The Essentials: Radiohead
Everyone who knows me knows that there are a couple of undeniable obsessions in my life. These obsessions include things like bacon (God’s gift to mankind), dinosaurs (don’t ask), Kurt Vonnegut (personal hero), and – of course- Radiohead. My devotion to this one particular band has lead me to do some crazy things – from refreshing Ticketmaster’s website for two hours in hopes to gain tickets to their two New York City shows this year to making audacious claims about giving up my future firstborn for a chance to see them in concert. However, I am well aware there are many, unlike myself, who have not been privy to be directed to the cult of great music at such a young age. I therefore have provided a primer – a Spark Notes guide if you will – to some Radiohead essentials to start newcomers off on the right foot. I chose my three favorite albums plus some download essentials if you get cheap on me (seriously people just listen to the whole album). Hopefully, from this, will spring a love that will inspire you to pursue the rest of the catalog. If not…. well, maybe you should just focus on talking to me about bacon.
Ok Computer (1997)
My own personal favorite Radiohead album (don’t kill me), Ok Computer was Radiohead’s third album and the first one they self-produced. According to Thom Yorke (lead singer and songwriter of Radiohead and overall badass) the title refers to “embracing the future [and] … being terrified of the future”. While that might technically be a contradiction, anyone who listens to this masterpiece is well aware of how perfectly that describes it. Dealing with themes of alienation, fear, and rampant consumerism, one could also argue that among the threads there are also springs of hope. From the intense sweeping sounds of “Airbag” to the tinkering resignation of “No Surprises” to the indescribable brilliance of “Paranoid Android”, I dare you to try and listen to this whole thing just once.
Essential Downloads: “Paranoid Android”, “Karma Police”,” Electioneering”
The Bends (1995)
The Bends was Radiohead’s second album and represented a shift for the band that would dominate their style for years to come. The Bends almost became a kind of reaction to the fame that Radiohead had found with their single “Creep” from their grunge-like first album Pablo Honey. “Creep” became such a commercial hit that, to this day, Yorke refuses to play the song. The Bends made greater use of keyboards as well as featured a more abrasive sound by guitarist Jonny Greenwood and lyrics with more depth by Yorke. Many top ten lists have citied it as the greatest Radiohead album – with Virgin records ranking it second only to The Beatles’ Revolver as the greatest albums ever made.
Essential Downloads: “My Iron Lung”, “High and Dry”, “Just”
In Rainbows (2007)
In Rainbows was Radiohead’s seventh album and was innovative for the band on many levels. First, in just the way it was released – the band put it up for digital download on their website and allowed fans to pay whatever price they wanted for the album – even just one cent. Yorke’s lyrics also seemed to permit the listener to experience a more passionate side of him than ever before and especially referenced his own mortality. The album starts out with the clacking rhythm of “15 Step” and ends with the stripped down piano of “Videotape” and has everything in between – including even the white noise generated by a band playing loudly in a small room.
Essential Downloads: “All I Need”, “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”, “House of Cards”