Main Index On a Friday 1985-1988 On a Friday 1989-1991 Pablo Honey The Bends OK Computer Kid A Amnesiac Hail to the Thief In Rainbows The King of Limbs A Moon Shaped Pool Thom Yorke Jonny Greenwood Ed O'Brien Colin Greenwood Philip Selway
The roots of this song go back to the On A Friday days. Colin remembered that Thom wrote the bass riff around the age of 16 or 17 and made a 4-track recording using his BOSS Doctor Rhythm drum machine.
The instrumental track was played as early as 1994 with the band, it came up during rehearsals held before recording commenced for The Bends. Ed mentioned a "semi rip-off" going on and cited the band Kitchens Of Distinction as an influence.
Thom's 4-track demo for the song was released in 2017 on the cassette that was part of the OKNOTOK 20th anniversary release of OK Computer:
While it's not known yet whether this song was attempted during the OK Computer sessions in 1996, it was reconsidered at some point in 1997, and it was decided to give it a try when it was time to record b-sides for the No Surprises singles in november 1997. That session yielded a recording that would become the actual basic track for the released version of 'The National Anthem'. As Colin was not present at the november 1997 session, Thom plays bass on the studio version that was released on Kid A.
The recording, which was still an instrumental at this point, was deemed too good for b-side release, and was put on the shelf for the time being, awaiting further work.
The band returned to the track in spring 1999 during the sessions at Batsford. Initially, the song was called 'Everyone'. The new title 'The National Anthem' was an old idea at this point, but made sense considering the associations with a bit of orchestral music that Jonny had inserted at the end. He also added other sounds he found on the radio and played ondes Martenot.

The song is mentioned in three entries of Ed's Diary, the second of which refers to the brass overdub session, which took place in the first half of november 1999 in order to realize ideas that were inspired by listening to Charles Mingus. Even the ensemble of eight musicians was inspired by Mingus' band. Jonny had written a rough score and "conducted" the players, who also developed own ideas, along with Thom, who broke his foot jumping up and down heavily and told the musicians to play like "really cross" car drivers stuck in a traffic jam:
thursday, july 22nd 1999
thom arrives & plays a new song on the acoustic. sounds great but has no name, so now on referred to as the song with no name. we move on to "lost at sea/in limbo" after only nine months work its starting to sound like its getting somewhere. good in fact. The others sound ok too.( everything, everyone/the national anthem). highlight of the day is attempting 3 part harmonies on "neil young *9"- not the harmonies themselves, but phil cracking up because he feels a bit like that drummer from the eagles. a fucking brilliant rehearsal. its great to be in our band.
Undated (mid-november 1999), posted on december 1st 1999
-i've tried to write something about what we've been doing in the last five weeks - there have been the day-by-day accounts which have been of the 'we did this and then we did that' variety..........all incredibly boring to read. then there have been a couple of 'essays' written whilst stoned late at night, only to be re-read the next morning. pretensious old tosh. all have been discarded. it's easy to get extremely self-conscious doing this. we're in london at present and nigel is mixing; he has been for three days. which means that we have actually finished six or so tracks. this has been our life for the last five weeks - we had a list of about ten songs which was then further narrowed down to six. they are definitely different....................there's an eight piece brass ensemble in a charles mingus style on one - eight 'jazzers' came down for the day and blew their stuff all over 'everyone - the national anthem'. they were fantastic............thom and jonny conducted. what a day. there's 'optimistic', there's another which started off as a thom doodle on the 505........there's also the paris version of 'lost at sea'.........the batsford 'morning bell'.it is different. but that's what we do. what has also become evident is that the summer panic that led to two months rehearsal may have been a little premature.....or at the very least a little on the hysterical side.there was some good stuff recorded in paris, copenhagen and batsford. i've been listening to alot of the copenhagen tracks and out-takes and the overall sound is great. pretty dark but then that session was hardly a chuckle-trousered affair.
monday, june 26th 2000
athens, greece

arrived this morning to play the first of two gigs in the lycabetus theatre, which is apparently near the parthenon. no site of any greek antiquities as of yet, even from the top floor of the hotel.........this city seems huge and apparently we're situated in what a local described as a kind of no-man's land......lots of traffic outside the window......and parked cars everywhere which is explained by the fact that they operate a system here whereby car licences are issued for different days of the week in order to alleviate the serious traffic congestion ie you have a car and you're only allowed to drive that car on mondays, wednesdays, fridays and sundays...........what happens of course is that if you've got the dosh you then buy another car that you can drive on tuesdays, thursdays and saturdays...................mmmm.............we had an amazing time in florence..........played open-air, right in the heart of the old town at the piazza san doesn't get better than this....went on and played in thessaloniki last night at the earth theatre..... a beautiful modern amphitheatre which had actually been dug out of the hill that overlooks that city.....a brilliant audience who exhibited great patience at hearing a set with nine new songs and a band which ignored repeated requets for creep(....understandable on their part, the requests that is, as this was our first visit) and pop is dead (..... cheeky bastards....)

