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Album: OK ComputerReleased: 1997
This song is about a car crash Thom Yorke was in with his girlfriend in 1987. She suffered whiplash, but he was fine. Says Yorke: "Has an airbag saved my life? Nah... but I tell you something, every time you have a near accident, instead of just sighing and carrying on, you should pull over, get out of the car and run down the street screaming 'I'm BACK! I'm ALIVE! My life has started again today!' In fact, you should do that every time you get out of a car. We're just riding on those things - we're not really in control of them."
Yorke: "So much of the public's perception revolves around illusion. That's what Airbag is about, the illusion of safety. In reality, airbags don't really work, and they go off at random."
Radiohead first began performing this song acoustic, and the working title was "An Airbag Saved My Life," which was a reference to Indeep's 1983 Dance hit "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life."
Guitarist Jonny Greenwood: "'Airbag' is a classic example of Colin and Phil saying, 'Let's make it sound like DJ Shadow.' But unfortunately - or fortunately - it doesn't, because we missed again. It's that thing of lumbering around in the dark, but still being excited by what we do. We're discovering these things for the first time rather than getting the pros in to show us how to do it."
This is the first song on the album OK Computer
. The last song on the album, "The Tourist," is about reckless driving, which leads up to a car crash. Therefore, the album ends where it starts and makes a bizarre circle of death.
The original title of the song was "An airbag saved my life." During an XFM Acoustic Session in October 1995, Thom Yorke said this was the title of an article in an AAA magazine that came through the post.
This was built around a looped 3-second sample of drummer Phil Selway, who cited instrumental hip hop producer DJ Shadow as an inspiration. Selway explained to Humo magazine July 22, 1997: "How that man pastes rhythms to each other. The end result sounds a lot different than we intended by the way."