Rolling straight through to the top 10. Chugging along. Let’s do it.
20. “Talk Show Host” | Street Spirit (Fade Out) (CD 1) Single
– The magical Radiohead b-side that set up the tone and mood of OK Computer. It was the final song before OK Computer came out. It is the most famous Radiohead b-side. An absolute crowd favorite that the band has decided to bring back on the Moon Shaped Pool tour.
A killer performance of this song is the Glastonbury 2003 performance of it.
19. “The National Anthem” | Kid A
– Another great live song. Balls to wall. Go completely bonkers at the show when the radio frequencies start hitting. The free jazz is now in the form of radio frequencies and snippets of radio shows. I don’t know if they have a tuner that catches local frequencies or if they have prerecorded sample bits that they bring in and out during the song. The song doesn’t lose a step in the transition from the album to a live setting. All the frenetic energy is still there. It’s just with different instrumentation.
The driving, pummeling bass is apparently from a very old Thom Yorke song that he wrote when he was younger. Predates the band, apparently.
18. “Exit Music (For a Film)” | OK Computer
– Romeo + Juliet was a 1990’s Baz Luhrmann (director of the most recent Gatsby adaptation) film. It was a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in a modern setting. Out of that film came this song.
By far one of the most under discussed songs from the band, it is an odd fit on OK Computer. An album seemingly concerned with modern society, the Renaissance tale of forbidden love is anachronistic with the androids, cars and plane crashes of OK Computer. What isn’t at odds with the album, however, is the music. The musical mood of OK Computer is still pervasive throughout the song. It’s cold and distant, with a backdrop of choir synthesizers accompanying Thom Yorke on a simple acoustic guitar. The lyrics are just vague enough to not displace the listener out of the song. It is all well packaged inside a song meant to be a soundtrack one-off.
17. “Climbing Up the Walls” | OK Computer
– What’s the one thing Radiohead know how to do really well in their songs? Mood. They are excellent creators of atmosphere and that atmosphere sets the tone and mood of a song. Be it through music and lyricism, Radiohead are some of the best creators and set-up men in music. They are the Chris Paul of music.
Where that perfect blend of lyrics and music meet is on “Climbing Up the Walls,” the ninth track off OK Computer. Just as “Electioneering” is coming to an end, “Climbing Up the Walls” picks up the pieces. It nests all the kinetic energy that was being built up by “Electioneering” in its opening macabre note. As the note begins to let loose, music suddenly bursts forth from this nest onto a waterfall of paranoia and fear. The song is about that feeling of persecution and hysteria one gets from fear, and the haunting drums are there to remind you that your fear is all too real. The song is schizophrenic, preying on its victim with hallucinations and out-of-body voices and when the final minute and a half come on, the theremin builds the creepy mood.
It is all brilliantly done and highlights perfectly well what Radiohead can do very well.
16. “Lucky” | OK Computer
– Maybe because I am personally experiencing a low-point in my life, but this song resonates with me right now. “Lucky” comes in after “No Surprises,” a downer of a song in mood and spirit. It is commonly interpreted to be about suicide. So imagine coming off that low-end to the next song about turning things around completely and pulling through. It’s a really sharp contrast.
“Lucky” is optimistically surveying all the angst, sorrow and alienation from OK Computer, “Lucky” cuts it with an upbeat message. It changes the tone of the album and I think it does that deliberately.
Although, life may suck right now, you’ll pull out of the air crash, out of the lake with someone by your side. You want to be killed with love and not through terrible circumstances. Once you pull through, it will be a “glorious day” and life will be better and that is the underlying message in OK Computer‘s alienation. Get out of this rut, get out of the coldness of modern life and you’ll experience all that life has to give to you. It’s an entirely optimistic message from an album that is rarely full of any of it, if it all. That is too sharp a contrast to not be anything other than deliberate. It’s the reminder to stay strong and power through it. You’ll get there, maybe.
