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Paranoid Android is the second song from Radiohead's third studio album OK Computer. The lyrics of the bleak but intentionally humorous song were written primarily by singer Thom Yorke, following an unpleasant experience in a Los Angeles bar. The track is six minutes long and consists of four distinct sections.

Background and Recording

In composing Paranoid Android, Radiohead fused together parts from three different songs, each of which had been written by a different member of the band. The idea to combine the pieces into a single track was inspired in part by the format and structure of The Beatles' Happiness Is a Warm Gun. Colin Greenwood admitted the band, in attempting it to see if they could make the disparate elements work together, "felt like irresponsible schoolboys who were doing this ... naughty thing, 'cause nobody does a six-and-a-half-minute song with all these changes. It's ridiculous". The song was at first intended to be humorous, and took its title from Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series of books. Yorke has said about the title:

"It was chosen as a joke. It was like, 'Oh, I'm so depressed.' And I just thought, that's great. That's how people would like me to be. And that was the end of writing about anything personal in the song. The rest of the song is not personal at all."

In an early interview, Colin Greenwood described it "just a joke, a laugh, getting wasted together over a couple of evenings and putting some different pieces together". The band used Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and the work of the Pixies as reference points while writing; yet Ed O'Brien denies they wrote "a Bohemian Rhapsody for the nineties", while Jonny Greenwood considers it too tense and simple to rival Queen's song.

Paranoid Android was recorded in actress Jane Seymour's 15th century mansion (which Yorke was convinced was haunted) near the village of St Catherine, near Bath, Somerset. The first edit was over 14 minutes long and included a long organ interlude performed by Jonny Greenwood. Radiohead played this extended version during a tour with Alanis Morissette in September 1996, but the first 'known' version dates back from July 6 at the Rock Werchter Festival (Torhout leg). O'Brien said "when we started playing it live, it was completely hilarious. There was a rave down section and a Hammond organ outro, and we'd be pissing ourselves while we played. We'd bring out the glockenspiel and it would be really, really funny." Before the song's first live performance, Yorke informed audiences that "[i]f you can have sex to this one, you’re fucking weird." He also sarcastically referred to the version of the song played during the tour as "a Pink Floyd cover". Radiohead were inspired by the editing of The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour (described by Colin Greenwood as "brutal"), to shorten the song to a final six and a half minutes, a process that lead to Jonny Greenwood's organ section being replaced by a substantially shorter guitar fade out. However, it took the band a year and a half to learn how to play the final version in live performance.

Composition

Paranoid Android has four distinct sections, each played in standard tuning, and a 4/4 time signature, although several three-bar segments in the second section are played in 7/8 timing. The opening segment is played in the key of G minor with a tempo of 84 BPM, and begins with a mid-tempo acoustic guitar backed by shaken percussion before layered with electric guitar and Yorke's vocals. The melody of the these opening vocal lines span an octave and a third. The second section is written in the key of A minor and begins about two minutes into the song. Although the second section retains the tempo of the first, it differs rhythmically. Ending the second section is a distorted guitar solo played by Jonny Greenwood, which lasts from 2:43 to 3:33. The third section was written entirely by Jonny Greenwood, and reduces the tempo to 63 BPM and changes key to C minor/D minor. This section uses multi-tracked, choral vocal arrangement and according to Dai Griffiths, a "chord sequence [that ordinarily] would sound seedy, rather like something by the band Portishead".

The fourth and final section begins at 4:58, and is a coda that resolves to the tempo, key and musical patterns of the second movement. After a second solo, a brief guitar riff is introduced, which Jonny Greenwood says "was something I had floating around for awhile and the song needed a certain burn. It happened to be the right key and the right speed and it fit right in." The song ends, as does the second section, with a short chromatically descending guitar motif.

Paranoid Android is categorised by three distinct moods written in what Yorke referred to as three different states of mind. The song's lyrics tie in with a number of themes common in OK Computer, including insanity, violence, slogans, and political objection to capitalism. Yorke's lyrics were based on an unpleasant experience at a Los Angeles bar during which he was surrounded by strangers high on cocaine. In particular, Yorke was frightened by a woman who became violent after someone spilled a drink on her. Yorke characterised the woman as "inhuman", and said "There was a look in this woman's eyes that I'd never seen before anywhere. ... Couldn't sleep that night because of it." The woman inspired the line "kicking squealing Gucci little piggy" in the song's second section. Yorke, referring to the line "With your opinions, which are of no consequence at all", said that "Again, that's just a joke. It's actually the other way around -- it's actually my opinion that is of no consequence at all."

Music Video

Radiohead - Paranoid Android

Radiohead - Paranoid Android

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
Please, could you stop the noise? I'm trying to get some rest
From all the unborn chicken voices in my head

[Hook]
What's that?
(I may be paranoid, but not an android)
What's that?
(I may be paranoid, but not an android)

[Verse 2]
When I am king, you will be first against the wall
With your opinion which is of no consequence at all

[Hook]
What's that?
(I may be paranoid, but, no android)
What's that?
(I may be paranoid, but, no android)

[Verse 3]
Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking, squealing, Gucci little piggy
You don't remember
You don't remember
Why don't you remember my name?
Off with his head, man
Off with his head, man
Why don't you remember my name?
I guess he does

[Verse 4]
Rain down, rain down
Come on, rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height, height
Rain down, rain down
Come on, rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height, height
That's it, sir, you're leaving (Rain down)
The crackle of pigskin (Rain down)
The dust and the screaming (Come on, rain down)
The yuppies networking (On me)
The panic, the vomit (From a great height)
The panic, the vomit (From a great height)
God loves his children
God loves his children, yeah!