Airbag (song)

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Song by Radiohead from the album OK Computer
Released 24 March 1998
Recorded July 1996 – March 1997
Genre Alternative rock
Length 4:44
Label Parlophone/Capitol
Writer(s) Radiohead
Producer(s) Nigel Godrich, Radiohead
OK Computer track listing
"Paranoid Android"

"Airbag" is a song by the English rock band Radiohead. It is the first song on their 1997 album OK Computer and the final single to be released from said album on 24 March 1998.


The song is inspired by a car crash involving Thom Yorke and his girlfriend in 1987. This event damaged his girlfriend's cervix, but Yorke was unhurt. He said, "Has an airbag saved my life? Nah ... but I tell you something, every time you have a near accident, instead of just sighing and carrying on, you should pull over, get out of the car and run down the street screaming, 'I'm BACK! I'm ALIVE! My life has started again today!' In fact, you should do that every time you get out of a car. We're just riding on those things - we're not really in control of them."[1]

The song was first performed in 1995. It was originally titled "Last Night an Airbag Saved My Life", a reference to the Indeep song, "Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life". Guitarist Jonny Greenwood said, "'Airbag' is a classic example of Colin and Phil saying, 'Let's make it sound like DJ Shadow.' But unfortunately – or fortunately – it does not, because we missed again. It's that thing of lumbering around in the dark, but still being excited by what we do. We're discovering these things for the first time rather than getting the pros in to show us how to do it."[2]

In 2016, Thom Yorke auctioned the original draft of lyrics for "Airbag", written inside a copy of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, with proceeds going to Oxfam.[3]


The song begins with a guitar riff by Jonny Greenwood and the same riff closes the song. The song was inspired by the music of DJ Shadow, and is underpinned by an electronic drum beat programmed from a seconds-long recording of Selway's drumming. The band sampled the drum track with a digital sampler and edited it with a Macintosh, but admitted to making approximations in emulating Shadow's style due to their programming inexperience.[4][5] The bassline in "Airbag" starts and stops unexpectedly, achieving an effect similar to 1970s dub.[6]

The song's references to automobile accidents were inspired by a magazine article titled "An Airbag Saved My Life" and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Yorke wrote "Airbag" about the illusion of safety offered by modern transit, and "the idea that whenever you go out on the road you could be killed."[7] Music journalist Tim Footman notes the song's technical innovations and lyrical concerns demonstrate the "key paradox" of the album: "the musicians and producer are delighting in the sonic possibilities of modern technology; the singer, meanwhile, is railing against its social, moral, and psychological impact. ... It's a contradiction mirrored in the culture clash of the music, with the 'real' guitars negotiating an uneasy stand-off with the hacked-up, processed drums."[8] The song appears on the album Airbag / How Am I Driving?, on the DVD Meeting People Is Easy, in the Radiohead Box Set and Radiohead: The Best Of.

Cover versions[edit]

  • The Section in 2001 (Strung Out on OK Computer: The String Quartet Tribute to Radiohead)[9]
  • Christopher O'Riley in 2003 (True Love Waits: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead)[10]
  • Michael Armstrong in 2006 (Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Radiohead)[11]
  • Easy Star All-Stars in 2006 (Radiodread)[12]
  • 4inObjects in 2006 (4inObjects)[13]
  • Rjd2 in 2006 (Exit Music: Songs for Radio Heads)[14]



  1. ^ "AIRBAG". Retrieved 2010-03-08. ; originally from Caitlin Moran, "I was feeling incredible hysteria and panic", Select, July 1997, p92
  2. ^ "Airbagby by Radiohead". Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Randall, Mac (1 April 1998). "Radiohead interview: The Golden Age of Radiohead". Guitar World. Archived from the original on 5 August 2011. 
  5. ^ Footman 2007, p. 42.
  6. ^ Footman 2007, p. 43.
  7. ^ Sutcliffe, Phil (1 October 1997), "Death is all around", Q 
  8. ^ Footman 2007, p. 46.
  9. ^ "Strung Out on OK Computer Review". Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  10. ^ "True Love Waits Review". Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  11. ^ "Rockabye Baby!". Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  12. ^ "Radiodread". Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  13. ^ "4inObjects". Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  14. ^ "Exit Music: Songs for Radio Heads". Retrieved 2010-03-08.