Welcome back to the second part of my continuing rollout of the 50 best Radiohead songs. If you’d like to catch up on Part 1, you can click right here.
No introductions. Straight to the content.
40. “The Numbers” | A Moon Shaped Pool
– Coming off the heels of “Identikit,” “The Numbers” does a good job of settling the listener in after the climactic end of “Identikit.” It starts with some startled strings scattering along looking for a place to settle. Eventually those strings settle in and the groove starts followed by Thom’s voice. As the pulsing guitar chords start grooving along, the hectic, sporadic piano and string production so characteristic of A Moon Shaped Pool accompany the chugging beat and guitar.
The real peak of the song is once the musical bridge kicks in and we start getting the big orchestral strings. The strings add urgency to a song that has been steadily pulsating along. The strings add a restlessness to a song about power in masses. As if the revolutionary pulse is being measured out by each bowing of the strings.
It’s a really well done song and certainly one of the highlights off A Moon Shaped Pool.
39. “Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2)” | Airbag/How Am I Driving? EP
– I kinda think this song would have worked as the opening track to OK Computer. Not that there’s anything wrong with “Airbag,” but I absolutely love “Polyethylene.” The build up it creates would have been an excellent emotional starting point for “Paranoid Android.” It’s all about the second part for me. The guitars building up, Thom yelling “plastic bags, middle class,” and then Ed joining in with the harmonizing vocals. Makes me want to join in and start yelling about terrible for the environment plastic materials. Gets me pumped.
38. “Pearly*” | Airbag/How Am I Driving? EP
– Thom Yorke wrote a lyric about some poor girl from some impoverished nation who hangs out at Hard Rock Cafes drinking milkshakes and going after white boys. Those are the actual lyrics. This song is great reminder that at one point this band knew how to have fun and write silly dumb songs about girls with pearly white teeth. It’s not that I think that the band isn’t fun, anymore. The “Lotus Flower” video clearly suggests that they’ve dropped whatever shame they may have, but do you think Thom would write anything like “Pearly*” today? Nah. Not even close.
37. “No Surprises” | OK Computer
– The song that really adds a dour note to OK Computer. In an album full of paranoia, alienation, dead lovers and politics, the mood really needed a respite from all that brooding. Instead, we get a song about accepting death, more specifically suicide, and embracing it with open arms.
In a year like 2016 it is quite easy to see why we should all cheer for the Sweet Meteor of Death to win the presidential election. “God damn it. Just end it all. Start all over,” I say to myself, but in the year 1997 on the heels of releasing an album that got them some critical acclaim and let them step away from the “Creep” shadow why is Thom Yorke so bummed?
In the context of the album, the song comes right after the eerie and creepy “Climbing Up the Walls” and what a musical contrast between the two. While “Climbing Up the Walls” features some Penderecki-like strings, “No Surprises” features a pretty piano tone backed with bright glockenspiels. It’s a peculiar and distinct contrast between the music and the lyrical content. On the one hand you have this pretty, heavenly lullaby music, while on the other you have some dark lyric content about suicide. It is a distinction that is not lost on the listener. It’s even more creepier when you consider just how much of a crowd pleaser “No Surprises” is. Go to a music festival where the band plays all their hits and you’ll hear a loud crowd singing along to the chorus. It’s spooky and oddly cultish.
36. “Planet Telex” | The Bends
– I’d be curious how Radiohead opening tracks would stack up against one another. Even Pablo Honey‘s “You” keeps the streak alive of great album openers from Radiohead.
“Planet Telex” picks up where Pablo Honey ends. Drowned in shoegaze reverb, “Planet Telex” continues the light shoegaze that Pablo Honey‘s closer, “Blow Out,” has throughout it.
It is beautiful.
35. “Knives Out” | Amnesiac
– It’s a cool song that is meant to be sort of their Smiths song about cannibalism. You can look this up.
Video is pretty cool, too. Michele Gondry directed.
34. “Everything in Its Right Place” | Kid A
– The introduction to Radiohead post-OKC and that is important to note. There’s the guitar-friendly Radiohead pre-Kid A and then there’s the guitar-averse Radiohead post-OKC.
From here on out, the band takes an entirely different tone and “Everything in Its Right Place” notifies you of this immediately. Gone are the guitars from the previous three albums and now we have all these different tones and textures that at first don’t sound like a guitar.
This song is killer live.There’s this bit that Thom does solo. It’s right before they play this song. Each time it’s a different bit. Sometimes he introduces it with an REM song. Other times he used to do “True Love Waits” before it got its own release. By far, my favorite is when he introduces it with “Maps” the Yeah Yeah Yeahs smash single. Not only is “Maps” one of the best songs from the past decade but it matches perfectly well with the beautiful Rhodes tones coming out of Thom’s piano. It sets up “Everything in Its Right Place” so nicely before it goes into that mad chaos that it devolves into live.
33. “I Might Be Wrong” | Amnesiac
– This song is groovy. Part of the band’s underrated discography.
Amnesiac is my favorite Radiohead album. There is a great second album hidden in there amongst all the b-sides. Stuff that I’ll get into much later.
32. “All I Need” | In Rainbows
– This is a cute love song. It’s basically a series of Kafkaesque metaphors and similes about love that only Thom Yorke would use to express love for someone.
The Scotch Mist performance of this song is absolutely ace.
31. “Paranoid Android” | OK Computer
– I am very, very sick of hearing this song live. I am so sick of it that I wasn’t able to enjoy this song until just about a month ago. It hit me why I hated this song so much last time I saw them in LA. I’ve been going to their festival performances all my life. OF COURSE THEY’RE GOING TO PLAY “PARANOID ANDROID!” It’s what everyone wants to hear. So when they didn’t play “Paranoid Android” and “Karma Police” in LA Night 1, I was pleased. Finally, got to miss out on those two song.
So fast forward maybe a week later and there I was putting on OK Computer for the first time in about 5 years and “Paranoid Android” comes on and it’s fucking great. It slays. Every part of it is just phenomenal and there’s no reason for it not to be played at every festival performance. It’s such a crowd pleaser. The dumb lyrics about chickens, and then you get to the “rain down” part in a festival and everyone just knows what they’re doing with it. It’s fucking awesome. You just can’t help it. You wanna join in with the rest of the humanity next to you. They’re the other loser fans who waited 5 hours in the pit with you and everything that you all went through for that two and a half hour set is worth it.
That’s it for songs 40-31. I already got rid of “Paranoid Android” this early, so the best songs are yet to come.
Stay tuned for more!