We are taking a trip into the Far Out vaults to give celebrate this sensational isolated vocal performance delivered by Thom Yorke on Radiohead’s iconic ‘Paranoid Android’. The track, taken from the band’s seminal 1997 album OK Computer, further cemented the band’s status as being the alternative for music fans who didn’t find a home in the Britpop scene, the same people who felt nothingness towards the burgeoning Ibiza rave culture that was dominating the charts.
With OK Computer, Radiohead was firmly operating in their own lane and there was nobody quite on their level when it came to ingenuity, originality and artistry. ‘Paranoid Android’ was the perfect lead single from the record, one which epitomises OK Computer’s remarkable blend of melancholic beauty with an underbelly of nerve-inducing sounds thanks, largely, to Yorke’s searing vocal performance which is reminiscent of a cry for help in a moment of sheer panic.
The version of ‘Paranoid Android’ we all know and love is a far cry from the original version which, upon its first inception, was over 14 minutes long and even included a lengthy Hammond organ outro performed by Jonny Greenwood. The Oxfordshire band didn’t treat this version with a great deal of seriousness, with guitarist Ed O’Brien once recalling, “We’d be pissing ourselves while we played. We’d bring out the glockenspiel and it would be really, really funny.”
Thankfully this version didn’t make it on to OK Computer with Thom Yorke later sarcastically referring to the version as “a Pink Floyd cover” with Greenwood revealing that his outro was “hard to listen to without clutching the sofa for support.”
The song was born after Thom Yorke decided to bar-hop in Los Angeles one night in what turned out to be a hellish evening and that he would do anything to forget. His evening started in good spirits but it soon turned into him being descended upon by fans who became obsessive him, a situation which led to an anxiety-inducing experience and is a feeling that he manages to relay in ‘Paranoid Android’.
“The people I saw that night were just like demons from another planet,” Yorke once recalled. “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,” he added.
“It’s about being exposed to God, I dunno. It was that one night, really,” he continued. “We’d been rehearsing the song for months, but the lyrics came to me at five o’clock that morning. I was trying to sleep when I literally heard these voices that wouldn’t leave me alone. They were the 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 fucking chaos.”
What Radiohead are the masters of doing is juxtaposing uplifting, euphoric music with dark lyrics delivered by Yorke in a way that only he could. When the song is stripped back down to just Yorke’s naked vocal which leaves it with no place to hide, ‘Paranoid Android’ is taken to another dimension which makes you appreciate just how much of a generational vocalist and lyricist Thom Yorke really is.
Listen for yourself, below.