The song “Psycho Killer” began in my room as an acoustic ballad, and I asked Chris and his girlfriend Tina for help on it. For some reason I wanted the middle eight section to be in French, and Tina’s mom was French, so she had some skills there. I imagined that this serial killer fancied himself as a grand and visionary sophisticate in the model of either Napoleon or some Romantic lunatic.
Listen to me now I’ve passed the testThink I’m cute, think I’m the bestSit tight don’t like that styleI criticize but I know it’s worthwhile
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?
By the way, that “Fa fa fa fa” part? Probably inspired by the great Otis Redding song “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).”
The Heads’ love of old R&B comes through in a number of places, most obviously on their cover of Al Green’s “Take Me To the River.” That song was featured on the soundtrack and film “Stop Making Sense” (directed by Jonathan Demme, later to hit it big with “Silence of the Lambs,” speaking of Psycho Killers). And of course that film opens with David Byrne solo (well, with a cassette tape):
Since the band broke up, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz (who are married) formed the group Tom Tom Club and they perform the song with Tina singing lead:
From their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, the Talking Heads perform “Psycho Killer” 25 years after the initial release of the song. What occurs to me is that the Heads didn’t write songs of youth. There’s nothing ridiculous about older people singing this song — in fact, it might be more appropriate with a tinge of gray hair and experience.
In his introduction to the band at the induction, Anthony Kiedis of The Red Hot Chili Peppers said the effect of the band was to make him feel smart, make him want to dance (and make him want to have sex with librarians).
For full geek cred, the song sounds great on ukulele (lots of ukuleles) in this version by The Ukulele Orchestra (which also has the best vocal harmonies of any version on this page):
More geekery: Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies sings the song on stage with some other songwriters. Ed makes sure the crowd knows when to go to the “Whoa whoa ho” (after the chorus repeats) and he also translates the French, in case you were wondering:
If you wondered what the song would sound like with more piano and an oddball instrumental outro (no doubt connecting to the next song), here’s Phish (beware, the audio is good but the video was shot by… well, let’s just say, a Phish fan):
The weirdest version of this song that I’ve heard may also in some strange way be truest to the song (especially if you consider Byrne’s idea that the song was to be a ballad, and his own solo version from “Stop Making Sense”). It’s not embeddable for some reason, so you need to click through the text link. Please, if you watch nothing else on this page, check out Xenia Rubinos from The AV Club’s cover project.