I don't reckon I'm alone in the fact that first time I ever heard Paranoid Android was when Radiohead appeared on the late-night BBC music programme Later in May 1997. The person who posted this on YouTube said it was one of the greatest performances ever to grace the stage of that show. And they're not wrong:
It was something totally unexpected. Yes, the band had released a cracking LP in The Bends a couple of years previously that had brought them to the attention of the wider public and also got them positive reviews from the rock meeja. But this was something else entirely.....
The single had in fact been released a few days before the TV performance as was on heavy rotation on the evening shows on Radio 1. It was already being described as the Bohemian Rhapsody of the 90s. But to me that's just a lazy description based on the fact that the song has different and distinct sections at more than six minutes in length is not anything like your average single.
Paranoid Android is a strange, complex and twisted song that really shouldn't work, but somehow it does.
Maybe its the fact that we're all lulled into a false sense of security by the gorgeous opening with its acoustic guitars over Thom Yorke's high-pitched vocal. And for about three minutes we can sing along, tap our feet and move our head of work from side to side enjoying a song that is that is not all that indistinguishable from other admittedly top-quality indie pop/rock.
But then it gets all strange as Jonny Greenwood batters the shit out of his guitar and it suddenly comes not quite to a halt, but slows to a ballad pace and becomes almost like a hymn sung by a choir before Thom Yorke comes back in with a vocal that seems to challenge his God to take out his anger on him. Then just when you thought that would be it...there's about 45 seconds or so of a guitar solo and backing music that wouldn't have been out of place on a heavy metal album from 15 years or so earlier....certainly something that air guitarists would get awfully excited about.
As I said, it shouldn't work, but it does.
It reached #3 in the UK singles charts on its release and remains the biggest hit Radiohead have ever enjoyed. There were two CD singles available to buy, and the b-sides are well worth a listen as they show different sides to the band, but they wont be everyone's cup of tea. In fact some of you might find them downright irritating:-
mp3: Radiohead - Paranoid Android
mp3: Radiohead - Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2)
mp3: Radiohead - Pearly
mp3: Radiohead - A Reminder
mp3: Radiohead - Melatonin