Complete Guide to Radiohead 'Paranoid Android'

Everything you need to know about the story behind the song, amp and pedal settings as well as used guitar techniques.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
Complete Guide to Radiohead 'Paranoid Android'
37
You're leaving comments what song you would like to see next, and Iceman10129 is the most insistent. Enjoy a Complete Guide to "Paranoid Android" by Radiohead!

Radiohead "Paranoid Android"

Writers: Thom Yorke, Edward O'Brien, Jonathan Greenwood, Philip Selway, Colin Greenwood
Producers: Nigel Godrich, Radiohead
Album: OK Computer (UG Score 9.3)
Recorded: July 1996 – March 1997
Released: May 26, 1997
Label: Parlophone, Capitol
Genre: Alternative rock, art rock, progressive rock
Length: 6:27

Additional Information:

UK Singles (Official Charts Company) #3 peak position
#257 in Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs of all time

Story behind the song

In composing "Paranoid Android," Radiohead combined parts from three different songs, each part had been written by a different member of the band. The idea to join the parts into a single track was inspired by the format and structure of The Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." Colin Greenwood admitted that the band, in attempting it to see if they could make the disparate elements work together, "felt like irresponsible schoolboys who were doing this … naughty thing, 'cause nobody does a six-and-a-half-minute song with all these changes. It's ridiculous."

The song was at first intended to be comic and took its title from Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

Yorke has said the title "was chosen as a joke. It was like, 'Oh, I'm so depressed.' And I just thought, that's great. That's how people would like me to be. And that was the end of writing about anything personal in the song. The rest of the song is not personal at all."

In an early interview, Colin Greenwood described it "just a joke, a laugh, getting wasted together over a couple of evenings and putting some different pieces together." The band used Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and the work of the Pixies as reference points while writing. Ed O'Brien denies they wrote "a 'Bohemian Rhapsody' for the nineties," while Jonny Greenwood considers it too tense and simple to rival Queen's song.

"Paranoid Android" was recorded in actress Jane Seymour's 15th-century mansion near the village of St Catherine, near Bath, Somerset. The first edit was over 14 minutes long and had a long organ interlude performed by Jonny Greenwood. Radiohead performed this extended version during a tour with Alanis Morissette in September 1996, but the first "known" version dates back from July, 6 at the Rock Werchter Festival.

Ed O'Brien said:

When we started playing it live, it was completely hilarious. There was a rave down section and a Hammond organ outro, and we'd be pissing ourselves while we played. We'd bring out the glockenspiel and it would be really, really funny.

Before the song's first live performance, Yorke informed audiences that "if you can have sex to this one, you're fucking weird." He also sarcastically referred to the version of the song played during this tour as "a Pink Floyd cover."

Radiohead were inspired by the editing of The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour to shorten the song to a final six and a half minutes, a process that led to Jonny Greenwood's organ section being substituted by a substantially shorter guitar fade out. However, it took a year and a half to learn how to play the final version in live performance.

"Paranoid Android" is classified by three distinct moods written in what Yorke referred to as three different states of mind. The song's lyrics tie in with a number of themes common in "OK Computer," including insanity, violence, slogans, and political objection to capitalism. Yorke's lyrics were based on an unpleasant experience at a Los Angeles bar during which he was surrounded by strangers high on cocaine.

The people I saw that night were just like demons from another planet. Everyone was trying to get something out of me. I felt like my ownself 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.

In particular, Yorke was frightened by a woman who became violent after someone spilled a drink on her. Yorke characterized the woman as "inhuman," and said "There was a look in this woman's eyes that I'd never seen before anywhere. … Couldn't sleep that night because of it." The woman inspired the line "kicking squealing Gucci little piggy" in the song's second section. Yorke, referring to the line "With your opinions, which are of no consequence at all," said that "Again, that's just a joke. It's actually the other way around — it's actually my opinion that is of no consequence at all."

Music videos

Official music video

The official animated music video, directed by Magnus Carlsson, who created a series of short animations entitled "Robin," was placed on heavy rotation on MTV, although the network censored portions containing nudity in the US.

Like "Robin," the "Paranoid Android" video is drawn in a simplistic style that emphasizes bold colors and clear, strong lines. It features Robin and his friend Benjamin venturing into the world, running into miserable EU representatives, bullying pub patrons, a prostitute, two kissing leathermen, a drug addict, deranged businessmen, mermaids and an angel who plays table tennis with Robin. The band appears in a cameo at a bar, where they are shown drinking while watching a man with a head coming out of his belly dancing on their table. However, in this cameo only the versions of Yorke and Jonny Greenwood resemble themselves; Ed O'Brien said "If you freeze-frame it on the video, the guy with the five strands of hair slicked back, that's Colin. It looks nothing like him." Colin Greenwood said "there was no way that we could appear in it to perform in it because that would be so Spinal Tap" and that having animations that didn't resemble the band members allowed the video to be "twisted and colorful which is how the song is anyway." Yorke was very pleased with the video, saying that it "is really about the violence around, which is exactly like the song. Not the same specific violence as in the lyrics, but everything going on around him is deeply troubling and violent, but he's just drinking himself into oblivion. He's there, but he's not there. That's why it works. And that's why it does my head in every time I see it."

