Radiohead Slows Down on ‘The Tourist’: The Story Behind Every ‘OK Computer’ Song
Coming on the heels of a track that was recorded before the OK Computer sessions began is a recording that completed just before they wrapped up the album. According to guitarist Jonny Greenwood, Radiohead created OK Computer’s closer as the band were about to pack up and leave St. Catherine’s Court, the rural mansion where the boys recorded the majority of the album with producer Nigel Godrich.
Greenwood was the prime mover on “The Tourist,” conjuring the idea of the slow-motion finale as a reaction to what he witnessed one day on a trip to France. The deliberate pace of the song was in diametric opposition to the frantic tourists he saw.
“[‘The Tourist’] came from being in a beautiful square in France on a sunny day, and watching all these American tourists being wheeled around,” frontman Thom Yorke told Select, “frantically trying to see everything in 10 minutes. You know: ‘We’ve got to be in Paris tomorrow morning!’”
The Radiohead singer expanded upon his bandmate’s experience in the lyrics, connecting the song to OK Computer’s themes of transportation (“They ask me where the hell I’m going / At 1,000 feet per second”) and the general sense of how modern life can isolate humanity (specifically, how a “rush, rush, rush” mode of living can distract one from enjoying the beauty of the world).
Yorke also revealed that the song’s howled chorus – “Hey man, slow down” – was also something he was directing inward. The Radiohead frontman was giving himself some advice on how to cope with stress, frustration, technology, anything.
Although the singer’s lyrics bring “The Tourist” around to ring the bell on OK Computer, everyone in Radiohead considers the track to be Jonny’s song. After the album was released, he seemed shocked in interviews that it had made the running order.
“I was surprised that the other four let me do it,” Greenwood told Humo. “‘The Tourist’ doesn’t sound like Radiohead at all. It’s a song where there doesn’t have to happen anything every three seconds. It has become a song with space.”
Greenwood might not think the song sounded like Radiohead, but it did sound like it belonged on OK Computer, what with those delicate, prickly guitar strains and another instance of the mellotron “choir” (following behind “Exit Music” and “Lucky”). The balance between the sleepy, slightly jazzy verses and those yawning choruses – with some steel wool soloing from “Jonny Guitar” – beings OK Computer to an elegiac close.
“It sounds like the last song on an album,” Greenwood said.
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