Song of the Day: Psycho Killer by Talking Heads

joker

Psycho Killer” is a song written by David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth and first played by their band The Artistic in 1974, and as New Wave band Talking Heads in 1975, with a later version recorded for their 1977 album Talking Heads: 77. The band’s “signature debut hit” features lyrics which seem to represent the thoughts of a serial killer. Originally written and performed as a ballad, “Psycho Killer” became what Allmusiccalls a “deceptively funky New Wave/No Wave song … [with] an insistent rhythm, and one of the most memorable, driving basslines in rock & roll.”

Lyrics:

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

Psycho Killer
Qu’est Que C’est
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away
Psycho Killer
Qu’est Que C’est
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

You start a conversation you can’t even finish it.
You’re talkin’ a lot, but you’re not sayin’ anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?

Psycho Killer,
Qu’est Que C’est
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away
Psycho Killer
Qu’est Que C’est
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

Ce que j’ai fais, ce soir la
Ce qu’elle a dit, ce soir la
Realisant mon espoir
Je me lance, vers la gloire … OK
We are vain and we are blind
I hate people when they’re not polite

Psycho Killer,
Qu’est Que C’est
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away
Psycho Killer,
Qu’est Que C’est
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh….

According to the preliminary lyric sheets copied onto the 2006 remaster of Talking Heads: 77, the song started off as a semi-narrative of the killer actually committing murders. Byrne has said of the song::

When I started writing this (I got help later), I imagined Alice Cooper doing a Randy Newman-type ballad. Both the Joker and Hannibal Lecter were much more fascinating than the good guys. Everybody sort of roots for the bad guys in movies.

Part of the chorus and the bridge are in French. The verse translates to “What I did, that evening, what she said, that evening fulfilling my hope I throw myself towards glory.” The chorus lyric “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” means “What is this?”

The lyrics were inspired by the character Norman Bates in the movie Psycho.

The “Fa Fa” part comes from an Otis Redding song called “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).” Redding and other Soul singers were a big influence on Talking Heads.

Cover versions:

  • Brand New
  • The Features
  • Julie Christensen
  • Velvet Revolver
  • Bushwalla
  • James Hall
  • Rab Noakes
  • Cranial Screwtop
  • Cage the Elephant
  • Local H
  • Barenaked Ladies (on Buck Naked)
  • Phish
  • Jason Isbell
  • Antiseen
  • Richard Thompson
  • Faker
  • Moxy Früvous
  • Terrorvision
  • Rico
  • The Faint
  • Bishop Allen
  • The Kransky Sisters
  • Victoria Vox
  • Two Sheds
  • Oh-OK
  • Pete Doherty
  • The Flying Pickets
  • The Bobs
  • Kate Miller-Heidke
  • Mariusz Lubomski
  • The Fools

Talking Heads

Origin New York City, New York, USA
Genres New Wave, post-punk, dance-rock,art punk, experimental rock, funk
Years active 1975–1991 (reunions: 2002)
Labels Sire/Warner Bros. Records, EMI
Associated acts Tom Tom Club, The Modern Lovers
Past members
David Byrne
Chris Frantz
Tina Weymouth
Jerry Harrison
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