The Debriefing — Episode 20: Radiohead Anthology
After I finished college in 2007, I moved into an apartment in Albany with my college roommate, Hans; and a fellow I knew from high school named Josh.
Josh is a very interesting person.
In high school he was a grade below me. We took Music Theory together. A talented musician, he taught himself to play the piano while sitting parallel to the keyboard. He made beautiful songs from discord and liked to get on people’s nerves. He was the kind of guy who could tell what you’d be into just from hanging out for a bit. He’d always be introducing me to new stuff. Josh was odd, surprising and far from boring, so we hit it off.
In high school I barely listened to music. I wasn’t angsty or looking for a reason to rebel. The first CD I ever got was the soundtrack to Muppet Treasure Island. There wasn’t a lot of music playing in my house growing up. When I first got a Walkman player for Christmas, listening to The Offspring’s Americana, made me feel nervous and overwhelmed.
Sure I listened to Dark Side of the Moon. Sure I listened to The Beatles and watched MTV, but I never had any favorites. I never had a band.
That is until Josh and I moved in together after I finished college.
One day he was going through his DVD collection and handed me Meeting People Is Easy, a documentary about the band Radiohead dealing with their sudden mega stardom after the release of the album OK Computer.
At this point, I knew three things about Radiohead:
- They made the song “Creep”.
- They made the song “Karma Police”.
- They were portrayed in an episode of South Park as the favorite band of a kid who is tricked into eating his own parents.
I liked “Creep” and “Karma Police”, but not enough to seek out the band and the episode of South Park was mostly in my mind because of the whole parents eating thing.
Then I watched the documentary and everything changed.
Meeting People Is Easy showed a band that seemed to detest attention and just wanted to make music. The documentary was full of clips from OK Computer, most of which I’d never heard before. I was engrossed by the odd, incredibly talented Jonny Greenwood and the strong-willed Thom Yorke. Most of all, I was taken by the music.
Ever since then, I’ve gobbled up everything they’ve produced. Heck I even bought a record player just to listen to them. Supposedly they have a new album coming out this June and I’m more excited than ever.
I created this mission to help introduce folks to my favorite band, Radiohead. 80% of the music I listen to is Radiohead. So for me, this mission was a nice excuse to go on another pass through their albums.
Here’s the proof I did it:
For this debrief, I’m going to go through each album and give my take…
I’ve met a lot of Radiohead fans and for most people, this is their least favorite album. It’s mine too. Only Creep is unique and memorable, the rest kind of just blend together. However, after listening to it again for this mission, I’ve gained a new appreciation for it and I just might listen to it again.
This is my second least favorite album. I know a lot of folks like how it’s more rock and roll, but again, for me a lot of the songs blend together. There’s a surprise in this album though. It contains my favorite Radiohead song of all time: Street Spirit (Fade Out). Radiohead is known for having sad songs, but even Thom Yorke thinks this one is a little much.
I love bleak stuff. I found this painting my grandma had of a watermill still turning with no one around as if the world was empty. It’s my favorite painting. Street Spirit reminds me of it.
In my opinion, every big band has a gateway album: the album that gets them notoriety, but is not the most popular among fans. I think of Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and OK Computer as gateway albums. It’s not my favorite, but I still think it’s perfect and I still love listening to it over and over.
This was the first Radiohead album I listened to end-to-end and it’s the one that got me hooked. I also like to think its title means “OK fine Computer, we’ll use you to make a damn album if you insist!”. Maybe it does mean that, I don’t know, I’ve never looked it up.
A lot of people hate this album. I take back what I said before. I think people might think this is their least favorite of the Radiohead discography, but I love it. I find it is an amazing album to listen to when working to create something new. I never get distracted by the lyrics like I do when trying to work while listening to other songs with vocal tracks.
I love listening to Everything In Its Right Place to get me in the mood to do work. It makes me feel all put together and ready to go. I get a cup of coffee, a glass of water, open a text editor, slip on headphones and slip into the zone.
I’m not such a fan of the song Kid A. I don’t really like the chatty robot songs. I always think of them as premature intermissions.
I always get hyped by the bass riff opening to National Anthem. Another great song to listen to while you get things done.
How To Disappear Completely is a song I identify with. There are often times I get very anxious. This song is peaceful and calming.
I like Optimistic a ton. I really like the chorus “You can try the best you can, the best you can is good enough”. The wisdom isn’t novel, but it always gets to me because of where it’s from. Thom says it’s what his partner Rachel would tell him when he’d get stressed out on the OK Computer tour. I like that.
Idioteque is awesome. The weird synth tones hit me a lot more the first time I heard it than they do now, but it’s still a fun song.
Morning Bell and Motion Picture Soundtrack are a great and calming way to go out.
Overall this album always gets my juices flowing.
When Kid A came out a lot of people didn’t like it. During the recording session for it, Radiohead made a lot of songs, but held onto their more traditional ones for later. Only a year after Kid A came out, they released these other tracks as Amnesiac.
I like Amnesiac just like I like OK Computer. They’re both awesome albums and I listen to them all the time, but neither of them shake me like Kid A.
Hail to the Thief
Great album, but often the one I forget about. It’s a solid release. Doesn’t feel like anything new, though.
This album came out shortly after I first got into Radiohead. When I first listened to it, I was disappointed, but after many re-listens, I’ve come to really enjoy it. 15 Step is one of their catchiest and its performance in front of a wall of brass and percussion at the Grammys is still the most novel displays I’ve ever seen. The focus on rhythm in this album keeps me coming back and tapping my foot.
The King of Limbs
My fiancé Alyssa is also a major Radiohead fan. For the first few years we dated, she was in school in Oswego, NY and I was working in Albany, NY and Montpellier, VT. Each weekend one of us would drive to visit the other. For some reason, the weekend this album came out, I picked her up in Oswego and took her back to Albany.
I got the album a day or two earlier and promised I wouldn’t listen to it till we met up. I sat the whole 3+ hour ride out to Oswego without cracking open the CD case. When I finally picked her up, I was stoked. We sat silently as Bloom picked up and blew us away.
I love this album. Sometimes I think it’s my favorite. It feels like a culmination of all the techniques, the computer experimentation, the focus on rhythm; it’s everything all blended together. When I listen to it I envision a future where humans reach equilibrium with nature and green plants grow everywhere blending into our architecture like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water or ivy climbing a building wall. It feels optimistic and peaceful.
So there ya have it. That’s my take on another listen through of Radiohead’s discography. I can’t wait to add album #9! If you’ve never listened to Radiohead before, I recommend this order:
- OK Computer
- In Rainbows
- The King of Limbs
- Hail to the Thief
- Kid A
- The Bends
- Pablo Honey
Till next time!