Sunday, May 19, 2013

Radiohead -- "Paranoid Android" (1997)

When I am king
You will be first against the wall

I'm not sure who will be first against the wall when I am king.  There are a number of excellent candidates.  

I may never be king, of course.  But just in case, I've been practicing: "Ready.  Aim.  FIRE!!!"

Goya's "The Third of May 1808"
depicts a Napoleonic firing squad
I'm back at 2 or 3 lines world headquarters (we've got the upper two floors of the Wildly Popular Blog Building) after my extensively chronicled 12-day pleasure-business-pleasure trip to San Francisco, San Diego, and Granbury, Texas.  (If you haven't been following 2 or 3 lines recently, just scroll down and read the last couple of hundred posts -- then you'll be all caught up.)

Just before I took off on my trip, 2 or 3 lines reached a significant milestone -- "Shake Some Action" by the Flamin' Groovies became the 500th song we've featured.  Click here to read all about it.

You would think that 500 posts would give you plenty of room to fit in all the greats, most of the near-greats, and a fair number of the not-so-greats from the pop music world.

But you regular followers have no doubt noticed that there are some notable recording artists whose music has not yet been featured on 2 or 3 lines.

Radiohead (looking suitably angst-ridden)
One of the most notable of those missing groups is Radiohead, whose music was not only critically praised but also very popular (despite being somewhat user-unfriendly).  

In 2000, a British survey of some 200,000 record buyers ranked three Beatles albums (Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's and The White Album) as the #1, #3, and #5 albums of all time.  Radiohead's The Bends and OK Computer were #2 and #4 on that list.  That's pretty impressive.  (At the time the survey was taken, the band had released only three albums.)  

Radiohead remained popular through the following decade despite a major change in musical direction.  Rolling Stone readers voted the group the second-best artist of the 2000's, and two Radiohead albums (Kid A and In Rainbows) held down the #3 and #5 spots on the magazine's top-albums-of-the-decade list.

So how did I manage to write 500-plus posts without featuring a Radiohead song?

Believe me, it wasn't because I don't like Radiohead.  I have seven of their eight studio albums resting comfortably among the 48.3 days' worth of music on my iTunes account, and I listen to them often.  

But choosing just one Radiohead song to feature is like choosing just one of your children to carry out of a burning building.  (OK, that simile is a little over the top . . . but you get my point.)

The OK Computer cover
I could have picked any one of a dozen Radiohead songs for this post, but I chose "Paranoid Android" off the group's 1997 album, OK Computer.  It's a very complex song, but not quite as experimental as some of the group's later music -- so it's not as difficult for the average person to appreciate.  

(Not that 2 or 3 lines readers are merely "average."  Many of them are well below average, of course.  After all, this isn't Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average.)

"Paranoid Android" combines parts of three different songs written by three different members of the group.  The group was inspired by the Beatles' "Happiness is a Warm Gun," which also stitches together several disparate song fragments.

Freddie Mercury, who wrote
"Bohemian Rhapsody"
Several critics have compared "Paranoid Android" to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."  One of them (Simon Williams of New Musical Express) went so far as to say that the Radiohead song was "not unlike 'Bohemian Rhapsody' being played backwards by a bunch of Vietnam vets high on . . . crack."  

I think Simon Williams may have been on crack when he decided to compare the two songs.  "Paranoid Android" is really nothing like "Bohemian Rhapsody."  

I'm sorry to break the news to you Queen fans out there, but "Bohemian Rhapsody" is either (1) a huge joke played by Queen on its fans, or (2) one of the most God-awful songs in history.

Here's the famous (infamous?) "Bohemian Rhapsody" scene from Wayne's World, which is one of most God-awful movies in history:

The animated music video for "Paranoid Android" is remarkably weird and seems to have absolutely no relationship to the song's lyrics -- which is not all that surprising, given that the creator of the video (Swedish animator Magnus Carlsson) did not have access to the lyrics until after the video was done.  

Despite the incomprehensible nature of the music video, MTV played it a lot.  As one MTV executive told an interviewer, "You can watch 'Paranoid Android' a hundred times and not figure it all out."  

I'm not sure what his point is.  After all, you can read something typed by a roomful of monkeys a hundred times and not figure it all out.  That's because it has no meaning to figure out.

Here's the music video for "Paranoid Android":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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