"Paranoid Android" is a song by English alternative rock band Radiohead, featured on their 1997 third studio album OK Computer. The lyrics of the darkly humorous song were written primarily by singer Thom Yorke, following an unpleasant experience in a Los Angeles bar. At more than six minutes long and containing four distinct sections, the track is significantly influenced by The Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". "Paranoid Android" takes its name from Marvin the Paranoid Android of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.
When released as the lead single from OK Computer, "Paranoid Android" charted at number three on the UK Singles Chart. It was well received by music critics and highlighted in many reviews of OK Computer. The track has appeared regularly on lists of the best songs of all time, including Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Its animated music video, directed by Magnus Carlsson, was placed on heavy rotation on MTV, although the network censored portions containing nudity. Since its release, the track has been covered by numerous artists working in a variety of musical genres.
In composing "Paranoid Android", Radiohead fused together parts from three different songs, each of which had been written by a different member of the band. The idea to combine the pieces into a single track was inspired in part by the format and structure of The Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun". Colin Greenwood admitted 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 humorous, and took its title from Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series of books. 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; yet 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 (which Yorke was convinced was haunted) near the village of St Catherine, near Bath, Somerset. The first edit was over 14 minutes long and included a long organ interlude performed by Jonny Greenwood. Radiohead played this extended version during a tour with Alanis Morissette in September 1996. 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 told audiences that "[i]f you can have sex to this one, you're fucking weird." He also sarcastically referred to the version of the song played during the tour as "a Pink Floyd cover". Radiohead were inspired by the editing of The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour (described by Colin Greenwood as "brutal"), to shorten the song to a final six and a half minutes, a process that led to Jonny Greenwood's organ section being replaced by a substantially shorter guitar fade out. However, it took the band a year and a half to learn how to play the final version in live performance.
"Paranoid Android" is categorised 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. In particular, Yorke was frightened by a woman who became violent after someone spilled a drink on her. Yorke characterised 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."
Radiohead premiered "Paranoid Android" on the BBC Radio 1 programme The Evening Session in April 1997, nearly a month before its release as a single. Melody Maker revealed that a Radio 1 producer had to "have a bit of a lie down" after first hearing the song, while Colin Greenwood said it felt "like a victory to have Radio 1 hammering merry shit out of it, cos it's hardly the radio-friendly, breakthrough, buzz bin unit shifter they can have been expecting". It was released as a single on 26 May 1997, chosen by the band to prepare listeners for the musical direction of its parent album. Despite an initial lack of radio play, "Paranoid Android" charted at number three on the UK Singles Chart, giving Radiohead their highest singles chart position. As the song's popularity grew, Radio 1 played it up to 12 times a day. Yorke described the song's appearance on Radio 1 as one of his proudest moments of the OK Computer era. The track also spent two weeks on Australia's ARIA Singles Chart, where it charted at number 29.
"Paranoid Android" was favourably reviewed by critics. NME chose it as its "Single of the Week", and journalist Simon Williams described how the song "[s]prawls out like a plump man on a small sofa, featuring all manner of crypto-flamenco shufflings, medieval wailings, furiously wrenched guitars and ravishingly over-ambitious ideas. Possesses one of the most unorthodox 'axe' solos known to mankind." The style of the song was compared to that of Queen by Rolling Stone's Mark Kemp, while other critics, including David Browne of Entertainment Weekly, Jon Lusk of the BBC and Simon Williams of NME wrote about its similarity to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Williams described the song as being "not unlike 'Bohemian Rhapsody' being played backwards by a bunch of Vietnam vets high on Kings Cross-quality crack". Kemp praised the song's mix of acoustic and electronic instrumentation, which he believed were melded to produce "complex tempo changes, touches of dissonance, ancient choral music and a King Crimson-like melodic structure". Meanwhile Browne wrote of "celestial call-and-response vocal passages, dynamically varied sections, and Thom Yorke's high-voiced bleat". The A.V. Club called the song unforgettable and an "amazing epic single".
Several reviewers noted the record's ambition. Slant Magazine described the song's lyrics as a "multipart anti-yuppie anthem whose ambition is anything but ugly", and Andy Gill wrote in The Independent that "Paranoid Android" could be the most ambitious single since Richard Harris' "MacArthur Park". Craig McLean of The Sydney Morning Herald described "Paranoid Android" as "a titanic guitar opera in three movements and 6 [and a half] minutes". PopMatters' Evan Sawdey called the song OK Computer's "sweeping, multi-tiered centerpiece", Peter and Jonathan Buckley wrote in The Rough Guide to Rock that it was the album's "breathtaking high point". Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine called "Paranoid Android" "complex, multi-segmented ... tight, melodic, and muscular", and said it displayed Radiohead at their most adventurous. Browne admitted that, partially because of "Paranoid Android", OK Computer was significantly more expansive than The Bends. Rolling Stone placed the song at number 256 on its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, and Pitchfork Media included the song at number 4 on their Top 200 Tracks of the 90s.