getting a little worried about how easy it is to drink vast amounts of alcohol on tour...kick-started by the lovely laika people who apart from playing some great shows with us also happen to make the greatest margaritas outside of mexico itself......they are dangerous touring partners..

the new songs are working pretty well now in the set....'in limbo's still a little tricky but it's more than made up by the way 'the national anthem' and 'everything in its right place' is going ..........our crew by the way are doing an immense job working outside in incredible heats while we swan around like popstars..........
In live performances, Jonny would not only play on his French Connection along with Ed doing similar lines on guitar, but would also snatch up signals from a transistor radio, preferably classical music, jazz or dialogue, and blend it into what the other band members played.
On October 14th 2000 the song was played again with the brass ensemble for NBC's 'Saturday Night Live':
The band recorded a live-in-the-studio version of the song for the BBC Evening Session, which was aired on december 11th 2000. It was recorded at AIR Studios in London, judging from Steve Lamacq's narration around late november 2000:
Steve Lamacq: "So as I say, this is one of the tracks which gets an airing in the live set, and does have a fantastic punk rock bass guitar."
Colin: "Yeah, but that, yeah, that wasn't me. I didn't do that. Thom did that. I was... I went home on an early night and err..."
Steve: "So, what? That's not you on the record, Colin?"
Colin: "No, no, no, no, no, no, I'm sort of trying to cobble it together live, yeah."
Steve: "It has a fantastic punk rock bass guitar by the singer and it also has a big jazz climax, possibly influenced by Louis Armstrong, who knows? This is Radiohead, live on Radio 1, and this has been taken from the album, Kid A, this is a track called 'The National Anthem'."
Steve Lamacq: "You're doing a lot of live sampling."
Jonny: "Errrm. Yeah, well by that I'm sort of..."
Colin: "Yes you are."
Jonny: "Yeah."
Steve: "Go on, tell us."
Jonny: "Well, I'm kind of relying on local radio wherever we are, playing... you know, not playing Bryan Adams and stuff. I'm just tuning a radio in to whatever's on local stations and hoping it's going to be bits of classical music or bits of people talking or, you know... I mean there's always a danger that you're going to tune to some, you know extremist right wing... so you've no idea what's going to come out in the local language, you know, it might be someone in Dutch kind of espousing some terrible... erm so yeah, that's kind of what I'm doing really, just stealing other people's stuff."
Steve Lamacq: "I don't know if there's, it's not... obviously it's not the big brother that's in fashion at the moment (Ed & Thom laugh), but there's a big brother feeling about certainly 'The National Anthem', which I think was backed up slightly by the photo shoot, which you did recently for a certain magazine..."
Thom: "Yeah."
Steve: "It had the same feel about it."
Thom: "(drinking) Mmmmmm."
Steve: "You see what I mean?"
Thom: "Er, well, I mean, yeah, there was one night where, erm... we were on tour in America, and erm... what was it? (to Ed) Remember that time when R.E.M. asked us out?"
Ed: "Mmm hmmm."
Thom: "And we went out to that club, I don't know about you, but I was..."
Ed: "Which time?"
Thom: "Oh, God knows..."
Steve: "Subtle piece of name dropping, I just thought I'd mention it."
Thom: "And I was sitting around the table with Michael and, err... don't know, who else? And I suddenly started going into this rant about 1984 and how I actually thought that essentially all the things in 1984 had come true, it's just that they had the wrong names, and they were put in the wrong order, but essentially we were actually living in 1984 already, and I just went on and on and on about it, and it became a really unhealthy obsession and that must have been in 198... 1997, or whatever."
Steve: "Really?"
Thom: "..and that's about when that song started, (to Ed) you remember, we did that..."
Steve: "So there might be something in that."
Thom: "I think that's very good, yeah."
Paul Anderson: "I never thought I'd ask any members of Radiohead if there was any jazz element to their music? But on this track there certainly is, so I mean, tell us about 'National Anthem', Phil."

