It’s been a busy weekend for LP9 conspirators. Amidst a series of cryptic moves by the band and those associated with them, it’s uncertain as to whether or not the new Radiohead album is on its way in the coming week. Nonetheless, what better time than now to count down Durbanboys’ top twenty tracks by the legendary English band?
20. Idioteque (Kid A)
I think it took seeing some lame electronic opener band trying to cover this song to make me truly realize just how deeply complex “Idioteque” really is, and that speaks not only to its dense layering of instrumentation and loops, but also to the cold emotion portrayed in the icy atmosphere that it creates. Perhaps it takes a hint from a different brand of snowy landscape in it’s influence, but even bigger than any sum of its parts is the loneliness in Thom Yorke’s voice, continually wailing “This is really happening!” to close the song.
19. Planet Telex (The Bends)
Maybe millennials tend to shun Radiohead’s older catalog as inferior to that of a Kid A or In Rainbows for reasons stemming from a generational gap, or maybe the alternative rock sounds in something like The Bends have withered a tad over time, but you can’t deny the sheer magnitude of opening track “Planet Telex”. As legend would have it, the band seemingly squeezed this number in last minute, with Thom Yorke gallantly recording the vocals whilst lying on the studio floor. Remember that next time you choose this song for karaoke night!
18. Polyethylene (Airbag/How Am I Driving?)
Commencing with a sparse acoustic section, “Polyethelyne” launches into full-on rock mode, complete with a bombastic effort from Thom Yorke’s powerful falsetto, and an explosion of big drumming and guitar. This song almost made it onto OK Computer, and would have fit right into place somewhere on side two of the record. As perfect as the match could’ve been, it remains the highlight of this EP, and solidified Radiohead’s status as top dogs above any of their peers.
17. Let Down (OK Computer)
Sentimentality is being emotional for the sake of it. We’re bombarded with sentiment, people emoting. That’s the Let Down. Feeling every emotion is fake. Or rather every emotion is on the same plane whether it’s a car advert or a pop song. – Thom Yorke
16. True Love Waits (I Might Be Wrong)
Given the subject matter of the song, it’s a little ironic that “True Love Waits” happens to depict more of a desperation for love and intimacy, as opposed to the abstinent themes it suggests. I Might Be Wrong is a series of live performances curated by Thom Yorke’s concluding number here an acoustic guitar, bare and sad as ever, but undoubtedly beautiful.
15. Everything In It’s Right Place (Kid A)
First place in our collective goosebump-inducing hearts, “Everything In It’s Right Place” stems from the band’s excessive and tiresome lifestyle amidst the whirlwind of promotion and touring done in light of OK Computer. It is important in a historical context as a marking of Radiohead’s completely changed up sound, booming with electronic experimentation, and overall a logical response to the anxiety and weariness contrived in Thom Yorke’s psyche circa 2000.
14. All I Need (In Rainbows)
“All I Need” begins with a very muddy, midi-melody percolating throughout the song. As it sets the mood of the song, as somber as it is, the track serves as a love song of sorts, albeit melancholy in nature. As evidenced by the indecisive ups and downs, it is complete by the songs building piano line and crashing cymbals, Yorke letting it all go. “It’s all right, it’s all wrong, it’s all right”. She loves me, she loves me not…
13. Myxomatosis (Hail To The Thief)
Myxomatosis is a highly infectious and usually fatal viral disease of rabbits, causing swelling of the mucous membranes and inflammation and discharge around the eyes. Thanks Google! What does that mean in Radiohead’s eyes on their song off of Hail to the Thief? Just another entry into the depths of fame and it’s vices over a person, the track outlines the band’s response and reaction to media outliers (as most of HTTT deals with). The robotic overtone of Thom Yorke’s voice is certainly impressive, but even more striking is that the track masks its 4/4 structure in spite of an audible deception otherwise.
12. Airbag (OK Computer)
“Airbag” serves as less of a hollow container, and more like a goodie bag of treasures. If any song were a suitable summary of OK Computer‘s many facets, this may be the greatest contender. Kicking right off the bat with an eerie guitar riff and cello combination, the track boasts an homage to real life events in Thom Yorke’s life (car accident), all the while maintaining the record’s affinity for arpeggiated guitars, sleigh bells, and concise yet apparent drums courtesy of Phil Selway.
