What can you say about Radiohead that is as original as they are? For as long as I can remember they’ve been heralded as one of the best bands of all time, and it’s not hard to see why. Some people aren’t super impressed by that, and I know everyone has their own opinions, but people who don’t enjoy them have wrong opinions. It’s just the way it is. Anyway, today we’re going to run through the band's best songs. Some of these might be expected, others not so much, but I tried to not only pick my top ten but also some of their most varied tracks. Hopefully I succeeded in both. Enjoy!
10. There There(The Boney King of Nowhere), Hail to the Thief
This album usually ends up on the bottom end of fans’ favorite albums, but while it’s not a masterstroke like some of the others, “Hail to the Thief” still has plenty of solid moments. One of these is first single “There There.” The multiple drums that encapsulate the song are important to the track, not only because of how cool they sound, but of how seamlessly they bring everything else full circle. Yorke’s voice, and the playing by the Greenwoods also make the song valuable and worth listening to. The tail end of the Top Ten Radiohead songs, “There There” starts us off at number ten.
9. True Love Waits, A Moon Shaped Pool
At number nine, we have what very well might be the saddest song created by Yorke and company thus far in their career. A long coveted B side that finally made it to an official album, “True Love Waits” is indeed a heartbreaker of a track. Finishing up a emotionally brutal and messy album, it lingers in your bones as Yorke recalls “I’m Not living, I’m just killing time.” The song can mean many things for many people, but the extent to which the band conveys general sadness with just a voice and a solemn piano layered background is testament to the energy of the group. It’s heartbreaking to think about, but the message is an overwhelming positive one, you just have to get through the pain of losing your true love, in whatever way you can.
8. Burn the Witch, A Moon Shaped Pool
Before the official drop of the album, this was our first taste. Somewhat immediate in it’s delivery, “Burn the Witch” stands as another solid reason why this band is so revered. The drumming by Selway, the murmurings of Yorke, and the various other things introduced by the Greenwood’s and O’Brien really help to start the record off on a good, solid foot. It’s thumpy and ethereal at the same time, and Yorke’s meandering vocals surrounded by both beats and strings only add to the undermining doom bubbling up from the surface of the mix.
7. Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi, In Rainbows
The drum sets the groove, sexy tone right away, but this song isn't sexy at all. Perhaps the feel and vibe of the song are, but the lyrics are pretty fucking sad and thought provoking. Thom Yorke is one of those singers who can make you feel anything he wants when he wants. The background vocals as the music picks up get to me everytime. These dudes know how to perfectly mix a song. " Everybody leaves if they get the chance," is a punch to the stomach that struggles with the realization that life isn't always going to be good, but somehow you have to keep going, keep trying to figure out the puzzle.
6. How to Disappear Completely, Kid A
The opening line "That there, that's not me," has always struck me as a pretty funny line, but the underlying tone of the song is anything but humorous. This person appears as though he's thrilled that no one notices him, but is that the case? He could potentially be faking it. Maybe the years of isolation have turned him into a person who loves not being recognized, or even acknowledged. Who could live this way though? That's why the song is so upsetting to me. In the end though, the instruments do as much for the overall dreadful, upsetting vibe as the lyrics do. It just seems like this person has no hold over his own life, and that might be the saddest thing of all. A haunting song that sees Radiohead at their most somber, and their best.
5. Paranoid Android, OK Computer
This could very easily be their best known song, and if you’ve been living under a rock for nearly twenty years, please do yourself a favor and seek out the animated video. I had of course heard of the band before, but this was when they knocked the wind out me. The craziness of the song and the places it goes, as well as the sheer genius of the musicianship set it apart from every other band out there at that moment, and for the most part, it still does. When the song takes a cray turn, you the listener are right there prepared to hold on for dear life, and for me, that's where the realness and amazing qualities of the song truly burst out.
4. Idioteque, Kid A
This song, but the whole album especially was the first time I think most people realized that not only could electronic music make it in the mainstream, but it could also be intelligent and thought provoking. Sure, people have always loved electronic music, but obviously Aphex Twin and the Chemical Brothers weren't selling out stadiums left and right, at least not in the States. This song also proved that as a band, Radiohead could do anything and pull it off. If “OK Computer” is the best album of the 1990's, then surely this album, which is better, and probably the best they've done, is the best album of the 2000's.
