Travelin' Band 45 RPM single
It had to happen eventually. I’ve been meaning to cover a Creedence Clearwater Revival record for several weeks now, but I’ve always been able to come up with another idea that put Creedence onto the backburner. Well, no more: I don’t have any new ideas today; therefore, Creedence Clearwater Revival gets its due. The band started when John Fogerty (guitar), Doug Clifford (drums) and Stu Cook (bass) met in junior high school and started playing instrumentals together. Soon, they began backing up Fogerty’s older brother Tom (then the band’s lead singer). By 1964, the band (now christened The Golliwogs) to Fantasy Records, and independent San Francisco jazz label which had released Vince Guaraldi’s hit single “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” in 1962. The band’s future was murky when in 1965 John Fogerty and Doug Clifford were called up by the draft board; Fogerty enlisted in the Army Reserve while Clifford did a stint in the United States Coast Guard Reserve. The band released a few singles as The Golliwogs with Tom Fogerty as the lead singer, but these singles went nowhere. The band did not find its direction until John Fogerty took over singing and songwriting duties. By 1968, Fogerty and Clifford were discharged from military service, and the new owner of Fantasy Records, Saul Zaentz, gave the band an opportunity to record a full-length album, providing that they changed their name. They settled on Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the self-titled debut album was a huge success, buoyed by the first single from the album, “Suzie Q (Part 1)” b/w “Suzie Q (Part 2), a recover version of Dale Hawkins’ 1956 rockabilly hit, which reached number 11 on the Billboard charts. 1969 was a banner year for the band, as they released no less than three albums and four hit singles. In early 1970, the band did not have a new album to release (having released “Willie And The Poor Boys” only two months earlier); nonetheless, they released a new single: “Travelin’ Band” b/w “Who’ll Stop The Rain”, which is today’s featured single.
This single is actually one of the rare instances in this blog of a true “double A-side” single, with each song getting equal billing. It’s also a prime example of CCR’s ability to release tightly-focused radio-friendly pop songs with broad appeal, even as they displayed an ability to record lengthier pieces (such as the 11 minute version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”). “Travelin’ Band” starts with a blaring horn section (a sign that the band’s musical palette was expanding), and a melody that sounds suspiciously similar to Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” (in fact, the band ended up getting sued by the song’s publisher, a suit that was eventually settled out of court). But this song is no mere clone of the Little Richard song; it may be derivative, but it packs a powerful punch into a 2 minute pop song. John Fogerty’s vocals seem to be informed by Richard’s gospel-influenced delivery, as he sings enthusiastically about a band on the road: “737 comin’ out of the sky/Oh! wont you take me down to Memphis on a midnight ride”. The instrumental breaks are brief yet don’t waste a note: first we get an extremely intense guitar-sax break, then we get a guitar solo with slide flourishes. Fogerty’s screams on the record are screams of infectious enthusiasm that could easily rival James Brown and of course Little Richard himself. “Travelin’ Band” was the more popular of the two songs on this single, reaching number 2 on the Billboard singles chart.
“Who’ll Stop The Rain”, on the other hand, was a more thoughtful, serious song, and does not seem to be derivative of any pop record, although it does not stray far from the folk rock template. The song features an acoustic melody and rather melancholy textures, and one can understand how the more fun-sounding “Travelin’ Band” would be the bigger hit; nonetheless “Who’ll Stop The Rain” is a great song in its own right. The acoustic guitar riff that opens the song is a catchy one that indicates that CCR by this point was a road-tested rock band with a proclivity for roots music rather than a traditional folk band. The lyrical content is dreamy and murky: “Long as I remember the rain been comin down/Clouds of mystry pourin confusion on the ground”. Some have interpreted this song as an anti-Vietnam song (the “rain” presumably representing the forces of war); this is not an unreasonable interpretation, since the band was anti-Vietnam even though they were more apolitical than many of the bands of the time. Still, I tend to think that the malaise referred to in the song is more universal than that; the line about “[f]ive year plans and new deals, wrapped in golden chains” seems to indicate a general cynicism about any government that promises prosperity and unlimited rice pudding for everyone. There is also the possibility that the song was influenced by Woodstock (CCR did play there, even if they weren’t in the movie or soundtrack); there is a lyric in the song that could be a reference to the festival and the rain which intermittently plagued it: “Heard the singers playin, how we cheered for more/The crowd had rushed together, tryin’ to keep warm”. And the song could be about both: inspired directly by Woodstock, yet referring indirectly to the troubles, both perceptible and tangible as well as imperceptible and intangible, which plagued the nation in 1970. Released not too long before the Guess Who’s “American Woman”, it seems worthwhile to compare the two, and while “Who’ll Stop The Rain” is a song that gently prods us to think about the current state of affairs (assuming that we look beyond the literal meaning of the lyrics for a more figurative and substantial meaning), “American Woman” sounds more like a slap in the face with its reference to “war machines and ghetto scenes”. Whatever the case may be, evidently there was a lot going on in popular music around this time.
