The origins of this song date back to 2003's Hail To The Thief when the phrase "burn the witch" appeared in the cover art of that album's booklet. The lyrics were reportedly finished a couple of years later and snippets were teased during 2006 and 2008 Radiohead concerts.
The disturbing lyrics appear to be about the policing by authority figures of group discussion and the persecution of a dissenter. The warning against groupthink places the song in the same Orwellian category as the Hail To The Thief tracks "2+2=5" and "Myxomatosis."
The band unveiled a stop-motion video for the song, directed by Chris Hopewell who previously helmed the animated clip for Radiohead's 2003 single "There There." The clip features a cast of puppets similar to the popular 1960s UK children's Trumptonshire trilogy, three connected animated series – Camberwick Green, Trumpton, and Chigley – that were aired on the BBC. The 1973 British horror movie The Wicker Man also appears to be an influence.
The video is a comment on Europe's refugee crisis. Animator Virpi Kettu, who worked alongside Chris Hopewell on the project, told Billboard magazine the "blaming of different people... the blaming of Muslims and the negativity" is something she understood that Radiohead wanted to tackle with the clip.
Queens Of The Stone Age recorded a song in 2005 with the same title. Their track was based on the late seventeenth century Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts, where nineteen people accused of witchcraft were hanged.
Johnny Greenwood told NPR how the group recorded the track. "This song was one of the rare chances of getting our hands on an unfinished song, so we could put strings on right at the beginning," he said. "Usually strings are an afterthought, decoration on the end of a song. I've been saying for years, wouldn't it be great to start with strings."
"So this song was just Thom singing in a drum machine and nothing else," Greenwood continued. "And then I wrote strings to that. So you're hearing an orchestra play - they're strumming their violins with guitar plectrums, that's the rhythm."