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Radiohead / Hail to the Thief / 2003 / Track 14

So you've heard Radiohead do Grunge rock, Progressive rock, Shoe-gaze, Brit pop, Dixieland jazz, Free jazz, Ambient, Electronica, and an African-American Spiritual, but have you heard them rap?

I was very surprised the first time I heard this track. It begins with vaguely baroque-sounding guitar and synth arpeggios in 6/8 time (like a waltz), with the bass and drums coming in at the end of the fourth measure. Two more bars, and in comes Thom Yorke's singing... Except he's not really singing, he's accentuating the rhythm of each syllable and sticking to a very narrow range of pitches, more like speaking... Could it be? And when the chorus comes along Thom bursts into full voice, straining a little but singing a beautiful melody, and confirming the contrast between the "rap" of the verses and the "rock" of the chorus.

The track probably lies closest to a less musically-upbeat "Subterranean Homesick Blues". My first instinct for comparison was to conjure up a paranoid, socially-conscious Eminem, however, it goes without saying that Thom lacks any of the requisite swagger to make this rapping in the popular sense, and the bass-high hat triplets played by drummer Phil Selway hardly constitute a hip hop beat.

The song was first mentioned in Ed O'Brien's online diary on December 8, 1999: "tried playing 'keep the wolf from the door but it's too late and needs thom's rant on it," and was first performed at the Coliseu dos Recreios in Lisbon, Portugal, July 23, 2002.

According to guitarist Jonny Greenwood, the chord changes were "too busy and too pretty so Thom basically started shouting on top of it. The ultra-paranoid, 'they're coming to take me away' sentiments he expresses are a basic documentation of the nearest I ever came to having a complete nervous breakdown. It's about fear -- real or imagined -- that still makes total sense."

The title, "A Wolf At The Door" comes a the figure of speech meaning one is in financial trouble. The "alternate title" for this song was going to be "Stepford Wives," a reference to the 1975 movie which dealt with the sinister side of suburban life.

Differences between the pre-mastering leak and the final version include the chorus being doubled in unison overdubs which divide into harmony on the words "mess me up", and everything generally mixed louder and spread wide across the stereo spectrum, with the drums and vocals up slightly higher in the mix.

Lyrics:

drag him out your window
dragging out your dead
singing "I miss you,"
Snakes and Ladders
flip the lid
out pops the cracker
smacks you in the head
knifes you in the neck
 kicks you in the teeth
steel toe caps
takes all your credit cards
get up
get the gunge
get the eggs
get the flan in the face
    the flan in the face
    the flan in the face
dance you fucker
dance you fucker
don't you dare
don't you dare
don't you 
        flan in the face
take it with the love it's given
take it with a pinch of salt
take it to the taxman
let me back
let me back
I promise to be good
don't look in the mirror
at the face you don't recognize
help me
call the doctor
put me inside
put me inside
put me inside
put me inside
put me inside

   I keep the wolf from the door
   but he calls me up
   calls me on the phone
   tells me all the ways that he's gonna mess me up
   steal all my children
   if I don't pay the ransom
   but I'll never see him again
   if I squeal to the cops

no no no no no no no...

walking like giant cranes
with my x-ray eyes I strip you naked
in a tight little world
               and are you on the list?
Stepford Wives
               who are we to complain?
investments and dealers
investments and dealers
cold wives and mistresses,
cold wives and sunday papers,
city boys in first class,
don't know we're born just know
someone else is gonna come and clean it up
             born and raised for the job
someone else always does 
I wish you'd get up
             get over
             get up
             get over
            turn
         the
     tape
off...

   ...keep the wolf from the door
   but he calls me up
   calls me on the phone
   tells me all the ways that he’s gonna mess me up
   steal all my children
   if I don't pay the ransom
   but I'll never see him again
   if I squeal to the cops
   so I’m just gonna...


Previous Track

Radiohead
Hail to the Thief

It's over. Turn the tape off.


Sources:
Official Lyrics from http://www.radiohead.com/page14.html
http://capitolrecords.com/radiohead/radiohead_biography.html
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2003/05/17/bmradio17.xml&sSheet=/arts/2003/05/24/ixmusictop.html

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