3. Nude, In Rainbows
One of the prettiest songs ever heard from the band, until of course you start to listen to the lyrics. That’s one of the many things Radiohead does as a band. The music, while often sublime, and even uplifting, is always able to get the listener to open their eyes to the whole truth surrounding any particular songs. “Nude” does this brilliantly. It’s a song that seems confident and strong, but the underlying gloom of the song makes it more palpable in terms of fear and desperation. Among all of that though, it still somehow manages to come across and a sultry and provocative song that is as much about anger and it is passion. When Yorke sings the words “You’ll go to hell for what You’re dirty mind is thinking,” you can sense the frustration and unhappiness surrounding whatever issue is happening in the narrative of the song.
2. Fake Plastic Trees, the Bends
Always a favorite of mine. Its tenderness and compassion always had a lasting effect on me. Everything for me changed though when I saw them at Lollapalooza. The end of the set was nearing, and the song started. Behind them however, very light, soft fireworks built up (We found out later the fireworks were from a Cubs game). As the song progressed, the explosions got more intense and by the time the big ending hit, we were singing, and marveling at the unprepared perfection of the situation. There's not a lot in the world that beats crying in a field, singing a song you've loved for years and being surrounded by 100,00 people who feel the same.
1. Pyramid Song, Amnesiac
Never have I been so captivated by a music video before, or since. It's calming, majestic and haunting. Everything the song ultimately is. It’s a rare thing for something in space and time to sync up so vividly and ambiently wonderful, but this song does so with ease. I mean, when you watch this clip, and you see the lone diver visiting subterranean worlds enveloped by liquid, you can’t take your eyes off it. But, let’s also mention this otherworldly track. When the album first came out, this song instantly struck a chord with me. For years upbeat was the name of the game for me, but this song did, and still does fill me with joy, and a sense of knowledge that human beings are capable of amazing things. The textural components work well with Selway’s casually precise drumming, and Yorke’s wandering, unsure voice provide even more depth to this new world. It’s eye catching, in every sort of way, and that’s why I love it.
Welcome to Radiohead Week. Next week, the band comes to New Orleans for their third date on the Moon Shaped Pool tour, and since they’re one of the most exciting bands of our generation, i thought a few posts regarding their greatness deserved to be shared. Here’s a review of my favorite album of all time, Kid A. Enjoy!
I remember the day well. I quietly and humbly asked my mom for money to go and purchase this album. Years earlier I had been captivated with brilliant new ideas about what music could be by “OK Computer,” and since hearing the first “single” “Optimistic,” I knew this was going to be an album I needed to have. I say “single” in speaking of “Optimistic” because this was around the time that the band started doing exclusively what they wanted. Instead of going the traditional route and putting an advance song out, Radiohead simply allowed radio stations(or radio head's I guess if you think about it) to pick which song they wanted to showcase. I've heard of a few tracks being used, but “Optimistic” was the one most gravitated to. And that's not a bad thing at all. “Optimistic” has a sort of immediate chanty thing going on. While it isn't instantly recognizable as the band's song, it doesn't take long.
By now we all know Thom Yorke's familiar vocal pattern, but back than modern radio was still getting to know and love it. The beat is pretty intact most of the time, and the guitar parts and Selway's drumming tie the song together in a seamless way. The lyrics, bringing thoughts of the “three little piggies” are also in line with Yorke's all over the place style. Some songs are exacting and linear, but others, like “Optimistic” are all over the place. Having said that, this was for many the first taste of what would end up becoming not only my favorite album, but among many others, the best album of the aughts.
Back to that early October fall day of 2000, I purchased the compact disc and immediately sat in my car and listened to it. Driving around for hours, the album soaked into my bones. The somber, piano driven tone of “Everything in it's Right Place” starts the album in an unusual quiet manner. For years I didn't really enjoy it as an opening song, if I'm being honest. For me at the time, and maybe even now, i'm a firm believer of things having to start strong and powerful, and while I LOVED the song, it didn't seem like an opening number. Seeing the song live though, was an eye opener. It's quite beautiful, and you'll never in your life imagine a site like watching eighty thousand people sing along to a song about “sucking on lemons.”
The whole album is an experiment about not doing the same thing twice. So many of this band's efforts come across as being done by a completely different band, but “Kid A,” both album and track were big deviations at the time. The title track doesn't sound even remotely close to anything on the band's previous albums. It's a big departure, but this is a band known for big departures and drastically changing sounds. “Kid A” the song has this weird fuzz, loop effect happening that weaves all over the place. Yorke's vocals are clearly heard, but good luck putting together everything he's saying. By track three, the more upbeat rhythmic “The National Anthem,” we start to hear a little bit of what we're used to from Radiohead. Not much, but a little. The funky dropping bassline from Colin Greenwood instantly forces your hips to move, and the sound effects are used to excellent accompaniment. Now it's time for me to put my headphones on and get full sound. You can hear the murmurings of a madman in the background, but the drum beat and bass lines are all you're interested in. The addition of the horns halfway through are a real happy surprise, and the song spirals out in a haze of dancing and late night activity. When promoting the album the band played many smaller places, and seeing some videos of this song being played in little jazz clubs, complete with full horn sections, really helped to bring the song to life in a different way. Just seeing the song live period was a cool as fuck moment, but I would've given a lot to see the club shows. Oh well though.
