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Talking Heads: Psycho Killer (Sire)

“And you may ask yourself, ‘How did I get here’?”

Oops, wrong song and anybody that read my previous post will obviously know how I got here.

Talking Heads first came to some degree of prominence at CBGB where they began regularly supporting The Ramones. This would be an inspired though incongruous pairing: while The Ramones enjoyed portraying themselves as glue-sniffing dumbasses, Talking Heads gave off an intellectual air; while The Ramones always aimed for unflinching machine gun ferocity, Talking Heads employed a slower pace that could vary from song to song and whereas The Ramones wrapped themselves in black leather and ripped jeans in a bid to look like Bowery degenerates, Chris Frantz even once spoke of Talking Heads taking to the stage looking like ‘a bunch of Jesuits’.

Both bands, though, shared some kind of minimalist intent, paring down their sound to the point where absolutely nothing extraneous was left – sensing this producer Tony Bongiovi decided to bolster debut Heads’ single Love Goes to Building on Fire by adding horns and even some birds chirping. David Byrne did regret allowing this but I’ve always been rather fond of as it added a little touch of Stax and I’d guess the singer’s Fa fa fa fa fah-ing on Psycho Killer is also a reference to Otis Redding’s Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).

Again, unlike The Ramones, Talking Heads were soul fans – best demonstrated later with their inspired cover of Al Green’s Take Me to the River.

Sometimes associated with the serial killer David Berkowitz, known as the ‘Son of Sam’, the song was actually written before Berkowitz had notched up his first kill. Byrne initially worked on the track while he, Tina Weymouth and Chric Frantz were all sharing a painting studio while students at the Rhode Island School of Design. He asked Weymouth for some assistance on the bridge as he wanted it written in French – which she was fluent in – and Frantz joined in the fun too with a couple of choruses. A classic was hatched.

With that great staccato guitar, urgent and sometimes unhinged vocal and, best of all, that pulsing, ominous bassline from Tina Weymouth, this is Psycho Killer performed live on The Old Grey Whistle Test:

 
Berkowitz’s final attack, incidentally, took place in Brooklyn on July 31st, 1977 and he was apprehended on August 10th and later sentenced to 365 years in prison, where he still resides.

Psycho Killer was first released as a track on the album Talking Heads:77 in September 1977. A few months later it came out as a single.

For more on Talking Heads, click here.

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