YouTube preview picture

Live version

In 1996, Radiohead toured as the opener for Alanis Morissette. On this tour, they played this song a lot, which allowed them to develop it long before they recorded it for "OK Computer." When they played this live, it would often go 15 minutes or more.

YouTube preview picture

Live performance at Hershey Park, PA, USA on August 26, 1996. Opening for Alanis Morrisette. Notice the organ solo in the outro.

It is Radiohead's 2nd most played song, being played more than 400 times.

YouTube preview picture

Live performance at Glastonbury in 1997.

YouTube preview picture

Live at Lollapalooza Chicago in 2016.

Notable covers

Weezer covered "Paranoid Android" in both a live studio version released as a YouTube video and in concerts during their 2011 summer tour. Pitchfork's Tom Breihan called the Weezer cover "a fucking weird experience," and Jenny Eliscu of Rolling Stone criticized the song as "mainly boring" for not venturing far enough from Weezer's traditional sound.

YouTube preview picture

"The Shh... Art Ensemble" performed "Paranoid Android" cover.

YouTube preview picture

The reggae group Easy Star All-Stars covered "OK Computer" in its entirety for their album "Radiodread" (2006). Producer Michael G noted that "Paranoid Android" was particularly difficult to arrange for reggae, saying "There are songs like 'Paranoid Android', which flips between 4/4 time and 7/8 time about 13 times, and I also had to think about other ways to reinterpret those parts with horns, melodica, organ ... it was a great challenge."

YouTube preview picture

In 2016, a piano cover is featured on an episode of the HBO's television series "Westworld."

YouTube preview picture

Gear and settings

Guitars

Thom Yorke

Thom Yorke's main acoustic is black Alvarez Yairi DY-88, which is an acoustic/electric model with a 3-band equalizer and volume control. It's perfect for studio or stage with zero feedback.

The DY-88 has inlaid abalone on the fingerboard, around the body trim and includes gold tuning keys.

Jonny Greenwood

Tobacco Burst Fender V1 Telecaster Plus was obtained in 1995, after the theft of his old Telecaster Plus. The guitar is from '92 - '93. For a short time after the theft, Jonny had experimented with many different guitars and neck/body combinations but soon settled back on standard V1 Telecaster Plus.

The pickups are the original stock Lace Sensor pickups; a single blue lace pickup at the neck and humbucker of two red lace pickups at the bridge. They have never been changed. Though the Telecaster Plus comes with the ability to split the humbucker into single coils, Jonny has removed this feature on his guitar; the lace sensor humbucker is a big part of his sound, as it what makes his Telecaster so different from any others.

Jonny added a custom cutoff/kill-switch and made special rewirings to the guitar. The cutoff switch, which Jonny put in place of the Humbucker splitter switch which comes standard with a Telecaster Plus, is momentary, and so it allows Jonny to mute his volume only while the switch is pressed. The switch itself is an Apem 300 series momentary push button. He has used the switch for the solos of the recorded version of Paranoid Android.

Jonny has removed the volume knobs of his Tele's since circa 1994. This is likely because volume knobs on Telecasters are rather easy to hit accidentally, especially with Jonny's aggressive playing style. The potentiometers remain, however, so he can still change the volume with relative ease. He does keep the tone knobs, however.

The sticker on the pickguard is from an Anime called "Attack No. 1," which is about female volleyball players. It was added in late 1996, or early 1997. In 1997, a square yellow sticker, possibly a sticky note, was added to the guitar under the bridge, but it was removed by 1998. The one below the bridge is Honda Motorcycle, added between late 2001 and mid-2002. There is also a Menorah sticker on the back of the headstock, added in the mid to late 90's.

Jonny Greenwood during Field Day Music Festival 2003 | Gettyimages via Theo Vargo

Ed O'Brien - Fender Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster (ST1)

On stage, Ed uses two Fender Eric Clapton Signature Stratocasters. These Strats are pretty standard, they have gold lace sensor pickups and the standard white pickguards have been changed to black ones. Ed uses the strats because "they are really solid for effects stuff."

Ed used these guitars on a lot of songs - especially those with many effects.

Ed O''Brien performs onstage June 29, 2001, at the Santa Barbara Bowl, CA | Gettyimages via Lucy Nicholson

Colin Greenwood

Colin's set-up is quite straight forward and fairly typical for a rock bass player. Colin, almost without fail, always uses Fender Precision Basses (UG Score 8.3) in the studio and on stage. Colin has a wide collection of P-basses but all are fairly standard in their features.

