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Palo Alto, California, is home to many of America's large corporations, including Xerox and a few computer companies. When the band played there in March 1996, they were given a several tours of these temples of economical and technological advancement. Thus, the song is about the "city of the future" - the motto of Palo Alto, which is situated in Silicon Valley- and ponders the friendly attitude of the people the band members met there; Thom greets those people in the chorus.
The song was originally titled 'OK Computer', but was ditched pretty early on in the sessions for the album that would eventually take that title. Two pages, that appeared on radiohead.com during the recording of OK Computer, are connected to the song's lyrics. This one is titled 'Vita Facile':

. i cant get the rHythm. were in a beautiful house in the country but i can't get the rhythm. everyone says itll be okay. just don't get freaked out. but i can't get the rhythm. sit on the steps with too much caffeine and a locked jaw i can't get the fu ing rhythm. yesterday was okay, tommorrow will be okay. im okay how are you iam fine thanks how are you im okay how are you? I hoPE YOUR OKAY too.
[mother natures fighting back fighting back polyethylene.]
empty spaces terrifying. silence terrifies me. its going okay thanks. for asking. why write what you wanna read? just like the rest of the net. silence is better. cease thinking, it is noise and it troubles. so quit. if you see a british pop star behavi badly he is friends with charlie. charlies an arsehole. a lot of people talk and write shit. they know charlie. they work for the papers. charlie says always tell your mummy where you're going. charlie says looks both ways behind in front all around (w 's that? who you calling a... huh? what was that?) watch your back before crossing the road.


And this one. which contains the phrase "a city of the future", was called 'small thoughts':


a city of the future
why does it have to be you? like one blade of grass in this poxy memorial park. i could go anywhere,why this Fag Butt suffocated littleCity? i have a list of MyCleverREsponses to her penetrating noises, chinless wonders. i take pride now walking at snail pace. there is no rush in a dying city of the future. i am in no hurry to catch the bus to go to a place just like this one while the birds sing their guts out and drown out the noise of this city and us.


The following recording is from February 27th, 1995, from a show called 2 Meter Session. A recording of the entire performance is not available.

The song was revived and overhauled for release as a B-side for the upcoming 'No Surprises' single during the band's European tour in October and November 1997. Many parts of the song - including guitars, bass and vocals - were recorded on mobile equipment in the back of the tour bus. Footage of Thom listening back to this unfinished version of 'Palo Alto' on the bus can be seen in Meeting People Is Easy. The programmed drum track, which had to be used since drums were impossible to record on the bus, is clearly audible:



Following the European Tour, the band minus Colin went into Abbey Road studios in november 1997 to finish the song. Most noticably, Phil overdubbed his drum part now. During the same session the basic track of 'The National Anthem', then titled 'Everyone', was recorded with Thom on bass.
Chris Douridas: "So what's the story behind this song?"

Thom Yorke: "That song was... it was weird, actually. It was written on one of those days off you have on a tour where literally all you can do is sit in your hotel room, 'cause there's nothing. It was a Sunday, it was someplace near Hershey. Got no idea where. There was just nothing to do at all, and I just had this idea of someone writing a song, sending it to someone, and saying 'If I ever lose it, you just pick up the phone and play me this song back, to remind me'. So that was it."

Chris: "Wow. [laughs] Was this song written on keyboards?"

Thom: "No, it wasn't, no. I mean that's all Jonny on Fender Rhodes, really. It was funny actually, 'cause I was listening to Pharoah Sanders this morning, and it's like, that's where it's all from! [laughs] Miles Davis and all that. We just totally fell in love with the Fender Rhodes on this record."