Every now and then music needs somebody to come along, grab it by the lapels and rattle it about like a Skoda going over a cattle grid during an earthquake. Talking Heads didn’t quite do this entirely and, in actual fact, David Byrne and the band more sort of moseyed up to the music industry, introduced themselves as an intergalactic presence, walked it hand-in-hand to the dancefloor and showed it how to make Flippy Floppy. The actor, Jeff Bridges, described their sui generis musical handshake as a “cold splash of water to the face,” in a befittingly refreshing analogy.
Central to the band was the brooding energy its members, were able to harness. As Chris Frantz told Vulture, “It’s very much a unique chemistry. All four members, and some of our extended musical family, contributed. Everybody in the band was a star.” Nowhere was that chemistry more visceral than between Frantz himself and bassist Tina Weymouth who, as the title of Frantz novel suggests, have ‘remained in love’ ever since. And it was Weymouth who summed up the early ethos of the band: “When Talking Heads started, we called ourselves Thinking Man’s Dance Music.”
Speaking to Vulture about the highs and lows of the Talking Heads, Frantz championed one song as a particular favourite and was one of the first tracks the band ever wrote having performed it as the Artisitics way back in 1974 before it featured on the first Talking Heads record three years later. “I would have to choose ‘Psycho Killer’ as No. 1, Frantz declared, It was the first song we ever wrote.”
“Tina and I were still at the Rhode Island School of Design and sharing a painting studio,” Frantz explains. “We were seniors. I had a little band with David called the Artistics, whose purpose was to entertain our friends and play at parties and student events like that. We were primarily a cover band, although we thought that maybe one day we’d write original songs.”
And ‘Psycho Killer’ was the moment when the ensemble chemistry of Talking Heads came to the fore. Weymouth’s bassline is one of the most instantly identifiable in music despite its unapologetic simplicity, and she followed this up with a surging middle eight sung in French in order to convey the schizophrenic personality of the unstable narrator, partly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock.
As Frantz adds, “This was in the fall of 1973. David came to our studio and he had a sketch of the song. He wrote the first verse and the chorus and told us, ‘I’m writing a song in the spirit of Alice Cooper.’He was really big at the time. He played us what he had and it was really promising. He said, ‘I’d like the bridge of the song to be in a foreign language.’ Tina speaks French fluently, so I suggested that we should do it in French. David said, ‘Great idea because I asked a Japanese girl, and when she found out it was a song about a murderer she ran the other way.’ Tina wrote the bridge in French — very classical, Napoleonic French. I wrote three verses, one of which got dropped later. Within a few hours, we had a really good song.”
This uncompromising creative intent, written long before their debut was even released, earmarked the group as an unknown entity, some mutant creation of the art world tangled up in all the world-weary sincerity of blue-collared folk and the simple joy of dance music in all of its global guises. This track singled the pioneering band out as belonging to a league of their own, where they have remained to this day, in the words of Hunter S. Thompson “too weird to live and too rare to die.”