My Top Ten – Radiohead

After the fun I’ve had with my first Top Ten on Air Guitar Classics, thanks to WordPress giving me a Freshly Pressed boost, and some great comments from readers, I wasn’t sure who to do next. I’ve settled on Radiohead because I probably listen to them more than anybody these days. I’ve been into their music ever since “The Bends”, which came out in 1995.  I remember when it did, they were compared to U2.  You wouldn’t say that now. Their music has become increasingly esoteric, but all the more interesting for it.  And in recent times they have made a few songs of quite exquisite beauty, which sound like the saddest songs in the world as well as the most beautiful.  So I find myself, in compiling this Ten, focusing on these later songs and in the process neglecting some of the earlier guitar anthems. They are all brilliant of course.  Picking ten songs from any favourite artist or band is, to some degree, arbitrary.  There may be two or three which are indisputably the favourites.  After that the choice becomes agonising. And it sure was for Radiohead. There is so  much that I love.

Anyway, on to the chart!

10. Lucky,  from OK Computer (1997)

Melancholy anthem with ironically happy theme.  Survives the air crash, etc. Builds slowly to a glorious climax. I grew to love this one partly because I worked out the chords on my guitar and love playing it. I can do a good Thom Yorke in the privacy of my bedroom!

9. Everything In Its Right Place, from Kid A (2000)

From those opening keyboard chords, this song has a mystery and a majesty. It drifts and billows and shimmers.  From Kid A, the album that marked Radiohead’s departure from rocktastic norms. And made them a truly great band.

8. Street Spirit (Fade Out), from The Bends (1995)

Achingly beautiful guitar and melody.  But like most Radiohead, when you listen properly to the lyrics, all is not what it seems.  This machine will not communicate… 

I love playing and singing this one (when there is no-one around!). Only three chords in my version: Am, Em, C. Amazing what those chords can create.

7. Karma Police, from OK Computer (1997)

That lovely acoustic guitar intro, the weird verses and then that massive chorus.  Live, it is amazing. Saw them in Hackney’s Victoria Park a few years ago. This was one of the highlights of one of the best shows I have ever seen. Heartstopping.

Favourite line: Karma Police, arrest this girl, her Hitler hairdo is making me feel ill…

6. Fake Plastic Trees, from The Bends (1995)

Wonderful melody with a hint of Bowie’s “Starman”. Brittle, flakey lyrics. Like a lot of early Radiohead, you have the acoustic bit and then it slowly builds to a lighter-waving climax. It’s a modern day hymn. Again, I love playing this one on the guitar.

5. Paranoid Android, from OK Computer (1997)

The signature tune from OK Computer, which has often been voted best album of all time in music mags.  I remember the first time I heard it on the radio.  It just blew me away. It’s Radiohead’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, with its distinct parts, a mini symphony. And when it rocks it just blows the house down. There is a case for this being No1.

4. The National Anthem, from Kid A (2000)

What I most love about this tune is the immense bass line at the start and the complete jazz wig-out at the end. An unbelievably powerful tune.  Haunting, and in your face.

3. Give Up The Ghost, from King Of Limbs (2011)

I accept this might be the effect of recentness. Is it really my third best Radiohead tune? Will it be in five years time? Actually, it could be No1 by then. It’s one of two unbelievably beautiful tunes on King Of Limbs.  There’s an intense sadness in the sound which you could either call depressing or uplifting. I go for the latter. This song moves me in a completely spiritual way.

2. Codex, from King Of Limbs (2011)

For me, the companion to Give Up The Ghost. If anything, even sadder, with a deep piano motif to draw you in. And Thom Yorke’s voice so tender, achingly beautiful. So directly from the soul. I feel the tears welling every time I listen to this. But in a good way. The power of music…

1. Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi, from In Rainbows (2007)

To be the number one Radiohead song has to make it one of the greatest songs ever.  In my book Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi is just that. There’s a beautiful plucked guitar running through it which sounds to me like a mountain stream flowing through the forest. The purity, the glistening water, the bubbling flow.  And then Thom’s voice, again so tender, so wistful. This is musical ecstasy.

The lyrics, as ever, confuse and delight – the essential Radiohead, beauty and opacity combined.

Hear my Top Ten on Spotify  TFW510 – Radiohead

Just missed the boat: pretty much every song from The Bends and In Rainbows for a start.  The latter I rank as my favourite Radiohead album these days, even though only one track makes the Top Ten. Close calls for House of Cards and Reckoner. From The Bends, the title track, Bones, Iron Lung, Planet Telex, Black Star and High and Dry are all magnificent. The Bends is Radiohead’s great rock album. No Surprises from OK Computer and Idioteque from Kid A came close too. Pyramid Song and Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box, from Amnesiac (2001) are cool, and Nude from In Rainbows is another song of intense beauty.  I could go on…

If you read this, I’d love to hear what you think.

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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6 Responses to My Top Ten – Radiohead

  1. Good choices, an interesting top 3- not the usual picks. I did a similar list a while back: http://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/my-top-45-radiohead-songs/
    still working my way through other bands to make further lists.

    • John S says:

      That is an epic blog Carlos! Dashing out, but will read in detail later. How come you stopped at 45? Noticed quite a few B sides and Pablo Honey cuts in there. Following you now.

      • Cool. No reason for the 45, or some of the other odd numbers on my other lists. I basically just went through each album and the b-sides, picked my absolute favourites, and out popped 45 tracks! Thanks for the follow!

  2. Todd says:

    Nice list John! Personally, I have been a little worn on The Bends as of late. I recently just listened to the entire Radiohead discography, and found myself a bit bored with it. I don’t really know why, it is a great album. I think Hail to the Thief and Amnesiac both get overlooked quite a bit. There, There, 2+2=5, and Wolf at the Door in particular from Hail, as well as You and Whose Army? and Life in a Glass House from Amnesiac are all favorites of mine. Nonetheless I like your list quite a bit. Especially your top 5!

  3. John S says:

    Thanks Todd, and I agree with you on Amnesiac etc. You’ve got to give them more time, but they have some real depth. Getting into the Top Ten though – the competition is hot! My top three or five would have been very different a couple of years ago, but I am so taken with those two tunes from “King of Limbs”. I’m enjoying LBL as always.

  4. Pingback: Radiohead at the O2 Arena, London, 9 October | Thoughtsfromwestfive

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