Amps and effects

Thom Yorke

Thom uses one main amp which seems to suit all of his needs and that is a Fender Twin Reverb (UG Score 9). Twins are quite a powerful combo running 85 watts through two 12" speakers. They are known for there very clean signal, even at high volume levels. Thom uses the Twin for all his guitar work.

Jonny Greenwood

Jonny uses two amps in his onstage rig. The first is a Vox AC-30. Jonny is a big fan of the classic Vox sound and has been using AC-30's for quite a long time. In conjunction with the AC-30, Jonny also uses a Fender Deluxe 85 (UG Score 8.8), a Fender model from the 1980's (this can be told because of the red control knobs, a feature of Fender '80's amps). The Deluxe is a transistor amp and is a particular favorite of Jonny's.

Out of all the members of the band, Jonny is probably the one who creates the sounds that are most distinctly Radiohead. On stage, he dodges between guitars, keyboards, and samplers to create a unique sound.

Jonny keeps his pedals on two boards and not in order of signal chain, but rather in some strange setup of his own devising. Jonny's originally only had one pedalboard, upon which he set up his Small Stone V3, Shredmaster, Volume pedal and Line Selector. When their gear was stolen (probably including that board) he obtained a new, larger board. By "OK Computer," he had added another, smaller board for his distortion and reverb, with modulation on the larger one.

His effects chain:

Guitar -> EHX Small Stone V2 - Demeter The Tremulator - DOD440 - Digitech Whammy WH1 - Boss LS2 ->

A. Boss SD1 - Boss RV3 - Roland Space Echo(activated via Vox Egg footswitch) -> Vox AC30TBX

B. Marshall Shredmaster - Boss FV300H -> Fender 85

Jonny Greenwood's gear in 1997 | Image via Guitar.com.

Small Stone V2 pedal is the main effect during the verse of "Paranoid Android."

Also, he used a rack-mounted Mutronics Mutator for studio recording, which gives the end solo its distinctive sound.

DOD440 Envelope Filter is used during the outro solo of live performances of "Paranoid Android." Jonny furiously adjusts the Range knob with his foot while playing the guitar part. This creates a similar effect to that heard on the album, for which he adjusted the knobs on his Mutronics Mutator. When he plays the part with the DOD, the level knob is usually turned all the way to the right.

DOD440 Settings:

  • Level: 5
  • Range: Adjusted by foot whilst he plays.

Marshall ShredMaster (UG Score 9.2) settings:

  • Gain: 3
  • Bass 2
  • Contour 7
  • Treble: 2
  • Volume: 5

Ed O'Brien

Ed uses two to three amps in his onstage rig. Like Jonny, Ed uses a Vox AC-30 Top-Boost combo loaded with alnico speakers.

He had the following effects chain in 1997-1998:

Guitar -> Boss TU12 - Boss PSM5 - Lovetone Meatball - Lovetone Big Cheese - EHX Small Stone V2 - MXR Micro Amp - Marshall Shredmaster or Drivemaster - Boss DD5 - MXR Phase 90 - Boss LS2 ->

A) Mesa Boogie Trem-O-Verb

B) Morley Bad Horsie Wah - Digitech Whammy WH2 - Boss CE1 - Dunlop Tremolo - Boss FV300L - Rack Setup* -> Vox AC30

Rack setup included: Korg A2 - Boss Half-Rack Delay - Boss Half-Rack Delay - AMS DMS1580 delay

The Boss LS2 switches between the amps he used at the time, namely two Mesa Boogie Trem-o-verbs and his second board into his Vox AC30.

Ed most notably uses Digitech Whammy (UG Score 8.6), to play the "what's that" section (at about 0:50, 1:40).

Colin Greenwood

Like many bass players, Colin doesn't use just one amp but combines a variety of power amps and pre-amps in a rack system to get a unique sound. Because of these amps being in a rack, it is hard to tell exactly what each make and model is. One amp Colin does use frequently is a Gallien-Krueger 800 head. As far as speaker cabinets go, Colin normally uses an Ampeg 8x10 cabinet.

Amp settings

  • Drive: 8
  • Treble: 6
  • Middle: 7
  • Bass: 6
  • Reverb: 3

Tablature

These are top tabs rated by the UG community:

Chords version: Paranoid Android Chords
Tab version: Paranoid Android Tab, Paranoid Android Bass Tab
Interactive versions: Guitar Pro, Tab Pro

Tuning

Guitars: Standard tuning (E A D G B E)
Bass: Standard tuning (E A D G)

Song key

The opening segment is played in the key of G minor, the second section is written in the key of A minor, the third section changes the key to C minor/D minor, the final section is in A minor.

