Talking Heads

Psycho Killer

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 4:19
No Image 1984 Warner Bros.
Popular Favorites 1976-1992: Sand in the Vaseline 1992 Sire 4:19
Best of Talking Heads: Once in a Lifetime 1992 EMI Music Distribution 4:21
Cult Rockers: Rebels 1998
Various Artists
Beloved Records 4:31
Blowout: 18 of the Best Indie Songs 1998
Various Artists
EMI 4:31
Music of the Millennium, Vol. 3 2002
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion 2003
Various Artists
Rhino 4:20
Once in a Lifetime 2003 Rhino / Sire / Warner Reprise Video 4:20
The Best of Talking Heads 2004 Rhino / Warner Bros. 4:20
Talking Heads 2005 Rhino 4:21
Same as It Ever Was 2009 Hear Music
Alt Rock [Rhino]
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Music 4:29
American Classics [Rhino]
Various Artists
Be There Now
Various Artists
Soundsite 4:29