So, the dates I provide for each song are generally the date the album connected with the song was released. I’m realizing this is not the best way of notating this but I’m going to plow through Radiohead with this incorrect system. Next artist, though, it will be the year the single came out. Unless I forget.
I’m discovering Radiohead has been fairly effective at keeping certain of their tracks off of YouTube so most of these videos are live or altered. I’ll start linking a Spotify list of songs. If they’re on Spotify. And unless I forget.
Moving right along…
40. A Punch Up At A Wedding
Promo Singles from Hail to the Thief, 2003
Nice stripped down take on the song there, but seek out the album version if you can. The lyrical content of Hail to the Thief is famously tied to world events – the title is directed at George W. Bush, the titular thief who “stole” the 2000 US election (unfair to single him out – it was stolen for him by other smarter people). For a long time, I thought “A Punch Up At The Wedding” was about the state of world event in the early zeds, specifically how right-wing news media ripped apart everything good with lies and screamy people. As it turns out, its somewhat about that but a lot more Yorke’s response to a music critic who disliked one of the band’s major gigs. When I read that on Genius, I thought “that can’t be true,” but here’s Yorke discussing it.
I have been there with reviews so hard. Like irrationally angry about one dude’s opinion (I’ve almost always been reviewed by dudes – what’s up with that?). You put weeks of your life and your heart in something (that, let’s be frank, can still suck at the end) and a critic says something needlessly cruel (that may be accurate, but you don’t want to hear it right after you’ve opened your show) and you’re ready to make your entire next play about why that critic sucks as a human being (which would be satisfying but would also be giving them more power than they deserve or, in fact, usually want). My friend Ed once was angry enough about a review that he added a little moment to one of his shows where the actors held up a sign that read “dedicated to [critic’s name]” and gave the finger for thirty seconds. I think that was tremendously satisfying for all the artists involved.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided that the best way to respond to critics is to try to raise my game every time I direct or perform. Its healthier and it means, in theory, I don’t get lazy. Anyhow, this song is a delightfully venomous response to that bad review and one that warms the part of my heart that sometimes still hates being critiqued.
Key Thing That I Love: The Greenwood/O’Brien rhythm section (especially that bass) is hypnotically perfect. Put that on loop, follow me around blasting it and it can be my theme music.
Second Single (with “House of Cards”) from In Rainbows, 2008
Oh, hey, first song from In Rainbows. There’s this theory (the site where that theory originated is gone and seems to be a malware farm but you can read the original post at this safe site) that In Rainbows is a complimentary album to OK Computer and that if you listen to them in the order described in that link you can hear how they seamlessly blend together. Only a crazy person would do that, so of course I have a playlist on my iPod so I can listen to OK Computer In Rainbows whenever I want. If this theory is to be believed, “Bodysnatchers” is a response/compliment/was inspired by “Paranoid Android.” I’m not sold on this theory, but I encourage you to obsessively listen to the mix album in the recommended order over and over again until you’re convinced you hear something too.
But seriously, they meant for us to do that right?
Anyhow, “Bodysnatchers” is a great rock song about being trapped in your own boring life and feeling like you can’t get out.
Key Thing That I Love: The “I have no idea what I am/you are talking about” hook is the best thing to yell-sing out loud when you’re listening to this song on your headphones while jogging around the Thames. Try it. Right now.
Stand-Alone Single composed for the James Bond film but rejected
The music in the video has been “slightly edited” by the amateur editor who combined the title images from the Bond film with the Radiohead song. Listener beware.
I’ve not seen Spectre nor heard the award-winning theme song that was ultimately used, so bad on me. This track would have made for an amazing, gorgeous, haunting opening track because its amazing, gorgeous and haunting as a stand-alone single. The balance between the Bond-ian bombast of the orchestra and the central lyrical conceit – that the singer (presumably Bond) is a shell of his former self – is irresistible. I’m on record as really rather liking the other two Bond songs I’ve included in these rankings so far (Madonna #13, Duran Duran #13, wha?) but I like this song more than both of those official themes (which also suggests how I feel about the general quality of the rest of Radiohead’s music vis-a-vis Madonna’s and Duran Duran’s catalogs).
Key Thing That I Love: Yorke’s falsetto is glorious throughout, but that last “Spectre has come for me” is the best.
Promo Single from OK Computer, 1997
“Airbag” opens OK Computer (and, thus, corresponds to “15 Step” from In Rainbows according to the 01-10 Theory) so, for a moment at least, the casual listener might feel like they’re in familiar The Bends-like territory. Wikipedia – a thing edited by – is unclear on whether it is an official single or not. The entry for the song says it was the final single from the album. The Wikipedia Radiohead discography entry does not list it as a single. Discogs lists it as a promo single that was issued in support of the Airbag/How Am I Driving? EP. I hope that clears this situation up for everyone. Did I mention I don’t drink? I don’t drink.
It’s worth reading that Wikipedia link about the song if you’re interested. It was apparently an attempt to do something in the style of DJ Shadow that went awry in the best possible way.
