Hook Squared: Them, “Gloria” (1964) x Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer” (1977)

First hook, 1964. An ultrabrash young Irishman, Van Morrison, is raving about the girl that comes to his room just about midnight. He comes out of the snotty talk-singing of the verse to the furiously clear spelling of the available girl’s name. “G!” “L!” One letter each four beats. “O!” “R!” Will this get mechanical? Oh, no, here comes the overwhelming “I – I – I – I!” on the high tonic note, the singer’s self-assertion deliriously blending with the peaking, all-revealing totality of the girl he’s just verging on having, oh God!

I – I – I – I

Second hook, 1977. A strangely cool young New Yorker, David Byrne, is singing from the point of view of a serial killer, playing on the question we all have: for God’s sake, what goes on in such a person’s mind? (There was no such wondering what goes on in a teenage boy’s mind. “Gloria” reveled in obviousness.) After some exposition in the verse and a fairly calm first part of the chorus—“Psycho killer, qu’est-ce que c’est? Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa . . .”—urgency increases: “Better run run run run run run run away . . .” and then we’re swept up to fully mad heights: “Oh, oh, oh, oh! Ay-ay-ay-ay-ay!”

Ay ay ay ay ay

“Ay-ay-ay-ay-ay”? That’s a Cubanism! That’s Ricky Ricardo, a bit of TV debris, or else a loose bit of New York ethnic culture dropped in without reason—evidently because the guy is crazy (and the band is postmodern). Yet we can’t help thinking, because we’re listeners in a rock tradition: what if he’s also singing, or wants to sing, “I – I – I – I”? Could that be what’s in the weirded-out mind? Is the answer to his riddle that he needs to find himself in finding Gloria? What a fine compounding of hooks!

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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics, Words and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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