It is fascinating to see how some of the most bizarre moments in life can influence an artist in creating unique works of their career. In case of the alternative rock band Radiohead, it was their song called ‘Paranoid Android’. With a run time of about six-and-a half-minutes, part of the song’s lyrics came out during a nightmarish incident that the band’s lead singer Thom Yorke found himself in the middle of. He was in a bar in L.A. where the incident went down. What started as a festive evening quickly turned in a harrowing scene with Yorke being at the centre of a crowd of stalkers.
Yorke recalled the incident: “Everyone was trying to get something out of me. I felt like my own self was collapsing in the presence of it, but I also felt completely, utterly part of it, like it was all going to come crashing down any minute.” About the composition of the lyrics, Yorke went on to say, “I was trying to sleep when I literally heard these voices of the people I’d heard in the bar. It turned out to be a notorious, coke-fiend place, but I didn’t know that. Basically, it’s just about chaos, chaos, utter f**king chaos.”
The song is patterned after The Beatles’ track called ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ which was designed in a three-part through-composed structure. The three sections were described by Lennon as, “the Dirty Old Man”, “the Junkie” and “the Gunman (Satire of ’50 R&R)”. It’s not exactly unusual to have the Beatles inspire a song or two, but the connection between them and the deliberately subversive Radiohead seems a tough one to reconcile.
Much like ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’, however, Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ was also categorised by three different moods referred to as three states of mind. The song, which is part of the album OK Computer, ties in with the other songs on the album, with a thematic similarity in the lyrics, including insanity, violence, politics etc. It means that the track works seamlessly within the larger piece and on its own.
The song, in itself, sounds like a compilation of more than one number. Each stanza has a music of its own and each part paints an image of the mood of the tune. The song starts out slow, with a discordant musical tune. In the next stanza, the tempo increases, and in the following stanza, it seems to reach the peak of the chaos. What follows afterwards is a sombre repetition of a couple of words and finally, at the very end, it concludes with a bang bringing in the entire chorus of instruments teamed with technology.
Just as The Beatles came to embody the spirit of the 1960s, Radiohead’s approach towards music was also one of a kind and saw them achieve a similar status in the late nineties and beyond.
They challenged the mainstream rock culture, and while on the outside, the headbanging and the screaming may have deceived us, their lyrics had a complex edge to them, often bordering on philosophical. With unique rhythm patterns, harmonising art, music and technology as well as being hyper-aware of the society and representing that in their artistic displays, Radiohead’s rise to glory is befitting of the Fab Four inspiration.