According to long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Radiohead worked on "Burn the Witch" during the sessions for their albums Kid A (2000), Hail to the Thief (2003), and In Rainbows (2007). The phrase "burn the witch" appears in the Hail to the Thief album artwork. Singer Thom Yorke mentioned the song in a 2005 blog entry on Radiohead's website and posted lyrics in 2007. It was briefly teased in performances in 2006 and 2008, but never played in full.
Asked in 2013 about the status of Radiohead's unreleased songs, including "Burn the Witch", Godrich responded, "Everything will surface one day... it all exists... and so [they] will eventually get there, I'm sure." He cited the song "Nude", released on Radiohead's 2007 album In Rainbows but written 12 years prior, as an example of a song that took several years to complete.
Promotion and Release Edit
In April 2016, fans who had previously made orders from Radiohead received embossed cards in the post with lyrics from the song: "Sing a song of sixpence that goes / burn the witch / we know where you live." "Burn the Witch" was released as a download single on 3 May 2016 on the band's site and on streaming and digital media services. A 7-inch release, with Radiohead's 2015 song "Spectre" as the B-side, was released on 13 May 2016 exclusively to Bull Moose stores in the New England area.
The "Burn the Witch" music video was directed by Chris Hopewell, who previously directed the animated video for Radiohead's 2003 single "There There". It was conceived and finished in 14 days, one week before its release. The video uses stop-motion animation in the style of the Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley series of 1960s English children's television programmes (also known as the Trumpton Trilogy). The video was released on YouTube on 3 May 2016.
The plot homages the 1973 horror film The Wicker Man. An inspector is greeted by a town mayor and invited to see a series of unsettling sights, culminating in the unveiling of a wicker man. The mayor urges the inspector to climb into the wicker man, whereupon he is locked inside and the wicker man is set on fire. As the flames gather, the townspeople turn their backs and wave goodbye to the camera. After the song ends, the inspector escapes among the trees.
Pitchfork writer Marc Hogan suggested that the use of the Trumpton Trilogy style, which portrays an idyllic, crime-free rural Britain, reflects the rhetoric of family values used byright-wing politicians such as Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and members of the UK Independence Party. Animator Virpi Kettu said the video was deliberately lighter in tone than the music, as Radiohead "wanted the video to contrast with what they're playing and to wake people up a bit."According to the son-in-law of Trumpton creator Gordon Murray, the family had not been asked permission to use the style for the video, and saw it as a "tarnishing of the brand." He stated that the family would not have allowed the video, considered it a breach of copyright, and were "deciding what to do next."