From one of the most upbeat songs on the album we transition to one of the saddest songs the band has ever released. “How to Disappear Completely” is a whirlwind of emotions, and the somber tone is heightened by the pain in Thom's voice, as well as the gorgeous acoustic guitar being strung right behind him. When I hear this song, I imagine a man so downtrodden with the world that his physical self is literally disappearing. Hands are vanishing as door knobs are turned, and greetings to loved ones are evaporating in the air after exiting his mouth. The orchestral sections of this song are equally powerful. This song just does all the right things to convey a state of desperation, loneliness, and solitude. Although it's quite sad, the majestic nature of the track is what makes it so valuable, important, and puts it as one of the band's best songs, period. This leads straight to the ambient background that sort of breaks apart the album and gives the listener not only a breather, but also paints a picture of a nice, clear day full of love and want. That song is the extremely overlooked song “Treefingers.”
After the powerful and previously mentioned “Optimistic,” we move right along to the glowing dream like visuals of “In Limbo.” Now if there's a better name for this song, I'd love to hear it. This is one of the times where a song's name goes excellently with the visuals being painted by the song. Losing your way, being “Lost at Sea,” and being told “You're living in a Fantasy” are all subject matters here, but somehow it's going to be alright. The instrumentation is dense and vibrant, and you can't really make out on instrument in particular. Sure you can hear bits and pieces, but they use the sound textures and waves much in the same way My Bloody Valentine had previously done in their music. It's a lush arrangement for sure, but it also points to yet another thing this band of modern artists are amazing at.
From there we're treated to the ever growing perfectness that is the modern masterpiece known as “Idioteque.” Now this song is so impossibly badass that it's difficult to pinpoint one thing in particular that is better than another thing, but quite simply, I just love it, and even after 14 years of hearing it, I still can't get enough. The opening treats us to a heavy electronic dance thump, and breaks out in waves of sound and color. Yorke's voice is also more crisp here than on most of the other songs. Never in your life have you ever been so happy to sing and dance to songs about “Ice Age coming” and “woman and children first.” It's a frantic song lyrically, but the beat and atmosphere set here are hard to pull yourself away from. Among many fans favorite tracks, it might be the most oddly well known song in the band's canon, but I guess when discussing Radiohead, there's no normal. That's a good thing though!
“Morning Bell” is next, and it's another well placed song and the tempo is very even. During the recording of this album, the band found itself with too much good material, and because of this, a sort of companion album, titled “Amnesiac(which is also brilliant if I may say so) came out about a year later. I only mention this because there's sibling to “Morning Bell” on the album. It's called “Amnesiac/Morning Bell” and it's well worth a listen if you haven't before. Getting back though, the song is both tinged darkly and hopeful at the same time. The guitar and drums become brighter throughout, until the sun forces its way through and until suddenly, we're back to even more depressing, sadistic things while we talk about how to “Cut the kids in Half.” Charming stuff don't ya think?
I considered talking about both “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” in one full review, but seeing as the band thought it best to release them separately and not as a double album it seemed silly. Having said that though, don't miss a chance to check out “Amnesiac.” It's brilliant in the same ways this album can be, and when listening to it you can clearly seeing how the albums are kindred spirits.
The finale to this powerful life changing album comes to us in the form of “ Motion Picture Soundtrack.” The organs used here are immaculate, and the stubborn vocals are an added touch. The chimes and background effects are used to an almost god like level here, and it sets the album off to sail in the vast ocean of songs in a way that few songs are capable of doing. “Motion Picture Soundtrack” is the supreme icing on the cake of the best listening cake you've ever heard.
In happy times, “Motion Picture Soundtrack” is used for hopefulness and gratitude to the people you love and cherish, and in times of sadness it can be used to remind us that everything has a way to it, and that overcoming obstacles is a part of life. This band is a perfect example. They were dismissed as a one hit wonder, and shoved aside, but they chose to keep going, and given the right state the mind, they eventually became a band that is not only regarded as one of the most influential bands of all time, but also as a band who hold, at least in my eyes, the distinction of making not only the best album of the 90's(OK Computer), but also the best album of the 2000's(Kid A). This is band that will keep improving not only their sound, but also the lives of everyone who is lucky enough to come into contact with their music. Thank for you reading, and I hope you continue on this awesome path with me. Have a good night.
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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