“Psycho Killer” was the only song from the album to appear on the Billboard charts, peaking at 92 among Billboard Pop Singles. It placed 32nd on the Triple J Hottest 100 in 1989. It almost made the top ten in the Netherlands, peaking at #11 in 1977.
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.
The bridge lyrics are in French and include the prominent chorus line, “Qu’est-ce que c’est ?”, which translates in English to “What is it?”. The rest of the French lyrics are:
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
What I did, that evening
What she said, that evening
Fulfilling my hope
Headlong I go for glory… OK
An early demo version of the song, recorded at CBS Studios, and also performed at CBGB had different lyrics after the first chorus:
Listen to me, now I’ve passed the test
I think I’m cute, I think I’m the best
Skirt tight, don’t like that style
Don’t criticize what I know is worthwhile
A live version was released on The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads in 1982. Two years later, another live version was included on the soundtrack for Stop Making Sense, the band’s 1984 concert movie. The film opens with Byrne alone onstage, announcing “‘Hi. I’ve got tape I want to play’…[and] strumming maniacally like Richie Havens”, playing an acoustic version of “Psycho Killer”, backed only by a Roland TR-808 drum machine whose sound appears to be issuing from a boom box. The drum machine “fires” machine gun riffs that causes Byrne to stagger “like Jean Paul Belmondo in the final minutes of ‘Breathless,’ a hero succumbing, surprised, to violence that he’d thought he was prepared for.”
The song also appears on their 1992 compilation album Sand in the Vaseline: Popular Favorites and over a decade later on another compilation album, The Best of Talking Heads.
The game Rock Band 2 features “Psycho Killer”
The film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon features “Psycho Killer” over its end credits. The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror XIX” features the song as Homer goes on a killing spree. “Psycho Killer” was playing in the background at the diner scene in the Spike Lee film Summer of Sam.
The song appeared in the “Building 26” episode of Heroes when Sylar turns on the radio. The character is in fact, a psycho killer.
Edited by rwitte on 24 Apr 2009, 22:29
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