And we’re back…
Thank you for your patience, humans of Earth, while I worked on the Hawaii Festival of Improvisation, traveled to the Slapdash International Improv Festival (where I listened to a lot of Blur), spent a week going to bed before 9 due to jet lag, prepared for and performed three Oil in the Alley gigs, and played a bunch of The Sims 3.
I also spent a bunch of time deciding what I wanted to tackle next. On deck we have Throwing Muses, Dexy’s Midnight Runners/Kevin Rowland/Dexy’s and – inhaling nervously – David Bowie. In that order. My goal is to be done with Bowie before 2018. Over 130 singles in his catalog, yo.
Also, Tom Petty passed away and that sucks so hard. And U2 released a couple of new singles, which rocks.
Back to Radiohead, since my first entry on September 29, I’ve had a month to listen to my list, reorder it, and have new and different thoughts about their music. I’ve only made one change in bottom 21 of the list (“Man of War” jumped up which meant that #40 joined this list as the new #41) but the sections above #41 have shifted around significantly. I have also switched to better quality headphones which positively impacted my enjoyment of the band. Poor quality headphones might work with The Hives, but with Radiohead you really want to hear every boop and beep.
Which brings us to:
50. Anyone Can Play Guitar
Second Single from Pablo Honey, 1993
One of my friends named Jeff (a fine name that several of my friends share) posits that Radiohead was a very good band that didn’t quite completely gel into a great band until Kid A. He had particularly hoped “Creep” would be on the lower end of this list (Radiohead would agree with him on this point). I kind of get this because they really were a different band when they started. Indeed, when I was playing “Creep” on KTUH back in 1993, I felt they were comparable to Oasis, Blur and other Britpop bands. I mean, listen to this song. They were. As it happens, they’ve changed their sound approach with each album (summed up accurately by some clever person who compares their albums to scenes from Spongebob Squarepants). When “Creep” was released first, it flopped. “Anyone Can Play Guitar,” which reached the UK Top 40, was thus their first top 40 hit. It’s a catchy, decent rock song that I enjoy hearing but it could be by anyone.
49. Present Tense
Non-single Song That Charted in Mexico from A Moon Shaped Pool, 2016
Video directed by PT Anderson who also directed videos for Fiona Apple (notable #1). Radiohead multi-instrumentalist and arranger Jonny Greenwood composed the score for Anderson’s films There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice and his forthcoming Phantom Thread. Basically the art world collapses in on itself time and again. “Present Tense” was not released as a single, per se, but we’re in a post-single time of history. All songs are theoretically equal, some are just more equal than others. It did have that great video and did chart in Mexico, so its warrants inclusion here. Thom Yorke’s lyrics allegedly have something to do with using dance to clear one’s mind and escape the horror of daily life. Holy cats, I get that. Radiohead gets me, man.
Key Thing That I Love: The “In you I’m lost” chorus features a perfect, moving, understated Yorke vocal.
48. Sit Down, Stand Up. (Snakes & Ladders.)
Video released from Hail to the Thief, 2003
An exercise in tension and release, the first part of the song feels like its building to something (with its Simon Says-esque commands to “Sit Down” and “Stand Up”) and then finally bursts to an epic conclusion – they basically sings “The rain drops” for the rest of eternity. Somewhere, they are still playing it, taking breaks only to eat and record other albums. Apparently, the lyrics were loosely inspired by the Rwandan genocide. The song was no released as a single, but there was a video made and its rather good. On their own, I’m lukewarm on both halves of the song, but that shift from the first half to the second half is remarkably effective and elevates the whole above the sum of its parts.
Key Thing That I Love: “The rain drops, the rain drops, the rain drops, the rain drops, etc”
47. Little by Little
UK Promo single from The King of Limbs, 2011
Drummer Philip Selway and bass player Colin Greenwood are front and center for most of The King of Limbs. They also made extensive use of sampling “using turntables and vinyl emulation software.” The bulk of the sales for the album were direct purchases from Radiohead’s website which, apparently, meant the band made more money from this record than any of their previous records. Would that have been possible if they hadn’t already been a fairly huge success on a major label? Who knows? “Little by Little” has moved all over my ranking list – it was in the top ten at one point – and I really dig it but I feel comfortable with where I’ve ultimately placed it. As good as it is, there’s a sonic ton of even better stuff.
Key Thing That I Love: the amazing, dense rhythm line. Is that a typewriter? Probably not, but I like to imagine it is. Also, the bass sounds like it curling itself warmly around every beat. So good.
