Today Radiohead releases A moon shaped Pool in physical format. This is marketed with launch parties in selected record stores all over the world. We at Skint tried to come up with the ten greatest Radiohead songs of all times, in our opinion.
Paranoid Android – This song is not only a nod to Marvin, the paranoid android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but also the track that most clearly sums up the mixture of devastating claustrophobia and melancholic beauty that clings to OK Computer.
Fake Plastic Trees – The title of this track is interestingly enough inspired by the landscaping of Canary Wharf that include a lot of artificial plants. The simplicity of Yorke’s vocals and acoustic guitar is mesmerizing. According to Q Magazine April 2008, Jonny Greenwood played an old Hammond organ, whose tone controls required resetting after every bar, on this track. The emotion of the track has supposedly made Yorke break out in tears multiple times throughout the recording. No wonder, the fragility and suppressed wishes in the tune, accompanied with raw emotions, make this one of the most impacting tunes of The Bends.
Lotus Flower – The first single of the band’s eighth studio album is centred around Yorke’s vocals over a pulsing beat track. This is one of Radiohead’s less organic tunes. The lotus flower is an ancient Asian symbol for sexual purity, and is used in poetry as an allegory for ideal feminine attributes. The transfixing and repetitive tune is almost hypnotic, yet lines like “There’s an empty space inside my heart / Where the weeds take root/ and now I’ll set you free” saves the song from drowning in its own mystique. How so the lyric also suggest a submissiveness and praising of femininity.
Pyramid Song – The piano based tune contradicts with Radiohead’s more guitar based past. The song is said to be inspired after Thom Yorke paid a visit to an exhibit in Egyptian art, and the lyric contains traces of this, especially the imagery of people being ferried across the river of death. This, alongside Yorke’s Buddhist inspirations from the same period, comes together to create a circular effect that is embodied in the tune both lyrically and musically. York stated to MTV that: “That song literally took five minutes to write, but yet it came from all these mad places.”
Wolf At The Door – The resentment against phoney privilege is a continuous theme throughout many of Radiohead’s tunes, yet it surfaces most clearly and elegant in ‘Wolf at the Door’. The Wolf is an allusion to the wolf in three little pigs that is linked to multiple times in Hail To The Thief.
Let Down – The fly on the wall perspective of OK Computer never comes across better than in ‘Let Down’. Victimized by the modern society, opening up about the claustrophobic feeling of the fast evolving world this tune is a masterpiece of the few. Lyrically shining the simpler and repetitive sound reinforce the feel of the song.
Knives Out – This tune might have faced massive commercial dismissal due to its more pretentious surface, yet digging into it, it has the lyrical content that is needed to give an otherwise polished tune substance and depth. The references to everything being disposable, including human lives, might seem as a harsh comment, yet Yorke has stated that, “Knives Out is not exactly cruelty. Let’s rather say that to express some feelings, I can’t help but use some violent vocabulary.” According to an October 2000 Q Magazine article, the track took 373 days to record as the band continuously tried to rework it before settling with it being best the way it was.
Nude – A mournful ballade that served as a regular on the band’s OK Computer tour. This song was originally introduced as the band’s untitled piece, and has been referred to as ‘Big Ideas’ before finally being known as ‘Nude’. The well known long drawn vocals of Yorke was actually a challenge with this tune and the lead singer’s lack of confidence in his own vocal abilities was one of the reasons it took the band over 10 years to release the track. “Ten years ago, when we first had the song, I didn’t enjoy singing it because it was too feminine, too high. It made me feel uncomfortable,” the singer told Mojo. The high pitched vocals and feminine trace gives the tune a more sexual nature than most Radiohead songs, and we at Skint love a bit of an orgasmic tune.
How To Disappear Completely – The string arrangement on this tune is an outstanding effort, arranged by Jonny Greenwood and performed by the Orchestra of St. Johns. Greenwood apparently spent two weeks on the arrangement to get it perfected. The «out of yourself» theme in the song captures a sense of apathy that most likely is more recognisable in an age illuminated by screen light and crippling social media.
And I guess we can’t come around without mentioning the all time favourite ‘Creep’. Needless to say, this tune still stands out as Radiohead’s most commercial beacon and will go down in music history as an eternal classic. There is a substantial reason why this song has grown into this stoic anthem of insecurities and the effects of the modern world. The song was written before Radiohead was formed, while Thom Yorke was still as student at Exeter University. When first released, the song flopped, but it has grown into public recognition over time. The lyric follows a much more pop tradition than adding anything new to rock music, love and vulnerability is relatable themes, and the sense of feeling lost in motion, backed with more aggressive guitar, makes the tune something ‘so fucking special’.