This is it. The moment you’ve all been waiting for. The best 10 Radiohead songs.
10. “Black Star” | The Bends
– “I get home from work and you’re still standing in your dressing gown. Well, what am I to do?” I can hear the fatigue in that line. A song about two tired lovers, this song is one of the highlights off the often underrated The Bends.
It tells the story of two people romantically involved but one has a mental illness, while the other person gets drained more and more from being involved with the other person. It is a familiar situation for anyone who has a loved one with mental illness.
9. “Reckoner” | In Rainbows
– The best Radiohead songs are those that display Thom’s voice fairly well, all the while toning down the musical virtuosity that has made the band the biggest in the world. “Reckoner” does all of that.
The first memory I have of this song is catching it live at Bonnaroo 2012 from the pit. We managed to cut into the pit that day thanks to a real good friend. We drove all the way from Vegas to Manchester, Tennessee to catch Radiohead. We had kinda dicked around most of the day that the band was supposed to perform and by the time we go to the line to get into the pit, the line was snaking around. So my friend very naturally just walks up to a random group of people and starts chatting them up. He starts slowly, does the small talk, we (my sister, my friend and I) kinda gather around this group of guys, offer them drinks and catch Rodrigo & Gabriella from the line with them. We eventually shot so much shit with them that my friend asks them can we join them at the line. They say “yeah”and that’s how we managed to cut a gigantic line of people to catch Radiohead at the pit in 2012. Thanks to my friend, we somehow managed to get into the pit.
Once the pit actually opened, however, all hell broke loose. People were almost trampled. I remember vividly falling down twice and guards yelling no running but people ignored the yells. It was berserk. It was dangerous.
This was during the King of Limbs tour. We got a lot of King of Limbs songs, but with those songs came a lot of the crowd favorites. After all, it’s a festival. This was one album release after the drop of the way more successful In Rainbows. Now it’s towards the end of the set and just as the Thom is yelling “Reeeeeeckonerrr” fireworks go over our heads and a magical night was born.
8. “Life in a Glasshouse [Full Length Version]” | Knives Out (CD 1) Single
– I’m including the full length version because you only get about a minute or more so of an extra trumpet and clarinet riff. The difference isn’t really much but I dig this version a lot more.
This is Radiohead’s New Orleans funeral procession song. There’s a difference between the Radiohead before the drop of The Eraser (Thom Yorke’s solo album) and the Radiohead that proceeded The Eraser. After The Eraser, the band went too far into the electro aesthetic that has only produced really shitty songs.Look at most of The King of Limbs and look at Thom’s output after The Eraser. It’s all the same tinny shit. A song like “Life in a Glasshouse” is from a time when the band played around with organic instruments and not Macbook designed tinny beats.
7. “Fake Plastic Trees” | The Bends
– It’s on the album a really sweet song about wanting a real love. It’s incredibly simple in its execution, Thom Yorke on an acoustic guitar strumming simple chords with some production behind him at some point in the song. There’s a few strings here and there, but overall the song is really simple in its beauty.
What really elevates this song for me is the 2003 Glastonbury performance of it.
It’s more or less the same version live as it is on the album, but that performance is magic. Thom’s falsetto is at his peak. No cracking or giving out. That’s when his voice was real good. There’s a reason they don’t play many of these songs nowadays, and that’s because Thom can’t physically sing like this anymore.
Thom looks on the verge of breaking down as he’s singing this song and I can feel all the emotions that he emotes in the performance. Thousands of people joining in unison to sing together with Thom. The beautiful phrasing of the instruments, coming in at the right moments. That final smile at the end as he hits every single note in that signature falsetto of his. The entire performance gives me chills. It’s a masterclass of what it means to be a performer.
6. “There There. (The Boney King of Nowhere.)” | Hail to the Thief. (The Gloaming.)
– I have shitted on Hail to the Thief a lot over the course of this 50 song rollout. I think I haven’t shitted on it for the sake of shitting on it. I think I have done so because Hail to the Thief is a bloated mess.
Somewhere in between this bloated mess is this killer beast of a live performance. “There There” has three people on drums, as Thom and Ed join Phil on two snares each that only adds power to the pounding beat that is throughout this song. Somewhere in between the three drums is Thom on electric guitar. As the lights turn blue around you, you suddenly hear the “THERE THEEEEEEEEEEEEEERE” and the song lifts itself into the heavenly embrace of the sky. As the chorus swirls and tosses your spirit towards the center of the universe, the guitar noodles its way into your ear.
If it sounds mystical that is because it is. That is the power behind music. The ability to lift you metaphysically into the heavens and into the beyond is what makes us pay $100 for a regular concert ticket in the nosebleeds.
I don’t believe in God, but if I were, God bless music.