Phil Selway: "'National Anthem'... We actually started recording that song over two years ago? After the last UK tour we went in and we were finishing off a B-side, and the rhythm track for 'The National Anthem' was actually hatched then. And at the time it wasn't really working. So we left it for two years, came back to it, and something started to gel there, really." [...]

Paul: "So this is a two year old song? I didn't realize it was quite as old."

Ed O'Brien: "It's older than that. I remember we rehearsed it when we were rehearing for The Bends, in our rehearsal studio, we rehearsed it. And that would be back at early '94. But then it sounded sort of... there's a great band called Kitchens of Distinction..."

Paul: "Oh, why weren't they huge!"

Ed: "They were great. And it was sounding distinctly Kitchens of Distinction. I think, you know, there's a semi sort of rip off going on there."

Paul: "Right."

Ed: "So, you know, give it five years, everyone forgets!"
Jonny Greenwood: "It was basically written around a very old song, a bassline from about... ten years ago?"

Colin Greenwood: "Thom demoed the song on the four-track when we were all at school when we were about sixteen or seventeen around like a Boss Doctor Rhythm drum machine and a sort of guitar fuzz bassline. And then we were finishing the touring on OK Computer in the winter of '97 and we had to record some b-sides for the last single releases of OK Computer, and everyone jumped in the bus to go to London, and I didn't go, 'cause I was like (laughs)... for various reasons, and they cut 'National Anthem' and decided it was too good to use as a b-side for OK Computer singles. So it sat on a shelf for another two years. And then Jonny added all this amazing stuff with the Ondes Martenot and found sounds on radio stations, including the orchestra at the end, which is where the 'National Anthem' title comes from. It wasn't originally called 'National Anthem', it was called 'Everyone'."
Mark Russell: "There's a very unusual brass arrangement on that. Did you do that, Jonny?"

Jonny Greenwood: "It started with Thom saying this track should really sound like... by the end it should turn into a Charlie Mingus track. And Thom has these ideas quite often, and sometimes they're best ignored, and sometimes they're genius and he's completely right. And we pretty much just got a brass section into the room, and I scored out the rough tune, and Thom and I stood in front of them conducting, sort of... I say 'conducting', it wasn't Simon Rattle, it was more just jumping up and down when we wanted it to be louder and faster and calming them down at certain points. I'm sure it looked ridiculous, but it sounds on tape pretty good, I think."

Mark: "It's a very 'spiky' sound. Is that what you wanted?"

Jonny: "It is, yeah. We wanted them to play around with the rhythms of what was happening, and do crossbeats, and be taking it in turns to take solos, really. A bit like Charlie Mingus, the organised chaos of that, the fact that it's not random. There's a structure going on, but it's very loose around the edges."

Mark: "And the soloing seems to get more intense towards the end of the track. Were you trying to sort of build up the noise quota?"

Jonny: "Yeah, well, the very last high note is actually done on the lowest instrument, which gives some idea of the sweat and the red faces going on in that room, it was just... it was intense."

Robert Sandall: "Charlie Mingus - as a musician - obviously is tremendously diverse, extraordinarily prolific arranger and performer. Which bit of Mingus were you aiming for here?"

Jonny: "I suppose like the Blues & Roots era."
For 'The National Anthem', a track on Kid A shot through with chaotic, pulsating energy, the band set up eight brass musicians in the same way as they appear on the Mingus album.

Thom: "On the day I said to them, 'You know when you've been in a traffic jam for four hours and if someone says the wrong thing to you, you'll just kill 'em, you'll fucking snap and probably throttle them? You're like this -" he holds a palm millimetres from his face - "with everybody and any tiny spark and you're going to go off, and you're in the midst of two or three hundred other people who are in exactly the same thing. I wanted them to play like that, like, this fucking close to going off, lynching or killing, it's like a mob just about to spark off. Jonny and I were conducting it, and we ran through it a few times and people started to get ideas, and it was such a great day!" he beams. "I broke my foot, actually, because I was jumping up and down so much. It was great! The bit at the end was my favourite bit, because they said. 'Well, what are we going to do at the end?' And I said, 'I'll go, 1-2-3-4 and you just hit whatever note's in your head as loud as you possibly can.' And that was just the best sound you've ever heard!"
Q: "There are a lot of crazy sounds on this album. 'The National Anthem', for example, has howling-wind effects and freaky horns."

