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How Alfred Hitchcock inspired a classic Elvis Costello song

“To me, Psycho was a big comedy. Had to be.” — Alfred Hitchcock

The 1960 film Psycho has been credited with inspiring a plethora of different cinematic techniques and characters. It arrived as one of the defining moments of the horror genre and has never slowed down. The vision of Norman Bates dressed as his mother as he brutally murders the guests who stay at his motel is a motif that has been replicated across Hollywood for decades. But the Alfred Hitchcock film has also inspired a few songs too.

As well as giving The Beatles the perfect pitch for their track ‘Eleanor Rigby’, providing Bob Dylan with a backdrop for his song ‘Motorpsycho Nightmare’ and giving David Byrne and Talking Heads’ their unique bassline for ‘Psycho Killer’, the song can also lay claim to inspiring Elvis Costello to cover the Leon Payne song ‘Psychobilly’.

A lover of mall music, Elvis Costello was raised in the stereo sounds of The Beatles and was, therefore, never so interested in covering the songs of others. When you’re as potent and pointed as he was in his songwriting heyday, it’s to be expected. However, Costello was enamoured by Payne’s ‘The Psycho Song’ and found room for the cover on his long repertoire of tracks and even a residency on his Fundamental Frolics record from 1981.

Leon Payne’s Psychobilly tells the tale of a murder from the killer’s perspective and is an eerie account that captures all of the disturbing realism that the film put forward. Aside from all the suspense that Hitchcock superbly masters in the film, it is the psychological edge that makes it terrifying.

Rather than perturb with fanciful tales of the devil incarnate, the director subtly scared people out of their wits by embodying a real-life boy next door nutcase via Norman Bates. That same psychological depravity makes the lyrics to Leon Payne’s country number work.

This lyrical take on the horror masterpiece has remained the gold standard of the psychobilly genre, being cover by Costello and more and inspiring the likes of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. However, it is easy for us to pinpoint a perfect line of inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock to Leon Payne to Elvis Costello’s remarkable rendition of ‘The Psycho Song’.

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