“Travelin’ Band” b/w “Who’ll Stop The Rain” was released squarely in the middle of the CCR juggernaut, and the band would release two more albums before Tom Fogerty left the band in early 1971. John Fogerty decided to let Clifford and Cook have an equal voice in songwriting duties, and the release of “Mardi Gras” in 1972 and the lukewarm reception it received from critics and fans alike seemed to confirm that John Fogerty was the real force behind the band, which broke up in October 1972. John Fogerty was the only former CCR member to release any notable material after the break up; he had a hit with “Centerfield” in 1984, and after putting his musical career on hiatus for a number of years, returned with the Grammy-winning “Blue Moon Swamp” in 1997 – his first new album in over ten years. The death of Tom Fogerty in 1990 put an end to any talk of a CCR reunion with the original members, although Clifford and Cook had for a time appeared as “Creedence Clearwater Revisited” (due to a legal dispute with John Fogerty, they couldn’t use the Creedence Clearwater Revival name).
The single (catalog #: Fantasy 637) features the orange-red and green Fantasy label which was used on all the original CCR singles from 1968 to 1972. [The top of the label is orange-red in the shape of a flower, and has “FANTASY” in block letters across the top; the track information is across the bottom.] No picture sleeve was issued with this single, at least not in the United States.
Creedence Clearwater Revival performing Travelin’ Band live
John Fogerty performing Who’ll Stop The Rain (not CCR)
Who’ll Stop The Rain (music + still photo of the band)
"Lucky Man" single with Cotillion paper sleeve.
In 1969, Keith Emerson the keyboardist for The Nice and Greg Lake was the bassist for King Crimson. On two separate occasions in 1969, the two bands shared the same venue (the 9th Jazz and Blues Festival on August 10, and Fairfield Halls in Croydon on October 17). After playing a few of the same concerts, Emerson and Lake tried working together and found their styles to be not only compatible, but complementary. They decided to form a band, and sought a drummer. Before eventually settling on Carl Palmer, the two approached Mitch Mitchell, who was uninterested but who passed the idea to Jimi Hendrix. For a time, rumors swirled of a supergroup featuring Hendrix, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and such plans apparently stood a chance of being realized, but Hendrix died before they could join forces. Instead, the band would record their debut album as a trio, with Greg Lake doubling as lead guitarist and bassist. “Emerson, Lake and Palmer”, released in November 1970 on Island Records (King Crimson’s record label), was essentially a collection of solo tracks. Nevertheless, their debut album incorporated many elements that would become part of their signature sound, such as the inclusion of extracts from classical music artists like Bach, Janáček, and Bartók. It also included “Lucky Man”, a song which was released as a single with “Knife Edge” on the B-side. This is today’s featured single.
