With the industry salivating over their seventh studio record In Rainbows, Getintothis selects our top tunes from the sometimes sinister, but always moving world of Oxford’s greatest musical innovators.
With just a over a week to digest the tracks from In Rainbows they’re exempt from selection, however after the first dozen listens there are certainly several contenders for a future top 10, as it is here’s my list. I hope you’ll indulge me with yours.
1. Talk Show Host – B-side to Street Spirit/remix version on Romeo & Juliet OST.
I can distinctly remember the time I realised Radiohead were more than your average white, British indie guitar band. In 1995 while Northern Uproar and Menswear were clogging up the airwaves, Yorke and co. recorded this track for Steve Lamacq at Maida Vale for Radio 1. With it’s feast of white-hot guitars, Colin Greenwood’s malevolent bass line and grim humour contained in the unforgettable lyric ‘You want me, well fucking well come and find me, I’ll be waiting with a gun and a pack of sandwiches,’ it leapt out of the speakers and demanded you sit up and take note of a band that was unconcerned with the zeitgeist preferring to set their own unique agenda.
2. Let Down – OK Computer
There’s something incredibly special at work when a composer can create music which combines sorrow and euphoria. With its transcendental guitars and spiralling chorus Let Down is the ultimate tearjerker which can simultaneously lift you to a state of ecstasy.
3. Idioteque – Kid A
The stand-out moment from Radiohead’s finest album to date. Idioteque is a bombastic scattershot of whirring electronica; unsettling (‘I laugh until my head falls off‘), schizophrenic, vitriolic and yet superb to dance along to like an idiot.
4. My Iron Lung – The Bends
Watching a possessed Jonny Greenwood, complete with wrist-support due to over-strenuous riff-action, violently attack his guitar on Jools Holland pre-release of The Bends was at once captivating as it was shocking. He ripped and bent the strings from the neck of his Fender Telecaster so savagely you could almost hear his instrument begging for mercy.
5. I Might Be Wrong – Amnesiac
People are quick to forget quite how simplistic some of the ‘Head’s work is – this one riff wonder forms the centre-piece to Kid B, or Amnesiac. I particularly like it for the dropout at the 3.48 mark when the music abruptly halts allowing Thom to weep amid electro blips and Jonny’s meandering, menacing lick.
6. The National Anthem – Kid A
Such was the rhetoric and hyperbole spread thickly all over OK Computer, by 1999 I was not just bored of Radiohead but almost contemptuous of their new-found omnipotence. I begrudging went to see them in Warrington as part of their Big Top live return. They opened with this and I was completely blown away.
7. Climbing Up The Walls – OK Computer
The group premiered this chilling work of postmodern brilliance at the same session as Talk Show Host. It is perhaps the most minacious, unsettling piece they’ve ever committed to tape. Dig Thom’s primal howl after he’s bled these words: ‘Fifteen blows to the back of my head, fifteen blows to your mind…either way you turn, I’ll be there, open up your skull I’ll be there, climbing up the walls…’
It’s hardly surprising they included the comforting nursery rhyme of No Surprises to follow.
8. The Bends – The Bends
When Radiohead rock, they do it in style. This is huge power chord magnificence with lyrical brutality to match.
9. Everything In Its Right Place – Kid A
Singling out tracks from Kid A doesn’t do them justice, and this track cherrypicked in isolation maybe seems an odd choice, however in the context of the album it is a revelation and indeed the best opening track on any Radiohead record – or is it? 15 Step runs it bloody close. Whatever, from its glacial, Brian Eno-like synths to Thom’s syncopated, percussive vocals it is the scenesetter to the quintessential Radiohead record.
10. Paranoid Android – OK Computer
This unforgettable gem is most certainly the pivotal moment which marked them out as a modern great. I remember with glee Jo Whiley’s utter befuddlement having aired it for the first time on Radio 1 and the subsequent barrage of abuse from perplexed, irate listeners. Oh how Thom must have chuckled, spotting the irony in the lines: ‘When I am king you will be first against the wall, and your opinion which is of no consequence at all.’