Radiohead’s biggest trait and strength within their discography is their ability to write both popular anthems and conceptual masterpieces, no matter what the album and no matter what the time period. 1995’s release ‘The Bends’ boasts the most Radiohead singles and some of their biggest songs but they also have the thought-provoking dystopia of ‘Kid A’ and ‘OK Computer’ so to narrow it down to 10 songs is somewhat of a possibility. Nevertheless it boils down to personal preference so here are my 10 favourite Radiohead songs.
10: Pyramid Song – from Amnesiac
With inspiration as wide as ancient Egyptian Underworld art and elements of cyclical time discussed by Stephen Hawking, ‘Pyramid Song’ is the lead single from the band’s fifth studio album ‘Amnesiac’. Containing a string section which was formed by Johnny Greenwood, the song balances between simplicity and complexity with seamless continuity. Ranking it above the likes of ‘Karma Police’ and ’15 Step’ proves its genius and the influence it had on Radiohead’s career.
9: House Of Cards – from In Rainbows
The stand out track from the unusually colourful technological project ‘In Rainbows’, released in 2007, ‘House Of Cards’ portrays a blissful insight into the positive side of Thom Yorke’s Lifestyle, going in detail about his relationships both emotionally and physically. It truly has a solid, good vibe to it which can be admired and enjoyed for years to come. Plus, if it’s the stand out of an album as powerful and important as ‘In Rainbows’ then it’s pretty special. The song was Grammy Nominated for Best Rock Song and received a whole host of plaudits, rightfully so.
8: Street Spirit (Fade Out) – from The Bends
The final song of 1995’s ‘The Bends’ album, the best way to describe ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ would be a tragedy tale which is similar to a dark tunnel with no sign of light at the end. The guitar chords at the start of the song really set the tone for this as it brings a mellow, moody atmosphere to proceedings and provide the perfect backdrop for Thom Yorke’s chilling vocal display, easily one of the best of his career. It was inspired musically by R.E.M. and the result was magnificent, something which has progressed beyond that of Michael Stipe and co. in the opinion of most.
7: Burn The Witch – from A Moon Shaped Pool
The history of this track, although it was only released last year, goes quite a while back. The titular phrase appeared in the album artwork for ‘Hail to the Theif’ and has featured in tracklist drafts for previous albums, despite never appearing on any of them. Finally, this song made it to our ears as the lead single and opening track to last years ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ and perhaps one of their strongest introductions to any album in their discography, and one of the many reasons why this record is one of their best. The electronic drum patterns featured on this one are very understated- making way for the percussive stringed instruments which do a sensational job of slowly building tension, making for a tune with a driving, ominous force.
6: No Surprises – from OK Computer
Amidst the electronic, dystopian highrises that characterised the landscapes of the 1997 classic ‘OK Computer’, we were taken by a left hook when we reached the tenth track on the album; ‘No Surprises’ is a depressingly somber, yet profoundly beautiful lullaby. It’s gentle instrumentation complements Yorke’s lyrics, depicting the narrator’s yearning for a life rid of fear and sadness, or perhaps an end to life completely. Another aspect of this song that makes it so memorable is the music video- something so simple as Thom Yorke singing the lyrics from a karaoke screen as he is slowly submerged in water has proved to be one of the most iconic visuals in 90’s music.
5: High And Dry – from The Bends
An interview with Thom Yorke in 2007 revealed that, after writing it, he wasn’t a fan of this song at all- stating that he was pressured into featuring it on their sophomore effort ‘The Bends’. Of course, this didn’t cloud my judgement whatsoever when it came to including this song in this list. From Yorke’s signature falsetto on display in the chorus, to Greenwood’s gorgeous, melodic guitar solo, there’s enough evidence here to say that, whilst Radiohead will go on to be remembered for their forays into the experimental side of rock music, ‘High and Dry’ proves that they could also write a Britpop tune as good as- possibly even better than- their contemporaries.
4: Subterranean Homesick Alien – from OK Computer
Thom Yorke is far from your typical man and this song from the 1997 masterpiece ‘OK Computer’ is a prime example of this. He has often referred to the idea of extra-terrestrial life and this song is somewhat of a homage to that and his experiences surrounding it. There is one particular experience that Yorke encountered which is believed to have inspired the song where he hit a pheasant on a country road, stepped out the car and thought he was being abducted. Sonically it has a space age emotion and passion to match the song’s concept and these thoughts and feelings manifest themselves into a perfectly-rounded song full of grace and quirkiness.
3: 2+2=5 – from Hail To The Thief
What did I say about album openers earlier? Well, this is the one. Radiohead are seasoned experts in the art of the crescendo, and no other track demonstrates this quite like the introduction to ‘Hail to the Theif’. The menacing chord progression that opens up this song foreshadow the chaos which shortly ensues. Just before the 2 minute mark, the air of unease explodes, as York’s eerie croons become manic yelps, and the instrumentation transpires into a cacophonous climax. Quality.
2: Paranoid Android – from OK Computer
As was the case with ‘Kid A’ on the ranking Albums post, the fact that ‘Paranoid Android’ hasn’t topped the lot is somewhat of a remarkable feat given its genius. It is without doubt one of the best songs of the 90s and perhaps even of all time with it’s haunting progression and sumptuous guitar riffs. The effect and wobble that Johnny Greenwood puts on his guitar for the deranged solos is nothing short of exemplary and is now a common technique of his as he continues to move into a field of his own sonically. Thom Yorke is devilish and sadistic vocally as his words cut straight through you and make you think.
1: Idioteque – from Kid A
With the turn of the century, after the resounding success of ‘OK Computer’, Radiohead chose to pursue a new avenue sonically, obsessing over electronic instruments and moving away from their roots in rock music with their 2000 release ‘Kid A’. ‘Idioteque’ is the greatest example of this, and how successful this move was pulled off. The production is ice cold, as Yorke’s haunting vocals run rife through this track, voicing fears of global warming and a nuclear holocaust, two themes that are even more relevant to society now than they were 17 years ago. ‘Idioteque’ marks a turning point in Radiohead’s trajectory as a band; this idea of reinvention would be something the band would press on with years after the release of ‘Kid A’- even to this day. It helped them form a blueprint of evolution, devoiding their work of any kind of expiration date, and ensured that their gifts to the world would always be timeless.