Radiohead: How We Wrote ‘Paranoid Android’

‘Paranoid Android’ was chosen as the best song of NME.com’s lifetime in 2011. We talked to Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood, who was determined to uphold the slightly counter-intuitive notion that ‘Paranoid Android’ is some kind of fun-filled cartoon wig-out (it is, but it’s surely weightier and darker than that too).

How does that make you feel?
“That’s brilliant. Thanks so much! It’s very cool that people still like it.”

What’s your standout memory of recording it?
“We were in Bath, recording at [15th Century] St. Catherine’s Court. We were having drinks, and then we started doing percussion on a drum loop that Phil [Selway] had made. It grew from there. We’d already rehearsed an early version of the song, played it on tour with Alanis Morrissette – obviously it didn’t go down very well. Originally it had a ten-minute organ outro, which ultimately we ditched and replaced with the “rain down” section. Was that the right decision? I think so, but sometimes I regret the lack of psychedelic, patchouli-soaked organ madness.

Was it immediately obvious you’d written something special?
“I don’t know. Who can say? There’s something savage and cartoon-like about it, which was reflected in the video, which I really love. The song is wild and savage – something we did when we didn’t know how to do anything. There were no rules. The recording took a long time, but it wasn’t difficult. It was easy. It was a fun time.”

Give us a visual picture of the moment it all came together.
“We’d had a drink – but only one. Orange juice with vodka. And we were in this large wooden ballroom. We’d lit candles. And we were jamming, which is something we’d never done before. That brought a spontaneity, which helped the song come to life. It’s essentially three different songs stitched together. Were the lyrics there from the very start? I don’t remember.”

What do you think people love about it so much?
“It’s a bit like ‘Bloom’ on our new record [‘The King Of Limbs’]. I like songs that have a universe inside them. Loud and soft, pretty and ugly, fast and slow. ‘Paranoid Android’ is all those things. It’s brilliant to play live. As for why anyone else likes it? It’s like being in your own comic strip. Serious fun.”

More on ‘Paranoid Android’

150 best tracks of NME.COM’s lifetime