"Pyramid Song" is a song by the English alternative rock band Radiohead. It was the first single from their 2001 album Amnesiac and the first Radiohead single released in over three years, after none were taken from their previous album Kid A.
"Pyramid Song" was issued in most parts of the world, except the United States (where "I Might Be Wrong" was the first, radio-only single). The UK public responded well, and the song peaked at #5; it was also named NME's single of the week. The song made #21 on the Dutch Top 40. The band performed the song on Top of the Pops in May 2001. A favourite among fans despite a lack of wide-scale radio play, it continues to be performed at Radiohead's live concerts. The band themselves consider it a high point of their career. According to guitarist Ed O'Brien, upon hearing an early version of the recording, singer Thom Yorke declared it "the best thing we've committed to tape, ever." The song ranked #94 on Rolling Stone's 100 best songs of the decade.
"Pyramid Song" is a piano-driven piece with vocals and lyrics by Yorke. It also features string orchestrations by band member Jonny Greenwood. The song builds to a climax with the introduction of Phil Selway's jazz-influenced compound rhythm and the siren-like wails of the Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument also played by Jonny. Colin Greenwood plays upright bass rather than his usual electric; O'Brien adds subtle electric guitar to live versions, playing with lots of delay. Yorke said "Pyramid Song" was heavily influenced by the Charles Mingus song "Freedom," and originally he had even included similar hand-claps. The song was produced by Nigel Godrich together with Radiohead.
At various times "Pyramid Song" has also been known as "Egyptian Song" and "Nothing to Fear," from a lyric in its chorus. It received its live début in 1999 at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Amsterdam, at which it was performed solo by Yorke on piano. Subsequently the full-band version became a part of Radiohead's anticipated concert tours in 2000, both before and after the release of Kid A. "Pyramid Song" was one of several new songs played live but not included on that album, leading some to criticize the band for leaving off their most melodic new material.
Originally slated for a series of EPs or singles, "Pyramid Song" and the other unreleased songs (such as "You and Whose Army?" and "Knives Out") eventually came together as the follow-up Amnesiac, along with other material that had been recorded during the marathon Kid A sessions. "Pyramid Song" was in fact recorded during this time, although not included on Kid A; for example, its string parts were performed by the Orchestra of St. John's during the same day as those used in Kid A 's "How to Disappear Completely" (as well as Amnesiac 's "Dollars & Cents"). When "Pyramid Song" is performed live, Yorke usually sings along with O'Brien backing with electric guitar the parts assigned to the strings in the studio version.
The lyrics of "Pyramid Song" references Dante's Divine Comedy with references to the Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, though Yorke has mentioned the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol), the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha as other inspirations. The first two lines bear a resemblance to the beginning of the first verse of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." The line "and we all went to heaven in a little row boat" is nearly identical to a lyric found in Tom Waits' 1985 song "Clap Hands", which itself is taken from a 1965 hit by Shirley Ellis, "The Clapping Song".
The video for "Pyramid Song", directed by collective Shynola, features a combination of computer 3D and hand-drawn animation and was based on a dream that lead singer Thom Yorke once had.