The earliest known rendition of 'Palo Alto', which at this point was either untitled or had a different title, comes from the taping of Radiohead's performance for Dutch channel VPRO's '2 Meter Session' on February 27th 1995. It's not an actual performance of the song, Thom just plays a bit of it in between other takes. The lyrics are still in a very early stage:
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 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':
[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':
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 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.