“Lucky Man” was originally recorded to fill time on side two of the album, at the request of their record company. It was written by Greg Lake for the acoustic guitar when he was twelve years old, and was not well-received by either Emerson or Palmer. However, the two agreed to cooperate on the recording of the track, and it ultimately proved to be one of their most commercial and accessible songs. It employs a relatively simple guitar melody (G-D on the verses, and A-Em-D-Dsus4-D-Dsus2-D on the chorus). The lyrics, not really achieving a Dylanesque level of sublimity, refer to a man who had it all, but gets killed in a war: “He had white Horses/And ladies by the score/All dressed in satin/And waiting by the door/Ooooh, what a lucky man he was”. The result is a rather folksy-sounding ballad that is unlike the other tracks on the album. But the very popularity of this song ensured that ELP would record similar ballads on future albums. The song begins with Lake playing acoustic guitar, but about one and a half minutes in, an electric guitar joins the musical accompaniment. But the pièce de résistance is reserved for the song’s coda, in which Emerson unleashes his Moog synthesizer, and delivers a superb keyboard solo, the third layer of the musical wall of sound created by ELP here. “Lucky Man” would become one of ELP’s signature tunes, one of their most popular songs, and reached #48 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971.
One of the picture sleeves issued with the "Lucky Man" single.
The B-side of this single, “Knife Edge”, is probably the second best-known song from ELP’s debut album. It opens with three chords, then leaves Lake on bass (with a standard G-D-A-E tuning) unaccompanied on the verses, with the dam bursting on the chorus (with Emerson’s keyboard playing a prominent role). The song’s lyrics depict a man on the verge of a mental breakdown: “Just a step cried the sad man/Take a look down at the madman/Theatre kings on silver wings/Fly beyond reason”. The song’s melody complements these lyrics well, conveying a dark atmosphere, and shifting expertly between the quiet parts and the louder parts, mirroring a shift in the main protagonist’s mind between calm and disquietude. There is a bridge section in this song that begins about two and a half minutes into the track which incorporates themes from classical music, before the final verse and the coda (which incorporates a turntable-coming-unplugged finale). On this track more than on any track on the first album, ELP comes closest to realizing the potential of the heady art rock they were forging, and thus “Knife Edge” stands out as the outstanding achievement of the band’s first long player.
The single (U.S. catalog #: 45-44106) was issued on Island Records in the U.K. and Cotillion Records in the U.S. (as shown in the accompanying photo). In some countries, the single was issued with a picture sleeve (one such picture sleeve is also shown in an accompanying photo). The success of “Lucky Man” was only the beginning of a fertile period for Emerson, Lake and Palmer, a period which saw the release of four studio albums (“Tarkus”, “Trilogy”, and “Brain Salad Surgery”, in addition to the debut album) and two live albums (1971’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and 1974’s “Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends”). Emerson, Lake and Palmer became practitioners of the sub-genre of symphonic rock. After the release of “Welcome Back My Friends”, ELP took a 3-year hiatus to reinvent its music, but in the meantime they lost touch with the changing music scene. Their last studio album of the 1970s, “Love Beach” (1978) was a commercial and critical disappointment (even the band admitted it was only released to fulfill a contractual obligation), although it did eventually go gold. In the early 1980s, Carl Palmer joined the supergroup Asia (“Heat of the Moment”, “Only Time Will Tell”). When Emerson and Lake decided to reform ELP, Palmer declined, and they recruited ex-Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell. This lineup released one moderately successful album, “Emerson, Lake and Powell” (1986). Keith Emerson and Greg Lake ended their short-lived reunion after the supporting tour. Emerson next formed the band 3 with Robert Berry taking Lake’s place on bass, this time bringing Palmer back into the fold. The resulting album, “To the Power of Three”, was largely unsuccessful, and 3 soon folded. In 1992, Emerson, Lake and Palmer reunited and issued and album, “Black Moon” (1992). Their 1992/1993 world tours were successful, and the band issued a follow-up album, “In the Hot Seat” (1994). The band toured worldwide in 1996, 1997 and 1998, but in significantly smaller venues than the ones in which they had previously played. The band has not toured since 1998, nor have they released any new material since 1994, but rumors of an upcoming tour have surfaced. The band will play a one-off fortieth anniversary reunion concert at the High Voltage Festival in Victoria Park on July 25, 2010.