Key Thing That I Love: Holy cats, that sampled drum loop. Holy cats! Holy cats!
Video released from In Rainbows, 2008
There is a riveting video from Vox called The Secret Rhythm Behind Radiohead’s “Videotape” (which references this more informative but less info-graphicy video by Warren Lain). Two main take-aways from these videos: this song is really, really hard to play due how they employ syncopation (and kind of bury the backbeat) and this song was – at least at one point and maybe still – Thom Yorke’s favorite track from In Rainbows (and it corresponds to “The Tourist” on OK Computer if you’re buying into the 01 10 Theory). The music is lovely and the lyrics – about a person recording a final video for their loved ones on their deathbed – is poignant and simple. I’ve bounced this song all over my ranking list from the bottom to the top and it feels right ranked here at 36.
Key Thing That I Love: Once you’re aware of the syncopation, sometimes you can’t not hear it and sometimes you just can’t here it. You, in this case, is me.
35. Planet Telex
Second Single (and Double A-Side with “High and Dry”) from The Bends, 1994
Can this just be number one? Can I stop here? What? No? There are 34 songs I like even more than this one? You’re kidding me. Let me check. Holy cats, you’re right. OK then. “Planet Telex” opens The Bends and has always felt to me like a statement of theme for the album. It also totally rocks on its own – particularly some of the guitar work and the keyboard line.
Key Thing That I Love: OK, go to the second verse. Thom Yorke sings “You Can Force It But It Will Stay Stung” and Johnny Greenwood (I think) comes in with a little rock and roll guitar and my hair immediately flies back like the guy in that old Maxell tape ad. Oil in the Alley has a song that we’re doing right now (that isn’t close to being as good as “Planet Telex” but is pretty great) that gives me this same feeling when we play it.
34. Jigsaw Falling into Place
First Single from In Rainbows, 2008
9 out of 10 songs from In Rainbows on this list making it the most thoroughly represented of their albums – 8 of The Bends‘ 12 songs are on it. All of them are in the top 40 and that’s a testament to how much I enjoy this album. There’s an appealing relentlessness to Jigsaw Falling Into Place, a song that (to my ear) follows a hook up at a club from the moment of excitement to the moment of inevitable disappointment. Yorke’s vocal performance is great theatre here – he goes from subdued to almost unhinged over the course of the song. The metaphorical jigsaw that falls into place starts off as a suggestion of how the couple in the song hits it off so well and ends with the suggestion that the its just one person’s jigsaw – a puzzle that always reassembles itself into rejection or disillusionment.
Key Thing That I Love: I’m all about that bass.
33. The Numbers
Video released from A Moon Shaped Pool, 2016
FYI – The recording in the video is not the album version of the song there on the video, but I’ll be writing about the album version of the song. Cheater! Rounder!
“The Numbers” is Thom Yorke’s protest song about climate change. I didn’t notice this for a rather long time because I was so taken with the complexity of the song. There’s just so much there and then on the second verse Johnny Greenwood adds those great strings. I have a tendency to sometimes write way more than I need to about some of these songs – indeed, pushing past the point where I have anything useful to say. I just really dig this song and it gets a little better every time I play it.
Key Things That I Love: I know I keep harping on the rhythm section, but come on the drums are so good and that’s probably the best use of sleigh bells ever. Also, I love it when the “One Day At A Time” chorus kicks in and the track transforms just a little. Also, Yorke’s melodic choice on the word “butterflies.”
32. Man of War
Download and Video from OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017, 2017
This could also have been a theme to a James Bond movie. In fact, Radiohead offered it to the Spectre people (an oddly apt description of movie business folks?) but they rejected it because it had not been specifically written for them film. In further point of fact, as they were developing it they intended it as an homage to the melodrama of James Bond themes. In still further yet point of fact, Radiohead does a mean cover of “Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me. Radiohead knows Bond.
Key Thing That I Love: “You’re my man of war…” BWAAWNNNN da-beddle bee de bee BWAAAAANN “And the wolves… will… come… for you” beedle beedle bee bee “for you” etc.
31. True Love Waits
Charted song (not released officially as a single) from A Moon Shaped Pool, 2016
“True Love Waits” has a fascinating history. In essence, it took the band 21 years from the time they debuted the song live to when they released it as the closing track of A Moon Shaped Pool. They couldn’t figure out an arrangement that made them happy until they finally hit upon this stripped down, pleasingly melancholy version. Part of the power of the album version of the song lies in its circumstances. It was originally a song written by a young man at the start of a relationship but was ultimately recorded by an older man at the end of that relationship (Yorke and his wife split before A Moon Shaped Pool). Thus, the song’s lyric and Yorke’s vocal acquired additional emotional depth. It becomes a thing of genuine heartbreak, but not the immediate moment of heartbreak – the long, dull ache that you live with forever after your heart has been broken and you’re going about the business of trying to carry on.
Key Thing That I Love: Basically, the emotional resonance of the piece.
Coming Soon: It just keeps getting better.