46. I Might Be Wrong
Second single from Amnesiac, 2001
“I Might Be Wrong” is constructed along this great, looping guitar riff (it reminds me of this great 80’s band called That Petrol Emotion – example) but its a much more conventional song than most of the others from twin albums Amnesiac and Kid A. In fact, this is one of the few Radiohead songs that I essentially forget a few minutes after I listen to it – and then get excited about it every time I hear that riff again.
Key Thing That I Love: I mean, obviously, that glorious guitar riff.
45. The Bends
Sixth Single from The Bends, 1995
I really love The Bends, both the album and the song (and the album cover, featured here in glorious MS Paint rendition). I bought in on cassette when I was sharing the top floor of a house on Thurston Avenue here in Honolulu with a couple of grad school friends. I loved “Fake Plastic Trees” so much that it took me a while before I listened to the rest of the record. Like it took me years to listen to the rest of the record because it was one of the last things I bought on cassette and I retired my Walkman and cassette deck within a few years of picking it up. Anyhow, the record is fantastic. It wasn’t ground breaking in quite the way that OK Computer was, but it was a huge leap forward for the band. With it, they stopped sounding like the times and started shaping the times to sound like them (you can blame or credit this album for Coldplay, for example). Every single track on The Bends is a keeper and if the title track is the weakest single, it was still stronger than like 98% of the rest of music released in 1995 (and ’95 was a decent year for music).
Key Thing That I Love: The way the song’s glorious bombast shifts to something else entirely on the “Just lying in the bar…” choruses. Most choruses in pop music are an intensification of the verses – this one is more like letting all the air (sic) out.
Second Single from A Moon Shaped Pool, 2016
Radiohead announced the arrival of 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool by erasing their entire web presence. “Daydreaming” was the second single and was apparently regarded by Pitchfork magazine as an “elegy” to Yorke’s recently dissolved marriage. That could be true or it could not be true. What is true (at least for me) is that it captures sonically the feeling of dreaming. The string work in particular is evocative of the dream world to my ear. When I’m listening to this song, I love it, but then it fades away.
Key Thing That I Love: All of the instruments seem just a little off (notably the piano and the cellos) and this is by design. Deliberately off music that still works is glorious.
43. Stop Whispering
Third Single from Pablo Honey, 1993
Are we back at Pablo Honey? We are? Well ok then. Let’s acknowledge that the whisper/loud dichotomy has been addressed elsewhere by Icicle Works, Elvis Costello, and parodied by The dB’s. The general psuedo-inspirational advice “rise up and let’s hear your voice” is not new to rock. Rather than thinking Yorke and the gang thought they were being particularly original, I see this song as more of an affirmation to themselves – “guys, let’s do more with what we got.” They followed this advice on their following albums – all of them. The hook of the chorus is pretty killer and if the rest of the song isn’t quite as killer (more like “maimer” or “slight injury giver”), well, at least it allows the chorus to soar.
Key Thing That I Love: The way Yorke sings “Stahp whiiiiiisperiiiiiing.”
42. The Daily Mail
Stand-Alone Double A-Side “The Daily Mail” / “Staircase” Single
I ranked “Staircase” at #60 and stand by that ranking. “The Daily Mail,” on the other hand, is a quite good song with some interesting lyrics. The target of this song is one of the great villains of our lifetime, Rupert Murdoch. Midnight Oil tried to warn us about him way back in 1982 when we was just ruining Australia’s media, but the world allowed him to create media empires in the UK and USA and all of our lives have been the worse for it. Murdoch and Margaret Thatcher are the two figures that seem to get the most drubbing from pop music, and good for them. This song is pretty decent, but there’s one part that rises to greatness….
Key Thing That I Love: …which is when Yorke sings “But we lie in wait” and then suddenly the piano driven song rocks down to Electric Avenue and then it takes you higher.
41. I Promise
Download and Video from OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017, 2017
There was a treasure trove of songs recorded by Radiohead during their OK Computer sessions that finally saw the light with the 2017 rerelease of that classic record, “I Promise” among them. I hear a distinct 1950’s-era Roy Orbison influence on this song. Do you hear that? It’s there, right? I completely understand why they didn’t include it on OK Computer or Amnesiac, but I’m shocked that they didn’t try to release it as a single in the years since its release. Seems to me like it would have been an outstanding stand alone single. What do I know?
Key Thing That I Love: When Yorke’s slow climb up the vocal scale reaches the “glorious falsetto” stage and everyone in the world with a soul starts to weep even if they’re not listening to the song.
Coming Soon: Not a movie theme.