5. “Fog” | Knives Out (CD 2) Single
– There’s something heartbreaking about losing our childlike wonder. The innocence and joy dies, and instead it is replaced with cynicism and jadedness. A song about growing up and watching kids lose their curiosity, this version of “Fog” is much more superior to the Hail to the Thief live b-side that features just Thom on piano. Thom alone on the piano deconstructs the song. It guts it of so much emotion that Thom simply can’t emote alone on the piano. What the single version does is replicate the childlike wonder that is present in us when we are young. There are twinkling piano noises and a distant and nostalgic Thom Yorke voice wondering when his kid grew up.
While a lot of what makes up this list are b-sides, it is important to remember that Amnesiac could have been a really strong double album composed of a lot of the songs that made it onto EPs and singles. It is also important to remember that what often makes the cut is complete and total dog shit. “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” is an abomination.
4. “How to Disappear Completely” | Kid A
– If you’ve ever watched Meeting People Is Easy, then you’d probably already know that the pinnacle of that documentary is this song. For those who haven’t, Meeting People Is Easy is a rockumentary, directed by Michel Gondry, that followed the band throughout the OK Computer tour. A grueling, massive tour, the band was on the verge of splitting up. Thom Yorke’s neurosis is evident throughout the documentary. He’s irritable and frustrated. Somewhere in the movie, Thom repeats to himself that he is not here, it is not happening and thus, “How to Disappear Completely” was birthed.
When everything is falling apart and we don’t want to be part of what’s going around us, we seek to escape. “How to Disappear Completely” comes in at a key moment in Kid A. It comes in after the hectic commotion that was the first three tracks. The paranoiac, eerily reassuring tones from “Everything In Its Right Place,” then we have the creepy, fucked up children’s lullaby in the title track, followed by the chaotic and frenetic National Anthem. Everything leading into “How to Disappear Completely” was chaotic and crumbling down. Then once the climax finally hits, we are hit with this release of negativity. It is the body expelling everything around us that is causing our distress. It is another song about escapism and Radiohead is really good at writing those.
3. “Let Down” | OK Computer
– It’s a really ugly secret of mine that I used to not like this song. It was too much. It was too melodramatic. I thought it was Radiohead being embarrassingly Radiohead. Then I grew the fuck up. How can someone not let themselves get wrapped up in all of the melodrama. This is the song for when you wanna just sit down in your room and just let everything overcome you. Your overcome, everything is fucked, but you will get over this. You’re not alone, Thom Yorke’s wonky eye will follow you wherever you go in a room and it will watch over you like a guardian angel watching over everyone because it can’t really focus its sight. When he hits you with the “One day I’m going to grow wings” line only to ultimately “let you down” because life is literally a series of let downs
2. “Pyramid Song” | Amnesiac
– The offbeat piano chords. The lyrics about traveling in the afterlife. The title of the song being “Pyramid Song.” This song has always been a career highlight for me. When they play it live, Jonny grabs a guitar and starts playing a bow over it. It’s just Thom and Jonny. Thom on piano, Jonny with a bow in hand and a guitar sat up on a chair. There’s two lights, one on each band member. They dim out the entire backstage and overhead hangs these two blue lights. They’re the boatsmen who leads the dead into the afterlife. Visions of past lovers and friends. All on a rowboat. With nothing to fear and nothing to doubt. See underneath that offbeat tempo and uneasy drumming, there’s this sense of peace. It’s the acceptance of death, the only guaranteed thing in all of our lives.
And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for.
THE ABSOLUTELY BEST RADIOHEAD SONG OF ALL TIME IS…
1. “Subterranean Homesick Alien” | OK Computer
– I will forever stan the living shit of this song. This has been my number one Radiohead song for about 5 or 6 years now since the question has popped up. There’s something to the way Thom sings this. He sounds like he’s imploring to be taken away from this Earth. It’s a religious plea. He wants to be taken far away from this planet, far away from the people that tire him. He’s Dr. Manhattan in that infamous Watchmen comic book still, and sometimes we all kind of long for want. What elevates this song even more is that for once, Thom’s cryptic lyrics don’t just serve to build an ambience or mood around a song. The lyrics match along perfectly well with the airy, wispy guitars. They compliment one another, the music filling our heads with dazed out dreams of escaping from a far away world, and the lyrics giving us insight into what it is that is driving us away from society. Has Thom ever written a better lyrics than “Take me onboard their spaceship and show me the stars as I’d like to see it.” Notice how he uses “I’d like to see it,” instead of the more common “show me the stars?” That’s the escapee ultimately knowing that what he’s seeing is an illusion, and one meant to satisfy our dying, decaying self, but ultimately one that we seek. It is the ultimate escapism, which is what is lying underneath OK Computer, a desire to break away and be free from this world and society that we live in.
That’s it. That took me about a week to finish but God damn it, did I not just finish the shit out of this.