As many have mentioned, this can range from incredibly difficult to impossible for many Radiohead fans. Just too many favorites for too many reasons. So I’m just going to stick to 5 Radiohead songs that completely blew me away when I heard them, and try to explain why:
1) Paranoid Android– I think this is the first Radiohead song I actually sat up and took notice of. I love everything about OK Computer: its experimental vibe, its refusal to stick to one sound or another, and its extreme emotionality. Like the Beatles’ “Baby You’re a Rich Man” or “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, I would not be surprised if this song were a compilation of many half-finished tunes. What’s truly amazing is how seamlessly they interconnect, how effortlessly the song changes from driving melancholy to bitter satire to out-of-control megalomania, and then scoots back down to a chill numbness. It’s like listening to someone having a nervous breakdown, and short of stuff from Pink Floyd’s The Wall you just don’t hear this very much in pop/alt music.
2) Street Spirit (Fade Out)– Interestingly enough, Thom Yorke wrote this song but it’s so powerful and so sad even he denies credit for it. It encompasses the evils inherent in the world and our helplessness to stop it– as he put it, the devil wins in the end no matter what. The song, and his views on it, move me not just because of the subject matter, but because this is what art is for people like us. We see these horrible things that nobody else wants to look at, and we record them. The need to do so is somehow beautiful all on its own.
3) Idioteque– The nearly subliminal beat skipping and popping along like heavy rain; the synth organ, deep enough to creep into your bones and resonate along your nerves; Thom’s unearthly, panicked babbling, carrying an extreme sense of urgency and desperation. It’s a weird sort of contradiction, this song– a balance between everything will be all right/we’re all going to hell. Nobody really knows what the impact of human progress and consumption will be, what will happen when our time is up, or how much longer we even have, and the uncertainty is made more chilling with the near-certainty that whatever it is, whenever it is, it’s gonna be bad. We all know it, but we don’t all want to acknowledge it.
4) 15 Step– When In Rainbows came out after a long hiatus, nobody knew whether Radiohead were still going to be any good– not even the band itself. 15 Step is the perfect reassurance that Radiohead will always surprise and delight. Everything fits together expertly: the crunchy beat, Thom’s effortless ability to sing “around” it (as one of his bandmates puts it), and the expert guitar work that strings it all together in an exquisite chain. And the lyrics, my god. “You used to be all right– what happened? Etc, etc” as if he can’t even be arsed to articulate the rest. It’s really a song of frustration, but it’s so damn beautiful it never fails to make me happy.
5) A Wolf at the Door– I heard about the ‘flan in the face’ incident this song references before I heard the song, so understandably I loved this at first listen. This song is full of imagery that is coarse and raw and, at times, extremely aggressive, but the guitar’s simplistic tones sound strangely numb, like cotton stuck in the ears or the way a bad cold plugs you up. The beat and the lyrics skip along in this sort of singsong stream-of-consciousness way– perhaps more of Thom’s “etc,etc” vibe that implies we’ve all heard this a million times in our lives. In a way we’re all keeping the wolf from our door, trying to survive even though the world is often upside down and backwards and chews us up and spits us out.
I just saw tonight one of the most beautiful episodes of Doctor Who. Since it just aired Saturday in the UK I suppose there are some spoilers, but I wouldn’t be too worried since it is mainly a historical type episode and, like, everybody knows what happened to van Gogh. But still.