heads '77, their debut album, Talking Heads were an up-and-coming downtown New York band, an art rock band who cultivated the same decidedly nerdy look that Jonathan Richman sported fronting his Modern Lovers in the early '70s (Talking Heads included ex-Modern Lovers keyboardist Jerry Harrison in their ranks). Like Richman, a fish out of water in the world of early-'70s rock excess, Talking Heads aimed at being contrarians in the leather- and spike-clad world of CBGB and Max's Kansas City. But with songs such as "Psycho Killer," David Byrne and his crew seemed as threatening as any of their nihilist colleagues, perhaps more so; somehow, Byrne was eerily convincing playing the role of a disturbed outsider. "I can't seem to face up to the facts/I'm tense and nervous and I can't relax/I can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire/Don't touch me I'm a real live wire." Byrne's narrator intones ominous warnings over an insistent rhythm, and one of the most memorable, driving bass lines in rock & roll from Tina Weymouth. The driving arrangement seems to mirror the forces that are compelling the protagonist. In the second verse, Byrne switches his expressive and elastic vocal dynamics to a mocking tone, shifting from the first person to the second person, as if schizophrenically talking to himself: "You start a conversation you can't even finish it/You're talking a lot but you're not saying anything/If I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed/Say something once, why say it again?" Byrne sings almost the entire lyric of the bridge in French, the final line switching back to English: "We are vague and we are blind/I hate people when they're not polite." He's a loose cannon who seems to get closer to the edge as the song progresses. The band displays early on their funk influence with clean staccato guitar licks, eventually droning into a one-chord crescendo, à la the Velvet Underground. On the live Stop Making Sense (1984) (as also seen in the film of the same name), David Byrne walks out onto the stage, says "Hi. I have a tape I want to play," then plays an acoustic version of "Psycho Killer" over the backing of a recorded drum machine played through a boom box. It is an effective minimalist revision of the song, Byrne strumming maniacally like Richie Havens.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Talking Heads 77 1977 Sire / Warner Bros. 4:20
The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads 1982 Rhino / Warner Bros.
Stop Making Sense 1984 EMI 4:24
No Image 1984 Warner Bros.
No Image 1991 Golden Stars 4:58
Popular Favorites 1976-1992: Sand in the Vaseline 1992 Rhino / Warner Bros. 4:21
Best of Talking Heads: Once in a Lifetime 1992 EMI Music Distribution
Sounds of the Seventies: Punk and New Wave 1993
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 4:22
No Image 1995
Various Artists
Virgin
Cult Rockers: Rebels 1998
Various Artists
Beloved Records 4:31
Blowout: 18 of the Best Indie Songs 1998
Various Artists
EMI 4:31
Random Noise 2000
Various Artists
Thunderbolt (UK) 4:31
No Image 2000 Imtrat 7:00
New Wave Generation: Plugged In 2001
Various Artists
Disky 4:31
Big Hits 1980-2000: Rock 2001
Various Artists
Big Hits
No Spitting 2002
Various Artists
Disky
Best of Driving Rock 2002
Various Artists
EMI
No Spitting [CD3] 2002
Various Artists
Disky 4:29
60 Classic Punk Tracks 2003
Various Artists
Disky 4:29
No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion 2003
Various Artists
Rhino 4:20
Rock Live 2003
Various Artists
Disky
Once in a Lifetime 2003 Rhino / Sire/Warner Reprise Video 4:20
80s Alternative 2004
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:27
Driving Rock: 18 Classic Athems 2004
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:29
The Best of Talking Heads 2004 ATG / Atlantic 4:20
Real 80's: Hits and Extended Mixes 2005
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:24
Live Album 2005
Various Artists
Disky
Talking Heads [DualDisc] 2005 Rhino 4:14
The Rock 'N' Roll Rider: Jack Lives Here 2005
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 4:26
The Collection [EMI] 2007 EMI 4:27
From the Velvets to the Voidoids 2007
Various Artists
WEA International 4:21
Spirit of 77: Spirit of Punk 2007
Various Artists
EMI/Virgin TV 4:25
101 Jukebox Classics 2007
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:25
Live in Rome 2008 Atipica / SBP / Top Tape
Same as It Ever Was 2009 Hear Music
101 Punk & New Wave Anthems 2010
Various Artists
EMI 4:25
Burning Down Rome 2010 Lighthouse Records
Chronology 2011 Eagle Rock
CBGB [Original Soundtrack] 2013
Original Soundtrack
Rhino 4:21
Be There Now
Various Artists
Soundsite 4:29
No Image
Various Artists
Disky
Monster Halloween Hits
Various Artists
EMI TV 4:25
Saratogo Psycho: US, 1973 Good Ship Funke 5:23
Stop Making Sense Tour 1983 BRR
The  Old Grey Whistle Test 40th Anniversary
Various Artists
Rhino 4:19
The Boston Tea Party Sonic Boom 7:50
No Image
Various Artists
No Image Genuine Audio
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