Radiohead Lyrics

15 Step

How come I end up where I started
How come I end up where I went wrong
Won’t take my eyes off the ball again
You reel me out then you cut the string

How come I end up where I started
How come I end up where I went wrong
Won’t take my eyes off the ball again
You reel me out then you cut the string

You used to be alright
What happened?
Did the cat get your tongue
Did your string come undone
One by one
One by one
It comes to us all
It’s as soft as your pillow

You used to be alright
What happened?
Etcetera etcetera
Facts for whatever
Fifteen steps
Then a shear drop

 

SONG INFORMATION

Released: October 10, 2007 digitally, December 3, 2007 CD & Vinyl
Found on: In Rainbows

“15 Step” was premiered on May 6, 2006 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

This beat-heavy opener to the In Rainbows album, which was featured prominently during Radiohead’s 2006 tour, features a group of children from the Matrix Music School and Arts Centre in Oxford hand clapping and shouting “Yeah!”

rad1.jpg

Colin Greenwood and Nigel Godrich at Matrix Music School in March 2007 instructing children on handclaps and yelling “Yeah!” for “15 Step.” See more photos here.

“15 Step” was written in the rarely used 5/4 time signature. The most well-known example of a song written in a 5/4 meter is “Take Five” by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Another example of a Radiohead song written in an unusual time signature is “Morning Bell” from Amnesiac, which was written in 7/8. When performing, the band sometimes puts these songs together. In an interview with New York magazine, Ed O’Brien explained why they did so at a June 2006 concert at Madison Square Garden: “Putting ’15 Step’ and ‘Morning Bell’ together was deliberate. ’15 Step’ is in 5/4 and ‘Morning Bell’ is in 7/8. It’s nice to have a bit of clapping, a bit of audience participation, if they can get the beat. In Spain, they love ‘Morning Bell’ – all the fast clapping is like flamenco music. But in the West, we’re not very rhythm-savvy. Anything not in 4/4 is hard for a lot of people.”

One suggestion for the meaning of the title is that the majority of popular songs are written in or 4/4 or less frequently 3/4, which would require a 12 or 16 step to stay in time when dancing. However, somebody dancing to a song with a 5/4 time signature could confidently stay in time with a 15 step dance. Another possibility is it refers to the 15 steps of the Courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem, on which the Levites stood and sang the 15 Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) during the offering of sacrifices.

In an interview in the August 2006 Mojo magazine, Thom Yorke gave the background to the recording of this song: “There’s a track called ’15 Steps’ which was born out of a mad rhythm experiment that we did last year. At first we thought, “How the fuck can we pull this off live?” But then we were listening to ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ by Peaches a lot and that indirectly inspired us to turn it into something different. It’s got a bass line like Airbag and it’s in 5/4 time with this ‘clapping’ groove throughout. I really like the lyrics. ‘You used to be alright / What happened? / Et cetera et cetera / Friends forever! 15 steps -then a sheer drop.'”

Radiohead performed this song at the Grammy Awards in 2009, where In Rainbows won for Best Alternative Album – Radiohead’s third win in that category. They were introduced at the ceremony by Gwyneth Paltrow, and were joined by the USC Marching Band.



  • Derrick Mustelier

    um…I’m not sure why Radiohead’s own drummer thinks Morning Bell is in 7/8 when it’s in 5/4…and the version from Amnesiac is in 4/4

  • Gorbos

    Corrections/more info: Ed (guitarist, not drummer) was either wrong or misquoted when he said ‘Morning Bell’ is in 7 — it is actually 5.  So is ‘Kid A.’ 

    Interestingly enough, the first part of ‘2+2=5’ is in 7.  Perhaps Ed was thinking of that tune, and the difficulty of timing the switch to 4 in live performances (or else the journalist didn’t remember the right song).  ‘Go to Sleep’ starts in 5 — or 4+6 if you like — and eventually moves to 4.

    ’15 Step’ groups the meter into four groups of five, so it couldn’t be fifteen steps.  20 step maybe?

  • Ryan Staley

    Doesn’t Thom quote the last lines of lyric in Mojo as “friends forever” but we have it listed here as “facts for whatever”…

  • it’s ‘sheer drop’, not ‘shear drop’. shears are what you cut a hedge with

  • K

    in the song it sounds like ‘facts for whatever’ to me.