11. Pyramid Song (Amnesiac)
I’m not in the right frame of mind to go on spewing about how Amnesiac is better than Kid A, but although the latter has garnered an immense level of critical acclaim over the years, I would argue that it’s Amnesiac that leaps far and bounds beyond what is generally seen on such a prominent record topping the charts. “Pyramid Song” exists as it’s own mini lecture in the form of a song, as evidenced by it’s rhythmic mapping, carefully detailing just how amazing a dark piano riff can be.
10. Gagging Order (COM LAG)
Any opportunity Thom Yorke takes to showcase his incredible talent as a songwriter is a blessing in my book. Not only is “Gagging Order” an emotional roller coaster of freedom, but the crooning falsetto is absolutely as big of a release on behalf of the narrator as it is for its audience.
9. Optimistic/In Limbo (Kid A)
Yeah, I’m combining two songs, but that just means the playlist at the end of all of this is a little longer (considering the In Rainbows tracks and B-Sides are nowhere to be found on streaming). “Optimistic” is a sudden burst of energy on Kid A‘s track list, showcasing the ghostly vocals of one Thom Yorke, and as the drum breakdown settles, “In Limbo” burst onto the scene in increasing muddied candor. I love these songs as a one-two punch, as it perfectly sets the stage for the record’s lush conclusion.
8. Fake Plastic Trees (The Bends)
Taking the top spot on the sub-countdown of “top acoustic Radiohead numbers, “Fake Plastic Trees” is an old classic. The girl depicted in the lyrics is one with affinity for the plasticity of her surroundings, but not once does it depict her of being a plastic being herself, perhaps speaking to the fake nature of our thoughts and desires. Whatever the case, this track steers away from Radiohead’s alternative rock roots, and it is amazing in its own right.
7. Packt Like Sardines In a Crushd Tin Box (Amnesiac)
Always a sucker for opening tracks, Amnesiac is no stranger to my affinity. The track starts with a feeble drum beat, carefully suggesting that of a little tin box such as in the title. It sets the stage for Amnesiac‘s experimentation of continuing electronic nature, but also tails out with an extremely catchy string of words, “I’m a reasonable man, get off my case”.
6. Lotus Flower (The King Of Limbs)
An introduction to many a listener his graceful moves of style and serenity, Thom Yorke has never been a stranger to dancing like a madman, whether live in concert performing, or as a spectator watching other artists perform for him. In any case, “Lotus Flower” simultaneously achieves a mark of being Yorke’s best track on The King Of Limbs, both musically and lyrically.
5. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi (In Rainbows)
Separated into two portions that make up the entire song, “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” is another classic example of Radiohead besting anyone in composition and execution of a track that is ultimately undeniably catchy. It starts so mellow, but never once sounds like it is too big for its britches, simultaneously minimal and massive. The 4/4 drumming intertwined with 3/4 guitar seems too difficult to pull off, but it works wonderfully.
4. Kid A (Kid A)
The best song off of Kid A is also the title track. The lyrics are heavily distorted and shortcoming, but the electronic layers of keys and loops make for the most ambitious undertaking the band has ever set forth to create. In keeping with traditional Radiohead staples, the percussion makes for a perfect driving music ensemble, as serene as it is dark in nature.
3. You And Whose Army? (Amnesiac)
A unique chord progression muffled by haunted background vocals emit a stoic blend of triumph in Thom Yorke’s undertaking. “You And Whose Army?” begins with this uneasy build up, Yorke seemingly taunting the subject of his ramblings. All the while, a growing rush of blaring piano chords drives the song home, his wailing of “ghost horses” his victory ride.
2. 15 Step (In Rainbows)
Beginning with a steady, fast-paced electronic drum beat, “15 Step” sets the tone of Radiohead’s independent comeback record, a careful blend of warm guitar tones and steady drumming. In Rainbows is perhaps the band’s most accessible record of all, but beyond that, it may also exist as the most technically proficient. Case and point: From The Basement.
1. Paranoid Android (OK Computer)
A most complete representation of Radiohead’s sound and quest for labels of the greatest rock band of our generation, “Paranoid Android” is their calling card, their “Bomhemian Rhapsody”, their “Stairway to Heaven”. It is a blend of all the technical chops of Jonny Greenwood’s distorted guitar, Philip Selway’s pertinent drumming, and Thom Yorke’s versatility as a vocalist, beginning with wailing cries, leading into an urgency in his voice topped off with breakdown and guitar solos to suffice. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.