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.