The Zombies' She's Not There 45 RPM single
The Zombies formed in 1959 in St. Albans, England, and gained their early reputation playing at the Old Verulamians Rugby Club in that city. The group was formed while the members were attending school; according to some sources, Rod Argent (organ, piano, vocals) , Paul Atkinson (guitar, vocals) and Hugh Grundy (drums) were at St. Alban’s School, while Colin Blunstone (lead vocals) and Chris White (bass, vocals) were students at St. Alban’s Boys’ Grammar School. After winning a beat group competition sponsored by the London Evening News, the Zombies signed to Decca Records and recorded their first single, “She’s Not There” b/w “You Make Me Feel Good”. This is today’s featured single.
“She’s Not There” was the Zombies’ biggest hit and best-known track. Released in July 1964 (and the second song written by Rod Argent), it came right in the middle of the first wave of British Invasion hits, but the song cannot be easily categorized: it’s not Merseybeat; it’s not Rolling Stones/Animals rhythm and blues raunch; it’s not mod-ish like The Who. It opens with Rod Argent’s haunting, melodic organ playing a minor-key melody, soon accompanied by the rhythm section, and Blunstone delivers his breathy, artful vocals, just loud enough to break through the din: “Well, no one told me about her/ The way she lied/ Well, no one told me about her/ How many people cried”. The lead guitar contains a grand total of four chords: Em-A-Em-A on each verse, and Am-Em-Bm-Em-Am-Em-Em-A during the chorus. Rod Argent’s organ playing on this track is impeccable, and we even get a brief, jazzy organ solo about 1 minute and 36 seconds into the song, before there is a reprise of the chorus, and the song comes to an end with Blunstone’s vocals and a cymbal crash. This song is marred somewhat by Rod Argent’s off-key harmonizing on background vocals, which somewhat defeat the band’s efforts to sing in harmony on the chorus (an element seemingly borrowed from folk songs) in the manner many pop records of the day. But make no mistake about it: “She’s Not There” is a rock classic (and moreover, a song that seems tailor made for AM Top 40 radio), a song which helped differentiate the Zombies from a number of British Invasion bands to arrive in the wake of The Beatles, many of which sounded alike and openly aped the top-tier British Invasion bands. The Zombies were no copycats, and their originality shines through on this track. The song seems tailor-made for AM Top 40 radio, and indeed the song started to get traction in the United States after WINS (1010 AM – New York) DJ Stan Z. Burns debuted it in his noontime “Hot Spot” segment. The song ultimately reached #2 in the U.S. and #2 in Canada (and #12 in the U.K.). The song was also covered by several artists, including the Vanilla Fudge and the U.K. Subs.
The B-side of the single, “You Make Me Feel Good”, is a Beatles-esque love song [it’s only fitting that after I praise the Zombies for their originality in reviewing “She’s Not There” that I should make that comparison] written by Chris White. The verses features harmonies by Blunstone, Argent, Atkinson and White; once again, one of these things is not like the others, although Argent’s singing is better on this track. The lyrics are somewhat generic (“You don’t need any reason, do you baby?/Surely you should know that by now/But if you need a reason, I’ll give one to you:/You make me feel good, you make me feel good”), but once again, Argent’s organ playing gives the song a unique sound, and the rhythm section helps fill out the sound.
The single (catalog #: 9695) was issued in the U.S. on Parrot Records, a subsidiary of London Records (the American branch of Decca Records). The label was the typical Parrot label from that era, with the tuxedo-wearing green and yellow parrot featured prominently on the label, and track/artist information on the bottom. As far as I know, no picture sleeve was issued with this single. The success of “She’s Not There” led to a tour of the United States (among other concerts, they played Murray The K’s Christmas shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theater). The follow-up single, “Leave Me Be”, stiffed in the U.K., but in 1965, they had a second U.S. hit with “Tell Her No”, which reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 (peak U.K. position: #42). An album, “Begin Here” (1965) was released, containing many of their early tracks. The U.S. version was titled “The Zombies”, and deleted some tracks while adding others, most notably, “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No”. Subsequent singles failed to get much traction in either the U.S. or the U.K. Eventually the band signed with CBS Records, and recorded their second album, “Odessey and Oracle”, in the summer of 1967. By the time it was released in April 1968, the Zombies had broken up, disillusioned with the fading commercial fortunes of the band. In 1969, one of the singles from “Odessey and Oracle”, “Time of the Season” b/w “Friends of Mine”, became a major hit in the U.S., eventually reaching #3, but by then, Argent and White had already formed a new band, Argent. In 1991, Blunstone, Grundy and White briefly reunited to form a new Argent lineup. In 2004, Blunstone and Argent, who had been performing together since 2001, began performing as The Zombies once again, with Keith Airey (guitar, vocals), Jim Rodford (bass, vocals), and Steve Rodford (drums) rounding out the new lineup. After the demise of Argent, Chris White became an A&R man, and Paul Atkinson had retired as a performer and was an A&R man when he died in April 2004.