Ed: "That song is really interesting because the track evolved over two years, and when you record a track over that amount of time, you forget what's good about it. The drums and bass were done at the end of '97 when we finished in the U.K. tour for OK Computer, and we went into the studio to do some B-sides. We didn't pick up the track again until last summer in Gloucestershire, and then we had a brass section come in sometime in November '99. It's a very ill-disciplined way of recording. But it's actually a very interesting way of working, because you're adding things to the stew - as well as rejecting things - and then you come back to the song with fresh ears."

Q: "You guys really like delay and reverb effects."

Ed: "We are delay and reverb snobs. I think the interesting thing is, we don't go for nice sounds. For example, we processed the vocals on 'The National Anthem' with a ring modulator. Nice implies 'smooth', 'coffee table', and 'not very noteworthy'. I think that's one of our great senses. We can get up our own asses a bit, but what we do recognize is, when it comes to sounds, I think we've got quite good taste. We're good at judging what is and what is not a good sound. For us, part of recording is finding out different methodologies and techniques to create new sounds - which is what you should be doing in the recording studio."
Q: "Were you in effect suffering from a form of writer's block?"

Thom: "It wasn't really a writer's block because words were coming out like diarrhoea but they were all awful! And I couldn't tell the difference - which was much worse. But that was because, personally speaking, I'd lost all confidence."

Q: "When and how did it come back?"

Thom: "It came back when we recorded 'The National Anthem'. I really, really love that track."
"The National Anthem," on Kid A, is based on a riff that Yorke wrote when he was sixteen.
Jonny: "I guess that, well, we realised that we couldn't play jazz. You know, we've always been a band of great ambition with limited playing abilities. So the final product you get to when you work under those expressive parameters, with those creative concepts, is something I quite like. In that sense, our main inspiration has been Miles Davis and Bitches Brew, how he and his band are capable of filling up the recording with sound from beginning to end... oh god! Now that felt sort of awkward... if a Miles Davis fan hears me talk about him that way he might get really mad at me. He'd be entitled to really. Don't get me wrong, I have too much respect for Miles Davis. None of us plays trumpet or sax very well, we're definitely not skilled instrumentalists. What we take from these records are things that other people May overlook, Maybe things they don't feel that passionate about. Like the chaos in those records which is fantastic... an amazing thing. And with Charles Mingus it's utter chaos all the same, the things happening in their music and the way they happen... This kind of music that's supposed to be, somehow classical, calmed... I don't know, when you're younger, you grow up picturing the image of big bands like Glenn Miller's, and when you listen to Mingus he makes you change your perception of jazz. So jazz is a grand thing, but we're not trying to play jazz in these songs [my question refers to 'The National Anthem' and 'Life In A Glasshouse basically] but if we were we'd call 'real' musicians to help us out."
"I often think about the horn section on 'The National Anthem.' Me and Jonny were standing in front of all these players: Jonny was writing out scores, and I was going, 'Just play it like a bunch of cars in a traffic jam! They're really cross!' I really didn't give a shit what they started playing. I was listening to a lot of Charles Mingus. I wanted to take that to the extreme."
During their 2008 tour for In Rainbows, Radiohead asked fans to provide travel information and other data regarding the carbon footprint of the tour, giving away free live recordings in return. While some participants received a link to the download of a soundboard recording of 'Bangers And Mash' from june 6th 2008 or a recording of 'Nude' from june 18th 2008, others were sent a link to a recording of 'The National Anthem' from august 9th 2008, the band's second performance at the All Points West festival:
Live performance #246 during the making of The King of Limbs:
246. january 24th 2010 The Music Box Theatre at The Fonda Los Angeles, CA USA Link
Live performances #247 to #258 during the touring for The King of Limbs:
247. september 26th 2011 The Colbert Report New York City, NY USA Link
  The King of Limbs tour (1st half) 09/'11 02/'12 march 2012 april 2012 05/'12 june 2012
Everything In Its Right Place [23] 28 29 29 01 03 05 07 09 11 13 09 11 14 18 29 31 01 05 08 10 11 13 15
The National Anthem [11] 28 29 27 07 13 11 29 31 01 03 05
How to Disappear Completely [5] 11 15 09 01 15
Idioteque [28] 27 29 01 03 05 06 07 09 11 13 15 09 11 12 14 17 18 21 29 31 01 05 06 08 10 11 13 15
Live performances #259 and #273 during the touring for The King of Limbs: