Every week, Rich Terfry looks back in our Rear-view Mirror at a great song from the good ol’ days. This week, Radiohead and "Paranoid Android."
What do you get when you mix elements of the Beatles, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and "Bohemian Rhapsody" in actress Jane Seymour's 15th century mansion? You get Radiohead's musical Frankenstein, and in 1997 it became their biggest hit to date.
Listen to Rich tell the story behind "Paranoid Android"
When Radiohead went to work on their now classic album OK Computer, each member of the band started writing songs. Inspired by the approach the Beatles took when they composed "Happiness is a Warm Gun," the band challenged themselves to meld parts from several different songs — each written by a different band member — into a single colossal track. Bass player Colin Greenwood once said that, as the band performed their twisted surgery, they "felt like irresponsible schoolboys who were doing this ... naughty thing."
The band referred to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" as an example of a pop song with several distinct sections. Their original creation, which was assembled in an ancient mansion owned by former Bond girl Jane Seymour, clocked in at almost 15 minutes in length. The next miracle the band performed was to edit it down to an almost-manageable six minutes.
The title of the song, "Paranoid Android," is a reference to the character Marvin from the cult novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
When the final product came to life, the band knew they had a work of strange beauty on their hands. Introducing their new song at a concert, singer Thom Yorke told his audience that if they were able to have sex while listening to it, they must be a weirdo. But the band was very proud of what they had done and fought for it as lead single for OK Computer. Radio was slow to pick up on the song, but fans loved it, and soon it was being played 12 times a day on BBC 1. It reached number three on the charts, the biggest hit the band ever had.
Here's the song, now regarded as one of pop's all-time great masterpieces: "Paranoid Android," by Radiohead.
Here are some other great editions of Rear-view Mirror:
M.I.A. "Paper Planes"
The Animals "We Gotta Get Out of this Place"
Dusty Springfield "Son of a Preacher Man"
Screamin' Jay Hawkins "I Put A Spell On You"
Cheap Trick "Surrender"
Mott The Hoople "All the Young Dudes"
Beach Boys "Sloop John B"
Amy Winehouse "Rehab"
New York Dolls "Personality Crisis"
Modern Lovers "Roadrunner"
George Jones "He Stopped Loving Her Today"
Bruce Springsteen "Born in the USA"
The Beatles "With A Little Help From My Friends"
Rolling Stones 'Miss You'
The Coasters 'Run Red Run'
Elvis Costello, 'Alison'
James Brown, 'Hot (I Need to be loved loved loved)'
Inner Circle, 'Tenement Yard'
Ray Charles, 'I Don't Need No Doctor'
Curtis Mayfield, 'Freddy's Dead'
Gang Starr, 'Beyond Comprehension'
Bo Diddley, 'Bo Diddley'
Aretha Franklin, 'Rocksteady'
CCR, 'Have You Ever Seen the Rain'
Howlin' Wolf, 'Smokestack Lightning'
Bobby Womack, 'Across 110th Street'
Roy Orbison, 'In Dreams'
Foggy Hogtown Boys, 'Man of Constant Sorrow'
Pink Floyd, 'Wish You Were Here'
Neil Young, 'Cortez The Killer'
Bob Dylan, 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'
Little Eva, 'Loco-Motion'
Elvis Costello, 'Watching the Detectives'
Jimmy Cliff, 'The Harder They Come'
The Verve, 'Bittersweet Symphony'
Roberta Flack, 'Killing Me Softly with his Song'
R.E.M., 'Radio Free Europe'
Radiohead, 'No Surprises'
Led Zeppelin, 'Ramble On'
Glen Campbell, 'Wichita Lineman'
Rolling Stones, 'Beast of Burden'
John Cougar Mellencamp, 'Pink Houses'