30 Days in the Hole 45 RPM single (promotional copy)
In late 1968, Steve Marriott, then a member of the Small Faces, formed Humble Pie with Greg Ridley (bass guitar, formerly of Spooky Tooth), Peter Frampton (guitar, formerly of The Herd), and Jerry Shirley (drums, formerly of Apostolic Intervention). Because all members had formerly been in high-profile groups, many considered Humble Pie a “supergroup”, and they were signed to Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label. Their debut single, “Natural Born Bugie”, was released in July 1969 and eventually reached #4 on the U.K. singles chart. This was followed by the album “As Safe As Yesterday Is”, released in August 1969, which reached #32 in the U.K. The band was on tour in the U.S. when their second album, “Town And Country” (1969) was released later that year, and was a more acoustic-oriented album than its predecessor. Immediate Records was facing financial difficulties when the album was released, and without any promotional money to back it, the album was a commercial failure. In 1970, the band switched to A&M Records and Dee Anthony became their manager. Focusing on the U.S. market, the band abandoned its acoustic material, and recorded a louder, tighter and heavier-sounding follow-up to “Town And Country” – “Humble Pie” (1970), which, like its predecessor, failed to chart, as did a single from the album, “Big Black Dog”. The band started to gain a reputation as a solid live band, however, and the next album, “Rock On” (1971), was their most successful album up to that point, reaching #118 in the U.S. It was also Frampton’s last with Humble Pie, as he quit following the supporting tour. A May 1971 concert at the Fillmore East was recorded and became the basis for their subsequent live album, “Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore” (1971), a double album which reached #21 in the U.S. and became their first RIAA-certified gold record. Its popularity also helped “Rock On” reach gold record status as well. An edited version of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” reached #73 on the Billboard singles chart. Dave “Clem” Clempson replaced Peter Frampton, and the band recorded their fifth studio album, “Smokin'” (1972). This song featured two singles: “Hot ‘n’ Nasty” b/w “You’re So Good To Me” (U.S. #52), and “30 Days in the Hole” b/w “Sweet Peace and Time”. The latter is today’s featured single.
“30 Days in the Hole” was one of Humble Pie’s signature tunes, and in many ways defines their straightforward approach to heavy blues rock. It starts off with the backing singers singing “30 days in the hole” repeatedly, before the song starts in earnest about 30 seconds into the track. The chord progression is relatively simple: D-E-D-E-A-E-A-E during the intro; then A-E repeatedly throughout most of the verses (except D-E for the last line), and A-E during the chorus. The lyrics reference many types of illegal drugs: “Chicago green, talkin’ ’bout Black Lebanese/A dirty room and a silver coke spoon/Give me my release, come on/Black napalese, it’s got you weak in your knees/Just seeds and dust that you got bust on [borstal?]/You know it’s hard to believe”. The song title itself was supposedly inspired by a line in the 1938 Humphrey Bogart film “Angels With Dirty Faces”, and was also one of the first songs to which Clempson contributed. Ridley’s bass isn’t heard until almost a minute into the song, but when it does chime in, it fills out the sound quite nicely, adding to the track’s funky ambience, and the rhythm section does a good job on this track. Humble Pie isn’t afraid to stay close to their blues roots, and about 2 minutes and 19 seconds into the track, Marriott’s harmonica can be heard during the song’s only instrumental break. This break is followed by another Other countries, including the U.K., put “C’mon Everybody” and “Road Runner” on the flipside (both songs were tracks from “Smokin'”); the single did not chart in the U.S. Nevertheless, it became one of the band’s better-known songs, and has been covered by bands such as Mr. Big and Gov’t Mule.
