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Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Paranoid Android"

Radiohead - "Paranoid Android" (1997)

Occasionally introduced on tour as a Pink Floyd cover.

Originally, this 'modern "Happiness is a Warm Gun"', this '"Bohemian Rhapsody" for the 90s', was twice as long, clocking in at over 14 minutes. It was eventually edited down to just short of six and a half, and all sources who mention the original version talk about the missing Hammond organ based outro that went on so long that fans watching the band live actually stopped dancing and moshing and just started staring at the band. It was like they had become a jam band or a shoegaze act and it confused fans as the song was new and not on any album yet. Even the longest song on previous album The Bends was under five minutes long.  This album OK Computer was ambitious, almost prog-rock, using computer voices and sounds blended with the traditional guitar, bass, drums sound of a modern 90s rock band.

The song is in sections, which is why critics liken it to Happiness and Rhapsody. The first part is echo-y guitar and plucked acoustic guitar with clean bass and a straight ahead rock rhythm augmented by maracas. The second section the kicks off with percussion augment of claves and some organ added into the mix. As it continues it grows louder with guitar and bass doubling each other through some serious feedback. Then ending the section is a big distorted guitar solo. A younger Radiohead would probably have ended the song there,  three and a half minutes long and well crafted. Instead they slow the track down, adding layered vocals that sound like chant with droning backup. Backing instrumentation becomes simple acoustic guitar and drum set, along with church-like organ. Lyrics about screaming and vomit in this section are then concluded with the repeated line /God loves his children/ (Yorke) which, when paired with the music seem like they should mean something, but the band has claimed many different interpretations of the song as a whole and none of them really match up, other than they were inspired by a night out at a really seedy bar. The last section brings the speed of the song back to the original, with driving drums, a full on freaky feedback guitar solo and no vocals to get in the way of the glorious cacophony.

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