Lead singer Thom Yorke decided to bar-hop in Los Angeles one night, but what began as a festive evening soon became a nightmare as Yorke found himself surrounded by parasitic scene-stalkers intent on extracting a pound of Yorke-flesh. "The people I saw that night were just like demons from another planet," said Yorke, now safely ensconced in a New York hotel.
"Everyone was trying to get something out of me. I felt like my own self was collapsing in the presence of it, but I also felt completely, utterly part of it, like it was all going to come crashing down any minute." That night inspired "Paranoid Android," a song that sums up OK Computer's claustrophobic blend of melancholic beauty and nerve-rattling aggression. Surging through ethereal acoustic passages and punkish, guitar-mauled explosions, the song ends with a choir that seems a plea for heavenly forgiveness.
Yorke: "It's about being exposed to God, I dunno. It was that one night, really. We'd been rehearsing the song for months, but the lyrics came to me at five o'clock that morning. I was trying to sleep when I literally heard these voices that wouldn't leave me alone. They were the voices of the people I'd heard in the bar. It turned out to be a notorious, coke-fiend place, but I didn't know that. Basically it's just about chaos, chaos, utter f--king chaos."
The song's structure is patterned after "Happiness Is A Warm Gun
" by The Beatles. Both are clearly a collection of other, shorter pieces of songs put together into one.
The guitar solo at the end of the song was written by guitarist Jonny Greenwood. It was not originally intended for the song, but something was needed to close the song and this solo was in the right key and right tempo. Some parts of this closing solo are played forward and other parts are played backward.
In 1996, Radiohead toured as the opener for Alanis Morissette. On this tour, they played "Paranoid Android" a lot, which allowed them to develop it long before they recorded it for OK Computer. When they played this live, it would often go 15 minutes or more.
Despite a 6:27 run time, this released as a single in many territories, but not the US, which helped boost album sales. Many radio stations clamored for a shorter version of the song, but Radiohead refused to edit it down.
The video was made by Magnus Carlsson, who created a series of short animations entitled "Robin." They, along with the music video, featured the surreal adventures of the eponymous hero and his friend Ben, and were shown on Channel 4 in the UK.
This was first performed by the band in Belgium in July 1996. While supporting Alanis Morissette later that summer it mutated into a 10-minute epic. Once in the studio taking a cue from "Happiness Is A Warm Gun
," the band broke the song into sections.
Guitarist Ed O'Brien (from Humo
magazine July 22, 1997): "We wanted to make a crossing of Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody
' and The Pixies. No, it didn't become a 'Bohemian Rhapsody' of the '90s; it's not complex enough for that and it contains too much tension. It's the song that we played to our friends when they, a long time ago, wanted to know what the new album was going to sound like. You could see them thinking: 'If that's the new single, what will all the rest be like?'"
Jonny Greenwood recalled the recording of the song to NME October 15, 2011: "We were in Bath, recording at (Tudor manor house) St Catherine's Court. We were having drinks, and then we started doing percussion on a drum loop that Phil (Selway) had made. It grew from there. We'd already rehearsed an early version of the song, played it on tour with Alanis Morissette - obviously it didn't go down very well. Originally it had a 10-munute organ outro, which ultimately we ditched and replaced with the 'rain down' section. Was that the right decision? I think so, but sometimes I regret the lack of psychedelic, patchouli-soaked organ madness."
Thom Yorke told Pitchfork
(August 16, 2006) about his reputation for writing about dark subject matters: "Loads of the music on OK Computer
is extremely uplifting. It's only when you read the words that you'd think otherwise. That's just kind of the way it is. The whole point of creating music for me is to give voice to things that aren't normally given voice to, and a lot of those things are extremely negative."
The OK Computer title also came from A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. While touring for The Bends, the band killed time in the bus by listening to an audio version of Douglas Adams' classic 1979 sci-fi-comedy novel. Halfway through the story, a spaceship computer declares that it's incapable of fending off incoming missiles. "OK, computer," responds the president of the galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox, "I want full manual control now." The incident is an important one in the narrative as it marks the point when humans saved themselves by reclaiming control from machines, and Thom Yorke noted the phrase. He told Rolling Stone:
"The paranoia I felt at the time was much more related to how people related to each other. But I was using the terminology of technology to express it. Everything I was writing was actually a way of trying to reconnect with other human beings when you're always in transit. That's what I had to write about because that's what was going on, which in itself instilled a kind of loneliness and disconnection."
"The whole album is really f---ing geeky," Yorke continued. "I was kind of a geek when I was a kid, unashamedly so. Then I'm in this rock band famous for drinking tea and never socializing, where the truth is somewhat different."
One of the instruments in the mix is a Mellotron, which Greenwood played. He generally thought of progressive rock as archaic, but copped to lifting the Mellotron part from early Genesis.