The B-side of this single, “Sweet Peace and Time”, is a great rocker, and one of the reasons why this single gets the nod as today’s featured single over “Hot ‘n’ Nasty”, which admittedly is also a great song. The song is anchored by a simple riff, and simple-yet-contemporary lyrics: “Don’t want war, no/Don’t give me preachin’/Don’t want love/No fancy teachin’/All I want’s/Sweet peace and time/Wake up my mind”. An even heavier song than “30 Days in the Hole”, without that songs funky undertones, this song is pure, high-octane hard rock for which Led Zeppelin would have killed. The song boasts three instrumental breaks, the first occurring about 2 minutes into the song; the second, 3 minutes and 30 seconds in, and the third, occurring 4 minutes and 30 seconds into the song, takes up the remainder of the song, so there’s plenty of time for Clempson and Ridley (especially Clempson) to shine. On an album that contained several cover versions, “Sweet Peace and Time”, written by Marriott, Ridley and Shirley, stands out as one of the stronger of the band’s original compositions.
The single (catalog #: 1366) was released by A&M Records in September 1972. As far as I know, there was no picture sleeve. The label was typical of A&M single releases in this era, with the song title on the top, artist and production info on the bottom, and the A&M logo on the left side. The single shown in the picture accompanying this article is a promotional single which had “30 Days In The Hole” on both sides of the record (stereo on one side and mono on the other). The band followed up “Smokin'” with a double album, “Eat It” (1973), which featured 3 sides of studio tracks and 1 side of live material; it reached #13 in the U.S. Their next album, “Thunderbox”, featured a back-to-basics approach, and sold well, reaching #52 in the U.S. By now, both Marriot and Ridley had lost interest in Humble Pie, but they owed A&M another album, and thus one final studio album, “Street Rats”, was released in February 1975. The group disbanded afterwards, although Marriott would form a new lineup in 1979, bringing back Jerry Shirley on drums and adding Bobby Tench (guitar, vocals) and Anthony “Sooty” Jones”. The resulting album, “On To Victory”, reached #60 in the U.S., and a single from the album, “Fool for a Pretty Face”, reached #52. They released one more album, “Go for the Throat”, before disbanding again in 1982. Jerry Shirley formed a new Humble Pie lineup in 1989 in which he was the only original member; this band was briefly put on hold when it appeared that Peter Frampton and Steve Marriott were re-forming Humble Pie. Marriott died in a house fire in April 1991, however, and Shirley revived his band, which disbanded in 1999. He re-formed the band again in 2001 with original bassist Greg Ridley, bringing back Bobby Tench and adding new rhythm guitarist Dave Colwell. This lineup released an album, “Back on Track” (2002), and the response to live shows was encouraging, but Greg Ridley fell ill in late 2002 and the band split up. Ridley died of pneumonia and resulting complications in November 2003.
Psycho Killer picture sleeve
The Talking Heads had their genesis in a band called The Artistics formed by two students at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, David Byrne (vocals, guitar), and Chris Frantz (drums) in 1974. Tina Weymouth was a fellow student and Frantz’s girlfriend, and often provided the band with transportation. The Artisitics dissolved within a year, and in 1975, the trio moved to New York, eventually sharing an apartment. Unable to find a bass player, Frantz encouraged Weymouth to learn how to play bass by listening to Suzi Quatro albums. They played their first gig as the “Talking Heads” on June 8, 1975 at CBGB. Later that year, the band recorded demos for CBS Records, but was not signed by the label. In 1976, they added Jerry Harrison (guitars, keyboards, vocals), formerly of The Modern Lovers, to the lineup. The band quickly drew a following and was signed to Sire Records in 1977. Their first single “Love -> Building on Fire” b/w “New Feeling” was released in February 1977. Their first album, “Talking Heads: 77” was released in September 1977, and spawned two singles: “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town” b/w “I Wish You Wouldn’t Say That” and “Psycho Killer” b/w “Psycho Killer” [acoustic]. The latter is today’s featured single.
