Mojo, December 2004

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Killer tune

Fred Dellar

Having recently bought the latest reissue of Elvis Costello's Almost Blue, I am particularly enamoured with his version of the old country classic "Psycho." I recall reading that artists who had covered this song met with an untimely end. Exactly who died after covering it and why did our beloved entertainer tempt the wrath of the grim reaper? — Steve Turner, e-mail

Fred says: The song's storyline owes its origins to the grisly tale of Charles Whitman, who, in 1966, murdered his mother and his wife, then, stopping only to pick up an armoury of weapons, headed for the observation deck of 307-feet Bell Tower at the University Of Texas from where he killed another 14 people and wounded scores of others. The tale that many of those who recorded the song (the list includes Eddie Noack, Teddy Thompson etc) met the Reaper shortly afterwards, however, is complete rhubarb. Certainly, the song's author, blind singer-songwriter Leon Payne, died before the '60s were out, while Harry Chapin, who later penned a Whitman-themed song titled "Sniper," died in car crash before he was 40. But the Tower itself continued to amass victims for a while, four people committing suicide between Whitman's killing spree and the closure of the observation deck in 1974. And though Elvis does appear to have a penchant for material that comes with an horrific CV — he also recorded "Gloomy Sunday," the Hungarian death number long associated with various suicide reports — he'd probably claim that his only interest lay in the fact that both "Psycho" and "Gloomy Sunday" are great songs.

Tags: Almost BluePsychoLeon PayneGloomy Sunday

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Mojo, No. 133, December 2004

Fred Dellar answers a reader's question about "Psycho."


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Cover and contents page.
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