There are few bands that are met with as much reverence as Radiohead, probably the biggest British band of the last few decades. Comprising of five supremely talented musicians in Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway and Thom Yorke, Radiohead have been behind some truly exceptional rock albums since forming in 1985, and this year celebrate the 20th anniversary of their seminal third album OK Computer. Considered one of the greatest albums of all time, OK Computer catapulted its creators into the international spotlight, and set the tone for an increasingly experimental approach to songwriting.
Drawing together elements of jazz, krautrock, electronic music and more, Radiohead have now produced nine studio albums, offering them plenty of material for their forthcoming show at TRNSMT Festival in Glasgow. Off the back of a summer that has already seen them headline Glastonbury for a third time and perform sell out shows in Manchester and various cities across Europe, the time seems right to look back at their entire catalogue and attempt to whittle it down to just five essentials. An impossible task? Maybe. But let’s give it a go anyway.
When you can get tens of thousands of people singing along to the line “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo”, the chances are you’re doing something right. A track so popular that they stopped playing it completely until very recently, “Creep” dates back to 1992 and has been haunting the band ever since. Easily one of their best-loved tracks, it became a source of resentment to the band as fans ceaselessly demanded it at gigs, but there’s no denying it’s an essential part of the Radiohead story. Watch this video of their set at Glastonbury last month and see if you can see why.
Let’s not forget where Radiohead started out, with thrashy guitars and plenty of indie-kid angst. Way back in 1995 the band released sophomore album The Bends, featuring melody-laden ballads like “Fake Plastic Trees” and “High and Dry” as well as the shimmering chords of “Planet Telex” and instant guitar classic “Just”. Ok, so they were never quite your standard indie group, but “Just” was nonetheless a near perfect indie anthem, with its stacked guitars, catchy chorus and shredded guitar solo conclusion. This is probably arena rock at its very best.
Picking one track off of OK Computer is kind of missing the point; the whole album is rightly held up as one of the great British albums of all time, and tracks like “Karma Police” and “No Surprises” make that hard to argue with. It’s “Paranoid Android” though that presents perhaps the album’s crowning moments of genius, with its regular time signature changes, vocal acrobatics and erratic mood swings. If you hadn’t noticed these guys are weird before, you should have by the end of this nearly seven minute long voyage.
It’s important to remember that this band with guitars are far from just another guitar band, and they seemed keen to assert that as fact with the 2000 album Kid A. Moving away from the rock sound that characterised early albums, Radiohead picked up synthesisers, drum machines and the help of string and brass ensembles to show that genre classifications were of no use to them anymore. On an album that started off with the exceptional “Everything In Its Right Place”, the brain meltdown, freakshow electro of “Idioteque” just about takes the prize, albeit in a neck and neck race with several other tracks on what is possibly their greatest masterpiece.
When In Rainbows dropped to universal acclaim in October 2007, it included the wonderful “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” among its number, and offered listeners a return to the melodic beauty of previous album Hail To The Thief. Both masterpieces of subtle electronic exploration, the two albums are worth visiting for an abundance of tracks with masterful delicacy and poise, and few tracks provide better examples of this than the beautiful guitars and soft vocals found here.
Radiohead play at TRNSMT Festival in Glasgow on Friday 7th July, with further performances coming from Kasabian, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Stormzy, Biffy Clyro and The 1975 as the festival runs to its close on Sunday 9th July.
Photo courtesy of Alex Lake