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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 Homesick Alien” is a super underrated song, and it’s definitely in my top 10. This one is much chiller than the previous song. It starts with an echoey guitar with a deep bass. It then leads into another echoey set of notes with a slower drumline. This song is like a story. He describes these aliens that watch us from up above. The instrumental continues and it leaves you with a warm feeling. At least, it leaves me with that. I feel my heart in my chest when I listen to this album, especially this song. The spacey, far out type noise just makes me feel out of place. I don't even feel my feet in my shoes. The second half of the song is from the human’s point of view. “But they'd never believe me / They'd think that I'd finally lost it completely / I'd show them the stars / And the meaning of life / They'd shut me away / But I'd be all right”. He describes both humans and aliens as “uptight.” They both are in their own world, refusing to believe anything out of it.


The last song I’m going to talk about in the section of OK Computer is “Man of War.” However, while this song isn’t technically on the album, it’s on the single for “Paranoid Android,” and so I still want to bring it up since it’s so good. This song starts very weird. It has a keyboard and guitar, but it sounds, once again, robotic. This is what I meant earlier. The drums start later and a classic piano begins with only minor chords. I feel like danger is coming with this song. I feel a hole. A bass is loud during the verse but then the rest come back into play after verse 1’s last line. This time, the instruments are there the whole time. They emphasize his words: “When you come home / I'll bake you a cake / Made of all their eyes / I wish you could see me / Dressed for the kill / You're my man of war.” After it goes nearly silent with just a high pitched piano, then Thom sings falsetto and the guitar and drums and bass come back in hard. This song truly sounds like war is going to start. The piano adds this dramatic, intense feeling to the riffs and everything. I can’t even say it, like, it’s so beautiful. It slows done one last time and in place of the drop is a sweet note. He sings softly and strings play in the back and then it fades out.



Kid A

This album is Radiohead’s most experimental, and it’s pretty different from most average tracklists. My favorite song from this record, one of my top 5 Radiohead songs ever, is called “The National Anthem.” And hell yeah it is. The bass sets this song up perfectly and there’s weird alien-esque sounds complementing the bass until the drums come in with a steady beat. They come in and out. More alien sounds play; it’s like I’m in a UFO. It’s very chaotic. Symbolism maybe? There’s not much singing but the words he does say have an echoey, metallic sound. A sliding note is coming from a keyboard to add to the vibe. I watched a live performance once and Thom scattered the whole way through. He just bounced around. After another set of lyrics, trumpets come in. This is when I was like… woah. Radiohead never has trumpets. The instruments then go kinda crazy and they just do whatever they want. It’s amazing. It slows, and goes into a trippy sliding frenzy again. The trumpets start screaming for their life. The bass still remains. Trumpets and horns finish the song with a full sound and contradicting notes. It’s definitely a metaphor.


Another song I adore is “In Limbo.” It starts with music faded then he abruptly whispers and a riff is played with a deep bass. He mumbles and then sings clear “I'm on your side / Nowhere to hide / Trapdoors that open / I spiral down / You're living in a fantasy world.” This song only has slight drums; it’s mainly just the bass and Thom. He says he’s lost his way. This song feels like you aren’t you. It feels like you're asleep. He then repeats about the “fantasy.” Harmonies begin and there’s layers upon layers of voices. More and more pile up. It closes with a sound like waves. It washes you away.


“How To Disappear Completely.” This song. The guitar is acoustic and slower. There’s almost a pulsing static behind it. This song is incredibly melancholy, from the way he sings words to the words themself. “I'm not here / This isn't happening / I'm not here.” Strings begin to play. I can barely even write about this song because it’s so powerful. I have no thoughts. It feels like derealization put into music. His last “I’m not here”‘s feels so strong and evokes an indescribable feeling in my soul.



In Rainbows

I LOVE IN RAINBOWS. Recently, I woke up at 5 am, took a shower, and listened to this album in order, no stopping. My life was altered that morning. “Bodysnatchers” is such a good, upbeat, intense song. It starts with a muffled guitar, but it then clears up when Thom sings. Drums come in and it leaves a fast pace 8-count to be followed. For the chorus, the same muffled guitar comes back. Thom hums and grunts as a noise filled with vibrato plays. “I have no idea what I am talking about / I'm trapped in this body and can't get out.” I’ve noticed a lot of Radiohead songs are ones with a lot of meaning. This song is fast and sharp. It’s like he’s struggling to escape free. The second to last set of lines sing “They got a skin and they put me in / They got a skin and they put me in / … / Are for anyone else to see / I'm a lie.” This corresponds with the previous verse. He’s been taken and put into a body which isn’t his. He wants to be taken from the seal and brought back. He feels unsafe and untrue. He’s “...seen it coming.”


My favorite song to lay in my bed and cry to is “Nude.” The beginning is filled with hums and oohs and wailing and ghostly sounds. It’s surreal and blurry and brings me into a music high. There’s a beat that’s being swept away. It all fades into a simple pat. His voice is far away, almost like you’re listening through an old radio. His notes go down and it’s only sung in falsetto. Single notes are plucked to follow along. A heavenly, cloud-like noise brings you forward. Thom’s voice goes strong and clear for his high note on “You'll go to Hell / For what your dirty mind / Is thinking.” The oohs and wails are back. The beginning of the song was the end, reversed.


With sudden and flick-like notes, “House Of Cards” has a similar vibe to “Nude.” Both are very different from “Bodysnatchers.” This song is one of my favorites in regards to lyrics. They repeat, and there’s not many lines, but the ones that are there just hit me in the right spot. He wants to forget about his house. His house is fragile. Before, he had brought up love with “...don’t want to be your friend / I just want to be your lover.” Maybe his house is love. It’s easily knocked down by any breeze. “Denial / Denial.”


Conclusion!

Hopefully, I helped you understand why Radiohead is the best band to exist. Hopefully, you go listen to some Radiohead on your own, now. It’s never too late to convert.


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