Lead singer Chris Martin told Entertainment Weekly that this was Coldplay's first attempt at a protest song. He added that the song is a nod to The Beatles, and Violet Hill is a street near Abbey Road.
After this song was offered as a free download for a week on coldplay.com in April, such was the demand that the site crashed. The week after this song was made available free for download, it still sold sufficient copies for it to debut at #8 on the UK chart and #40 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Drummer Will Champion told Q magazine about this song's bluesy Lennonesque sound: "We really tried to make it sound like this great big machine that was slightly knackered. Something that's slow and grinding. I'm sure people won't get that! A psychedelic title? Violet Hill is a road in St John's Wood (North-west London)."
Chris Martin revealed to Rolling Stone magazine that this was inspired by self-proclaimed "traditionalist" political commentator Bill O'Reilly. He said: "The first line in that song is the first line of any song we ever wrote. Years ago, when Guy [Berryman, bassist] heard that first line and that first little melody - 'It was a long and dark December' - he said, 'OK, I'll join the band.' But we just didn't have the other 49 lines until last year. And then one day I was watching Bill O'Reilly, and I was like, 'I know how to finish that song.' My best friend, Tim, he's a musician in a band called the High Wire, but he also has to work in a bar. He was having trouble with his boss, and it made me think that so many people spend their lives being told what to do by people that they just don't like. So it was that idea, and watching Bill O'Reilly, and all these words just came out."
Guy Berryman explained to MTV News how this came close to being left off the album: "It was one of the older songs we had been working on, and we had sort of moved it to one side from the list of songs that were going to be on the record. And there's this secret fifth member of the group, [manager] Phil Harvey, and he really championed it, as well as a few other people, so quite rightfully so, we dragged it back into the short list."
Two videos were made for this song. One of them, which was filmed on top of Mount Etna in Sicily was the first promo ever to receive a simultaneous premiere on VH1, MTV and The N. The other alternative video (named "Dancing Politicians") was described by Chris Martin to MTV News as "our favorite video we've ever made." He added: "We just thought it was funny that in the run-up to elections, everybody dances. And we thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to make a video of just politicians dancing?' So we did."