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"Psycho Killer" is a song written by David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth and first played by their band The Artistics in 1974,[2] and as new wave band Talking Heads in 1975,[3] with a later version recorded for their 1977 album Talking Heads: 77. "I'm glad," remarked Jerry Harrison in the liner notes for Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads, "we persuaded Tony and Lance [Quinn] that the version with the cellos shouldn't be the only one."

The band's "signature debut hit"[4] features lyrics which seem to represent the thoughts of a serial killer. Originally written and performed as a ballad,[5] "Psycho Killer" became what Allmusic calls a "deceptively funky new wave/no wave song ... [with] an insistent rhythm, and one of the most memorable, driving basslines in rock & roll."[1]

"Psycho Killer" was the only song from the album to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at number 92. It reached number 32 on the Triple J Hottest 100 in 1989, and peaked at number 11 on the Dutch singles chart in 1977.



  • 1 Lyrics
  • 2 Later releases
  • 3 Charts
  • 4 Legacy
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links


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. In the liner notes of Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads, Byrne says:

The bridge lyrics are in French, as is the prominent chorus line "Qu'est-ce que c'est ?" ("What is this/it?"). The bridge lyrics are:

Lyrics in French Translation
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

Later releases[edit][]

Talking Heads performed the song on the BBC2 television show The Old Grey Whistle Test on 31 January 1978. The performance was later released on a DVD compilation of performances from the show.[6]

A live version was released on The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads in 1982 and the later CD release included a second, later live version from the Remain in Light tour. In 1984 later, another live version was included on the soundtrack for Stop Making Sense, the band's concert movie. The film opens with Byrne alone onstage, announcing "'Hi. I've got a tape I want to play'...[and] strumming maniacally like Richie Havens",[1] 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 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.


Chart (1977) Peak


Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[7] 19
Belgium (VRT Top 30 Flanders)[8] 13
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[9] 11
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[10] 13
US Billboard Hot 100[11] 92
Chart (2009) Peak


Belgium (Back Catalogue Singles Flanders)[12] 24


This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (December 2012)

The song has been recorded in cover versions by many bands including Brand New, The Features, Julie Christensen,[13] Velvet Revolver,[14] Bushwalla, James Hall,[15] Rab Noakes, Cranial Screwtop, Cage the Elephant,[16] Local H, Barenaked Ladies (on Buck Naked), Phish,[17] Jason Isbell, Antiseen,[18] Richard Thompson,[19] Faker, Xenia Rubinos,[20] Moxy Früvous,[21] Terrorvision,[22] Rico,[23] The Faint, Bishop Allen, The Kransky Sisters, Victoria Vox,[24] and Two Sheds.[25] A live version by Oh-OK appears on The Complete Recordings. Pete Doherty covered the song during his performance at Glastonbury in 2009. "Psycho Killer" has been covered a cappella by both The Flying Pickets and The Bobs. An operatic version by Kate Miller-Heidke is played during the closing credits of an episode of Spicks and Specks, and there is also a version inPolish ("Psychobójca") by Mariusz Lubomski.[26]

Massachusetts-based band The Fools released a version with parody lyrics entitled "Psycho Chicken"; it was included as a bonus record with their major-label debut album Sold Out in 1980 and released in a live version on their 2003 live album The F In Beach Album.

The phrase "A Psycho Killer/Well Qu'est-ce que c'est?" is repeated in the song "M & M" by the band Pezz, who are now known as Billy Talent. In 2009, the song was also covered by Italian X Factor winner Marco Mengoni. The song was later included in his debut EP, Dove si vola.[27]

Rapper Ice-T says that "Psycho Killer" was a starting influence for Body Count's controversial hit "Cop Killer".[28]

Seattle based electro/hip hop group Mad Rad referenced the song in their song "Qu'est-ce Que C'est" (the title itself, a reference) with lyrics, "I'm a psycho, you're a killer. Qu'est-ce Que C'est. Run away."