15. “(Nice Dream)” | The Bends
– Another underrated song. This is another pretty song in an album full of pretty songs. Gone are the grunge and crunch of Pablo Honey and instead in its place is just these pretty strings building off one another as Thom sings about a desired life because he’s a sad fuckboy (but aren’t we all ).
The song is about dreaming for another life. It is literally in the title and almost hitting you just as literally are the pretty strings throughout the song. You can’t escape the many connotations to death in the song. The angel from the second verse, the garden from the first verse and dreaming as the recompense for the eternal sleep of death. We want that escapism but life is too real and immediate for us to escape it.
The imagery is really at odds with the pretty instrumentation, but again, harken back to “Lucky” and we’ll see that Radiohead is often a band of contradictions. The dream is pretty, but life isn’t. The dream is but a brief moment that we conjure up to escape, and even the last notes of “(Nice Dream)” hint at the brevity of it all. Suctioning noises suck up the nice dream and end it. It makes the nice dream from the song seem all too sour and we get bitter at its fleeting nature.
14. “Lozenge of Love” | My Iron Lung EP
– What an absolutely gorgeous song. I always loved this song. It’s so beautiful. It’s also pretty difficult to play. That finger dexterity is completely out of my reach.
The song evokes a person wandering a desert. In the background of this desert is a man the lonely travels across this harsh desert. As the song strums plucks along, the electric guitar riffs mix with the dreamy reverb. It is all very beautifully phrased into the song. It’s sparse but done precisely at the right moment.
13. “Blow Out” | Pablo Honey
– The best song off Pablo Honey, bar none. Somewhere in a Radiohead fanboy’s mind, particularly mine, is a damn good 8 to 10 song album full of these real good and interesting shoegaze sounding songs. The band was really going somewhere with that aesthetic during Pablo Honey and The Bends.
This song comes completely out of nowhere in the context of Pablo Honey. An album full of pseudo-grungy songs, “Blow Out” was the first hint at the adventurous sonic landscape Radiohead would explore.
There’s also a really good acoustic bootleg of this from a Canadian radio show performance. It’s here.
12. “Daydreaming” | A Moon Shaped Pool
– There was perhaps no other song more immediate off A Moon Shaped Pool as “Daydreaming” was for me. Right off the bat it hits you with those really pretty piano chords that twinkle and mesmerize like the ice cave stage from an early Nintendo Donkey Kong game.
There’s so many interesting things going on in the opening seconds of this song before it settles down into those pretty piano chords. There’s high-pitched nasally voices in the background. Independent notes vibrantly hitting at different times. These notes seem to be free and sparking at their own accord. Then the song settles down and hits those pretty piano chords. Thom’s voice comes in and then the music bridge pops up, and I’m all in for this ride. I am ready to go down this emotional rollercoaster with you, Thom. You hear the sped up track faintly in the background as the song begins to build up speed. Then the second verse hits you and there’s that really beautiful synth tone playing all over and throughout the song. There’s so much shit going on in this song, all at the same time, and it’s all so pretty and fragile and just ready to let itself go. It’s so well crafted, so well put together and it was such a great reminder for me that this band can do this again. That the disaster that was The King of Limbs is now behind us.
This song will hold so much esteem for me because this is the song that restored my faith in Radiohead.
11. “Motion Picture Soundtrack” | Kid A
– The emotional release we get from this song
After putting us through the hell hole that was all of Kid A, the band ends it with a song that strongly hints at suicide. Maybe by the end of it, Thom realizes that he really doesn’t wanna be here. That he just wants to really just leave this terrible world that we are in and disappear from it forever and maybe the narrator of the song does go through with the suicide.
“I will see you on the other side.” It’s eerily optimistic and also full of fate. The narrator believes “on the other side.” Maybe that speaks to how dark an album Kid A is that a fate in an afterlife is as light as it gets.
Those Ondes Martenot notes.
Well, folks, looks like I did it. I got down to the final 10. It is time for the