Can it really be 20 years? Next month it will be a whole two decades since Hanson’s ‘Mmmbop’ was No.1. June 1997 was quite the month for seismic rock masterpieces chronicling our millennial woes and sticky fears, and Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ was right there in the claustrophobic thick of it. To toast its birthday (released in the UK on June 16), here are 20 things you might not know about it.
1. In 1996 Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood told now-defunct webzine Addicted To Noise that the style they were reaching for on their next album was “Western analog” and “Post-techno-gothic”. Tongue possibly in cheek.
2. ‘Lucky’ was recorded in five hours for the 1995 Warchild ‘Help’ charity album.
3. In the studio, everything went through a plate reverberator they bought off Jona Lewie, of ‘Stop The Cavalry’ fame. And ‘You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties’ fame.
4. Apart from ‘Lucky’, ‘No Surprises’ was the first song recorded specifically for ‘OK Computer’. Half a dozen takes were committed to tape but – isn’t it always the way? – they went right back and used the first one, with minor tweaks.
5. ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ was inspired by Miles Davis’s ‘Bitches Brew’, trying to build huge spaces and watching them tumble away.
6. Colin Greenwood says the band drank vodka and orange before they recorded ‘Paranoid Android’. A (one) drink-fuelled binge turned into a jam session that ended with three songs being stitched together to form the post-prog ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ we all sway, headbang and raise lighters aloft to.
7. ‘Fitter Happier’ is not recited by Stephen Hawking – but it might as well be. It’s Fred Cooper, the synthesized voice from Apple Macintosh’s SimpleText application, whose roboticized tones also give Professor Hawking the power of speech.
8. A working title for the album was ‘Your Home May Be At Risk If You Do Not Keep Up Payments’.
9. Another one was ‘Ones And Zeroes’. Those 1s and 0s have bled into many theories, such as…
10. The album is apparently designed to be played in tandem with ‘In Rainbows’, released 10 years later. The method is, largely, to alternate between the albums, and the tracks are said to merge into one another. Freaky. A “source close to” Thom Yorke said how surprised he was at how long it took everyone to work this out. Well, you’d need a lot of time on your hands.
11. ‘Lucky’ did what it said on the tin – expressed thanks for the position the band were in after ‘The Bends’ and celebrated all being in it together, everything clicking, albeit on the edge of the abyss. Well, it was never going to be S Club 7 levels of arm-linking joy, was it?
12. Once more on ‘Lucky’, shiny-domed arbiter of ambience Brian Eno – who commissioned the track for Warchild – said it was “the most beautiful song I’ve heard for a long, long time”.
13. That “kicking and screaming Gucci little piggy” in ‘Paranoid Android’ was a woman Yorke encountered in a bar, off her box on the old Columbian. Someone spilt a drink on her and – according to the terrified Yorke – she turned into a demon.
14. ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ bears deliberate echoes of Johnny Cash’s ‘Prison Tapes’ in its dark bluesy opening strum.
15. Most of the album was recorded at St Catherine’s Court, near Bath, a manor house owned by British actress Jane Seymour. The Cure “laid down” ‘Wild Mood Swings’ there, and New Order recorded a bit of ‘Waiting For The Sirens’ Call’ at the house too. Not sure if it was the good bit (‘Krafty’).
16. Album opener ‘Airbag’ was originally titled ‘Last Night An Airbag Saved My Life’, a line that stayed in the lyric.
17. Vampire Weekend’s deck-shoed singer Ezra Koenig says ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ was the first Radiohead song that floated his boat.
18. The “rain down’ section of ‘Paranoid Android’ was originally going to be a 10-minute organ outro. We think they probably made the right decision. It’s not ‘Layla’, for pity’s sake.
19. The album entered the Billboard 200 at 21, the same week the Prodigy crashed in at No.1 with ‘Fat Of The Land’. Over here it was held off by those pesky Hanson kids for a week before topping the charts.
20. In NME‘s original album review, we gave it 10/10 and called it “a landmark record of the 1990s”. To date ‘OK Computer’ has sold more than four-and-a-half million copies.