On “Psycho Killer”, the Talking Heads seem to aim for the same nerd appeal as Jonathan Richman was around the same time, albeit with more menacing overtones. The song begins with Tina Weymouth’s driving bass line, joined in short order by Byrne’s guitar and Frantz’s drums. Byrne, as he begins singing, convincingly plays the role of an Anthony Perkins-like nerdy-but-dangerous sociopath, with the lyrics seeming to express the thoughts of a serial killer: “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.” As the song progresses, its protagonist seems to edge closer to the breaking point, without actually getting there. The protagonist alternates between talking in first and second person in the song, seemingly exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia, and even slipping into French during the chorus (“Qu’est que-ce?”) and the bridge (“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”. The musical arrangement, especially the bass, seems to mirror his tense mental state perfectly. Byrne once claimed that when he wrote the song, he was thinking of “Alice Cooper doing a Randy Newman-type ballad”, and that seems to be a pretty succinct synopsis of “Psycho Killer”. Although the Talking Heads exhibit a higher degree of musical proficiency than most punk bands, the punk ethos is present, and as the song reaches its climax, it reaches a one-chord crescendo – shades of the Velvet Underground in “White Light/White Heat”. Clearly the bass line takes an unusually prominent role here, giving the song a somewhat funky undertone as well as setting the basis for the song’s minimalism. Although only a minor hit in the U.S. (reaching #92 on the Billboard Hot 100), the song reached #13 in Holland and became one of the band’s early signature tunes. This song has been covered by numerous artists, including Brand New, Velvet Revolver, Barenaked Ladies, Richard Thompson, Terrorvision and Two Sheds.
The B-side of the song is an acoustic version of “Psycho Killer”. Although this version subtracts one of the elements that makes the better-known version of the song so compelling – namely, Weymouth’s bass line – the song has such a minimalist appeal that an all-acoustic version seems almost inevitable. And this version works pretty well, although I personally liked the acoustic version from “Stop Making Sense” (1984) even better, with Byrnes doing an effective live acoustic version, backed only by a Roland TR-808 drum machine whose sound appears (in the film) to be issuing from a boom box, although admittedly the version included on the B-side of this single is much more polished.
This single (catalog #: SRE 1013) was issued on Sire Records in January 1978. The single was produced by Tony Bonjiovi and Lance Quinn. A picture sleeve was issued with this single (shown on the left). This song was the beginning of a string of successes for the band. In 1978, the band began a multiyear collaboration with producer Brian Eno (Robert Fripp, Roxy Music), who produced their next three albums, starting with “More Songs About Buildings and Food”, which contained their cover version of “Take Me to the River” (U.S. #26). This album reached #29 on the Billboard album chart, eventually going gold. The next album, “Fear of Music”, was a critical success, containing the minor hit “Life During Wartime”, and also reaching gold sales levels. Next came “Remain in Light” (1980), which also went gold, and boasted two singles: “Once in a Lifetme”, which became another of the band’s signature tunes, and “Houses in Motion”. The band went on hiatus for the next three years, but returned in 1983 with “Speaking in Tongues”, which became their commercial breakthrough, reaching platinum sales levels and featuring the Top 10 single “Once in a Lifetime”. Next came the live film “Stop Making Sense” (1984) and the accompanying soundtrack album. Their next studio album, “Little Creatures” (1985), was an even bigger success than “Speaking in Tongues”, and contained the single “And She Was” (U.S. #54). “True Stories” (1986) did not do as well, receiving mixed reviews, although it contained one of their biggest radio hits, “Wild Wild Life” (U.S. #25). “Naked” (1988) would be the band’s eighth and final studio album, with the band dissolving after the album’s release and finally announcing their breakup in 1991.