Techniques

Acoustic part, played by Thom Yorke, is based on arpeggiated picking pattern through the most of the song.

Song breakdown

"Paranoid Android" has four distinct sections, each played in standard tuning, and a 4/4 time signature, although several three-bar segments in the second section are played in 7/8 timing.

1st section

Intro: 0:00 - 0:18

The opening segment is played in the key of G minor with a tempo of 84 BPM and begins with a mid-tempo acoustic guitar backed by shaken percussion before layered with electric guitar and Yorke's vocals.

Electric guitar part, played by Jonny Greenwood, involves using of phaser effect, which has a characteristic sound, especially, when it's used with vibrato.

Verse 1: 0:18 - 0:47

The melody of these opening vocal lines spans an octave and a third. Jonny Greenwood starts using bends and releases in addition to vibrato for the electric guitar part.

Refrain: 0:47 - 1:08

During the refrain, Ed O'Brien comes in with his guitar part, played with whammy pedal.

Verse 2: 1:08 - 1:37

Refrain: 1:37 - 1:57

The first section ends 1:57 in, after the second refrain ("huh what's that?").

2nd section

The second section is written in the key of A minor and begins about two minutes into the song. Although the second section retains the tempo of the first, it differs rhythmically.

Interlude: 1:57 - 2:20

In the interlude, Jonny Greenwood starts playing synths.

Verse 1: 2:20 - 2:31

In this verse, the electric guitar part is played by Ed, where he plays power chords.

Interlude: 2:31 - 2:42

Verse 2: 2:42 - 3:04

In this verse, Jonny shifts from synths to distorted guitar.

Guitar solo: 3:04 - 3:33

Ending the second section is a distorted guitar solo played by Jonny Greenwood with a lot of fast picking and bends.

3rd section

The third section was written entirely by Jonny Greenwood, and reduces the tempo to 63 BPM and changes the key to C minor/D minor. Thom Yorke plays chords during the whole section and Jonny Greenwood plays synths part. This section uses multi-tracked, choral vocal arrangement.

Interlude: 3:33 - 4:04

Choral bridge: 4:04 - 5:36

4th section

Outro solo: 5:36 - 6:21

The final section has the tempo, key and musical patterns of the second section so it's based on the same techniques.

The guitar solo at the end of the song was written by Jonny Greenwood. It was not originally intended for the song, but something was needed to close the song and this solo was in the right key and the right tempo. Some parts of this closing solo are played forward and other parts are played backward.

Jonny Greenwood said:

It was something I had floating around for awhile and the song needed a certain burn. It happened to be the right key and the right speed and it fit right in.

The song ends, as does the second section, with a short chromatically descending guitar motif.

Recommended lessons

The first section

The first section contains a challenging arpeggiated picking pattern throughout most of it. Besides getting these notes under your fingers, you should listen to the original recording and focus on nailing the rhythmic feel. This wouldn't be that hard to do if Thom played straight 16th notes, but every chord in this sequence has some sort of rhythmic pause. Pay close attention to these pauses.

Also of importance in this section is the picking pattern. The way it's demonstrated in this lesson is very economical.

YouTube preview picture

Acoustic part for the second and the third sections

The second section is in A minor and completely changes the feel with a funky single note riff that then leads into a fast shifting series of chords that require using your thumb in the bass. It is also shown how to play it with simple barre chords if you don't want to use your thumb.

In this lesson, the hard rocking section is presented, which incorporates the funky single note riff used earlier along with a bunch of quick chord shifts.

Also, there is shown an acoustic chord progression played during the sad choral section of the song. These chords can also provide a good challenge for someone trying to learn how to play barre chords on the acoustic.

YouTube preview picture

Multi-instrumental cover

YouTube preview picture

Complete Guides to:

24 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Devil Biscuit
    Congrats Iceman10129, I've been quietly rooting for you all along.
    Iceman10129
    It was a long hard road to get to here, but we did it!  I feel like Forrest Gump when he just decides he doesnt want to run anymore.
    Touchingcloth
    Du Hast - Rammstein, next please
    eatfresh1736
    There's very little to expand on that song. It's got two riffs, generic alt/industrial guitar tone, and no lead. Besides the keyboard of course. Great song, but not worth over-explaining.
    Touchingcloth
    Yeah I'd admit there's not much to the story and there's better examples out their to request; i'm just a big fan of Rammstein and would love to know a little more about the exact equipment and how they get their sound.
    PaulPL
    Can you do Santana's "Samba Pa Ti"? I love guitar tone in that song.
    DissonantTimbre
    Eagles - Hotel California Judas Priest - Beyond The Realms of Death or Painkiller King Crimson - 21st Century Schizoid Man Lynyrd Skynyrd - Free Bird Derek and the Dominos - Layla