In the history of country music, where grisly murder ballads and laments to dead mothers, children and dogs are commonplace, every day carries a little bit of the ghoulish Halloween spirit with it. There is probably no more twisted, demented and just plain odd a country song than “Psycho,” a tune first recorded in the late Sixties but whose origins were, for a time, as curious as its deeply disturbing lyrics.
Written by Texan Leon Payne, whose songs had been recorded in the early half of the 20th century by Hank Williams (“Lost Highway”), Elvis Presley (“I Love You Because”) and Jim Reeves (“Blue Side of Lonesome”), among many others, “Psycho” has the unhinged (and decidedly unreliable) narrator confessing to killing an ex-girlfriend and her new man Jackie White, who are now at eternal rest under a neighbor’s sycamore tree. He also admits to killing young Johnny’s pup, and seems to take responsibility for the death of little Betty Clark, noting that he was holding onto a wrench when his mind just “walked away.” The biggest question mark, however, is in his closing lines, as he asks, “You think I’m psycho, don’t you, Mama,” then chillingly adds, “Well, Mama, why don’t you get up?”
Theories as to how Payne, who died in September 1969, came to create such a dark, sinister storyline included inspiration, naturally, from the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock shocker Psycho, and the later Southern gothic horror film, Hush… Hush Sweet
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The first version of the song that was recorded, not long before Payne’s death from a heart attack, was by
In the above clip, British-born author Neil Gaiman, whose comic books, novels and children’s books (including Coraline) have incorporated dark fantasy and horror perfect for Halloween reading, collaborates with his wife, cabaret-punk performer and songwriter Amanda Palmer, of the duo Dresden Dolls, on a uniquely strange and unsettling rendition of “Psycho.” In this 2012 clip from the Violitionist Sessions in