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A musical genius of our time: Radiohead

Radiohead photograph from 1996

Music is a building block of human society, and everyone has opinions on which artist is the most superior of them all. Some may argue it’s The Beatles, or maybe The Rolling Stones, but do you know what those two have in common? They’re British. You know who else is British? Radiohead.

If you live under many rocks, Radiohead is an alternative rock/hard rock/experimental rock band from Abingdon, United Kingdom. Their first album, Pablo Honey, came out in 1993, and it holds the most popular song they’ve made: “Creep.” Since then, they’ve made a total of nine studio albums and have yet to release one since A Moon Shaped Pool in 2016.

A lot of people have very intense feelings about this band. Most say, “Oh, you listen to Radiohead? What a loser, hahahaha, loser.” But I don’t belong here and I wish I was special so take that Radiohead haters. Today, I will be discussing my favorite songs from my favorite albums and talk about their feel, vocals, instrumentals, and much more. For a better read, listen to the song as you go through. Maybe you’ll get what I’m saying a little bit better.

I’d like to add an honorable mention of Hail to the Thief. It’s a favorite, but I haven’t listened to it enough to feel confident about it.

The Bends

For their second album, this is the craziest thing ever created. I, like most people, LOVE this album. This alternative rock tracklist is so incredible, only containing bangers (except for one which is quite controversial *cough* “Fake Plastic Trees” *cough*).

The Bends introduces this record with “Planet Telex” and it is one of my favorite Radiohead songs ever. It starts with an airy, almost claustrophobic sound and shakes into the piano and drum melody of the song. Right before the first line, the electric guitar comes in and you can almost hear the same shaky song from the beginning. The chorus smooths the quivery sound in your ear just until the second verse. The second verse sings “everyone is broken,” contrary to the first one which is “everything is broken.” This is an interesting detail. Concluding the song, the piano comes back and finishes it off, with the electric guitar accompanying the melody.

The next song is “The Bends,” taken after the album title. This song is heavy on guitar and drums. The drumline carries the song with the guitar complimenting it perfectly. The bridges have the voice quality lower and softer, with every line starting with “I wish….” It ends softly and leads into the next song “High and Dry.” I only wanted to bring this song up because of the line: “You'd kill yourself for recognition / Kill yourself to never, ever stop / You broke another mirror / You're turning into something you are not.” Just let that sit.

“Bones” follows up on my list for favorite songs from “The Bends.” Its intro builds up with a sound that gets louder and louder, switching between each ear (with headphones) and leads into a drum and bassline. The song starts pretty mellow, with the line repeating and an alarm-like sound following every 6-count. The sound from the beginning repeats and prepares you for the short chorus. Thom goes higher and the iconic guitar playing from Jonny Greenwood kicks in before taking you back to the verse.

The last song I’ll babble about is “My Iron Lung.” This masterpiece starts off with a guitar riff that is done throughout the tune. It contains a light piano and a simple beat created with the drum. There isn’t really a “chorus” since it’s usually just the end of the verses. Before an impactful phrase, and before the jam session, there's a crash and Thom smoothly sings the title. Then it goes into the same riff and they just go crazy. The first round isn’t too bad, it’s getting you ready. After just a few more lines, they go at it again. The final audible line is heard when they tone it down and you can hear two guitars, one going up and one keeping the melody. “And if you're frightened / You can be frightened / You can be, it's okay.” He leads the “okay” into a melodic yell. I love Thom Yorke.

Honorable mentions: “Just,” “Black Star,” “Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was,” "Sulk," "(Nice Dream),” “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” i.e. the whole album, i.e. I love The Bends.

OK Computer

This is Radiohead’s most popular album, and for good reason. It is a masterpiece. It is art. It is the feeling at the top of the roller coaster. OK Computer is the feeling of déjà vu mixed with the idea of wonder. It opens with “Airbag.” This song starts with a deeper electric guitar that sticks to one ear and a fast 8-count kept in beat with a tambourine. The drums kick in hard and more instruments are introduced. When Thom starts singing, the melody in the intro tones down and you can hear another guitar leading the verse, still with the drums and tambourine. The chorus has an angel-like voice backing up Thom. The drum is mesmerizing and I can’t stop myself from bobbing to the beat. Late into the song you hear some computer sounds and this is a recurring trait in most songs in this tracklist.

The next song is one of, if not the best, songs ever created by this little band. “Paranoid Android” is like the “Bohemian Rhapsody” of Radiohead. It begins with a guitar line, shakers, and a keyboard. It’s so complicated and there’s a lot of things going on. Thom sings a few lines before another keyboard begins to play a high and uneasy set of notes. Thom belts, “What’s that?” as a robotic voice says below him, “I may be paranoid, but I am not an android.” The keyboard of that section fades and the previous verses continue. Repeat. After the second belting section, a guitar riff plays as most other instruments cut, but a metronome-like sound kicks in. Thom begins to… vocalize? I don’t know if he does this a lot. A voice buzzes and he begins to actually sing again but it’s very monotone and talk-y. As he goes on, the electric guitar gets louder and so do the drums and all the strings. He yells: “You don't remember, you don't remember / Why don't you remember my name? / Off with his head, man / Off with his head, man Why don’t you remember my name? I guess he does.” He adds falsetto and the end of “does.” He screams a little. An absolutely bonkers guitar plays and it’s so good that I literally feel tears come to my eyes. The song then goes slow, with deep, monotone, robot voices following behind Thom. I was very shocked to see the correct lyrics ‘cause Thom doesn’t have great diction; I still love him though! The song finished with overlapping voices, with the last two lines being “God loves his children / God loves his children, yeah.” Guitar goes crazy, drums go crazy, bass goes crazy, there’s screaming, there’s shakers, there’s heaven.

“Subterranean Homes