The Ok Computer tour documentary Meeting People Is Easy features a soundcheck recording of an instrumental sketch, that sounds like it could be the musical basis for 'Knives Out'. The chords and melody bear great resemblance to those of the finished song, and the pace and feel of the performance are similar to Ed's description of an early studio version from march 1999 (see Ed's diary entry for october 4th 1999 below). It was probably recorded at the soundcheck for MTV's 'Live from the 10 Spot' performance on december 19th 1997:
The artwork of Amnesiac featured a page that contains a piece of text, that seems to be the starting point for the lyrics. As the visual components of the artwork are arranged differently in the CD booklet and the limited edition book, both are presented here in addition to the cover of the Knives Out single, which features yet another slightly different arrangement and is included for the sake of completeness (click images to enlarge):
A further early draft of lyrics, that develops the sketch above and reminds of lines of dialogue from a murder story, appeared in this page of radiohead.com during the Kid A period under the title 'outta juice':
i want you to know. you have a beautiful smile. i want you to know. he needs his eyes. i was so angry. i couldn't let him leave me. and not come back. i didnt want to. is that why you killed him? won't be long now. he's cold. freezing. doesn't need clothes. i used to have a hole right through me. i want you to know. he's not coming back. i won't forget. if you'd been a dog. they would have drowned you at birth. look into my eyes. its the only way you'll know i'm telling the truth. i wont let them touch you. i won't let them near you. i won't let you come to any harm.
The same page, still titled 'outta juice', was later updated with a modified text. It now incorporates the cannibalism theme. A line from an entirely different contemporary set of lyrics, that would form the basis for 'Myxomatosis', appears at the top. Both songs are certainly related through the cannibalism theme. But as lines from that early set of 'Myxomatosis' lyrics appeared as headlines in many succeeding pages of radiohead.com at the time, it is probably not more than coincidence:
we boild the head
i want you to know. hes not coming back. hes bloated and frozen. still theres no point in letting it go to waste. . if youd been a dog. they would have drowned you at birth. look into my eyes. its the only way you'll know im telling the truth won't be long now. he's cold. freezing. catch da mouse put him in the pot cook him up dont look down shove it in yer mouth.
Several entries from Ed's Diary give insight in the tortuous process of recording this relatively simple track:
thursday, september 9th 1999
'knives out' sounding quite 'smiths-esque'. especially phil who has got that mike joyce thing down to a tee. on to 'optimistic' -must record that soon before we lose it (remember 'lift'?). 'up on the ladder' sounds pretty grim. 'say the word' (or c-minor song); great drum, bass and vocals - personally getting a bit anxious over it, as i can't find anything that works with it, or rather i have an idea but can't get the sound right. makes me a bit neurotic. finish on what i used to call the 'jonny scott walker song' - very short and sweet.
last diary piece for a couple of weeks. how was it for you? i'm finding it a little difficult to set the right tone, but as i'm not a journo i guess that's fair enough. hopefully this is going to be an ongoing thing throughout recording and maybe even touring, so it will get better.
monday, october 4th 1999
Start working on ‘Knives Out’ and ironically after Fridays night's talk of new ways & approaches, we set up as a 5 piece and play it live. Not really happening & it feels as though we’re heading down ‘Say The Word’ territory like last week. Thom wants more energy in this version, in contrast to Copenhagen's version which ‘floats’ along. It's decided that Thom and Phil should play it together. The energy levels are noticeably higher. They bang out about seven takes & Nigel does his thing editing together the best bits from different versions. Bangin!
tuesday, october 5th 1999
Pick up from where we left off on ‘Knives Out’ - it's felt that we ought to try and finish it or at least something. Coz overdubs bass, then Jonny follows on guitar. It doesn’t seem to be happening. Then someone puts the Copenhagen version on - it sounds better in terms of how it actually puts the song across – Nigel loves the feel of this version, but doesn’t think it’s quite good enough. The prospect of restarting & attempting to copy this version is too daunting. This also adds to the anxieties of not completing stuff – Nigel says we should be. It feels like we need a break. (not the holiday type – we’ve had enough of those) no, the watershed type.
The song was premiered during Radiohead's first webcast in the night of december 9th/10th 1999, which is also mentioned in Ed's Diary:
thursday, december 9th 1999
first 'live' performance in front of an audience for exactly (and strangely) a year........it was early morning so it was the 10th. it started with jonny (aka DJ REQUIRED) and thom's dj set and then a last minute executive decision was made to play 'knives out' around the xmas tree. 'amateur hour' will hopefully become a regular night for us - but will be different each time - there will however be ongoing items like phil's puppet show. for those who don't know what i'm going on about - we did a live web broadcast to about 250 people - courtesy of tim bran and those lovely people at the ninja tunes label.
phil and thom also nailed a wonderful version of 'egyptian song' during the day. thom thinks it's the best thing we've committed to tape, ever.
monday, march 20th 2000
there's a line drawn.....above which are the names of tracks finished bar mixing.....and below, those nearly completed. for the first time the tracks below and above the line are equal in number. that was the state of play at 5am friday morning. 'knives up' was complete. i was telling a mate over the w/end about 'knives out' and how it was started in copenhagen on 10/3/99.......some 373 days later we finally finished it.............a ridiculously long gestation period for any song..........naturally my mate thought that having taken so long on a piece of music it would be some sort of magnum opus, a kind of paranoid android to the power of ten..................... the song is probably the most straight ahead thing that we've done in years......and that might explain why we took so long on it. i'm a real believer that bands as they become more successful often lose the ability to do straight ahead stuff well...... the need to embellish tracks with melodies and sounds becomes imperative. and often in doing so the song loses its essence especially if it was written on acoustic guitar. but i think we've done alright on 'knives out'.........
thom's got a busy old week this week........most of the finishing touches are vocal things. i'm trying to get my head around some new software called logic which seems to be what all the right programmers are using...........the manual is about the thickness of a hardback edition of 'war and peace'.........he's singing along to 'fastrack'. he's hyperactive as well....it's 1.30am..fantastic..
This page appeared in radiohead.com during the Kid A period under the title 'FRoZZen':
pharisle pharoah hebrides. knives out. catch da mouse. squash his head. put him
in the pot. no sense it letting it go to wlud odsgfocggsg
n o s o ulllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
The same excerpts of the lyrics as seen in the page above can be found in the hidden booklet of Kid A from 2000: