There may be no band more divisive than Radiohead. Die-hard fans will go to their graves adamant that Thom Yorke & co are the greatest thing to ever happen to pop; those against declare that they would rather self-immolate than give Kid A a full listen.
In my view, the truth is found somewhere between those two wildly polarised views. Radiohead are simply a band making relatively complex and experimental pop music – and they happen to be my favourite one.
As a long-standing fan, I have put up with a lot of condemnation and one criticism is more popular than any other: that they’re fucking miserable. Well, I can’t sit here and tell you that Radiohead write songs like ‘MMMBop’ or ‘Wannabe’. If that’s what you’re after, you’re looking in the wrong place.
However, those disparaging down-in-the-mouth nineties Radiohead don’t realise that I, like a lot of fans, would agree with that assessment of the band’s breakthrough work.
While the music and media industries propagate the myth that Radiohead peaked with their single-heavy early releases, their first three albums are in actual fact the band’s most disposable: full of unimaginative, predictable and exhausted guitar-driven pap. If OK Computer came out now I’d fully expect EMI to successfully market it using the #firstworldproblems hashtag.
The interesting, colourful stuff started on Kid A and has been forthcoming pretty much ever since. With that in mind, here is a fanboy’s selection of the ten best Radiohead songs.
10 - ‘Feral’ [The King of Limbs – 2011]
A lifelong fan of electronic music, Thom Yorke has made a habit of stating that “tunes are dead: rhythm is everything”. Sadly, fans had to wait a long time for him to turn words into deeds. Easily the most danceable song in Radiohead’s back catalogue, ‘Feral’ was The King of Limbs’ cut-out-and-keep track.
9 - ‘Kid A’ [Kid A – 2000]
Radiohead at their most experimental: heavily processed computer garble that couldn’t be further from pop monstrosities like ‘Creep’ and ‘High & Dry’. The live version is surprisingly upbeat – one of the highlights of any gig at which it gets an airing.
8 - ‘Where I End and You Begin’ [Hail to the Thief – 2003]
An album track so rich that it would have been any other band’s lead single. I use the live version below because Jonny Greenwood’s work with the ondes Martenot is absolutely brilliant.
7- ‘Identikit’ [unreleased]
I bet you never thought you’d hear Radiohead aping mid-nineties bubblegum R&B. Well, these days they do – and it works.
6 - ‘Dollars & Cents’ [Amnesiac – 2001]
Amnesiac often gets a bad rep in the press – “an accompaniment to Kid A”, so the story goes – but it’s a record that deserves a more prominent place in the Radiohead canon. The focus on technology that created such a unique vacuum on Kid A is replaced by something more organic but equally arresting. ‘Dollars & Cents’ is oblique, uncompromising and antagonistic: everything Radiohead are at their best.
5 - ‘Reckoner’ [In Rainbows – 2007]
“Our love and peace tune,” in Yorke’s words, and in my opinion the highlight of In Rainbows. The swell of the lush strings two-thirds of the way through the track is probably the band’s most beautiful moment.
4 - ‘Idioteque’ [Kid A]
In a way, Kid A has a lot to answer for. Record companies desperate to repeat the unit-shifting success of The Bends signed a slew of blandly earnest imitation acts because the band that made it all possible went off on a tangent and took me with them. While the A&R men were listening to soppy bollocks like Coldplay and Keane, I was listening to the apocalyptic electronica of ‘Idioteque’. One of life’s small victories.
3 - ‘Myxomatosis’ [Hail to the Thief]
If this song had a wallet, it would be the one that says ‘Bad Mother Fucker’.
2 - ‘There There’ [Hail to the Thief]
It was tempting to post the live version below – these days the track is played with four drummers – but the studio version’s understated menace edges it out. Clearly inspired by krautrock Gods Can and Neu!, but if you’re going to rip off anyone it might as well be Can and Neu!.
1 - ‘The National Anthem’ [Kid A]
To me, the definitive Radiohead song. Otherworldly, ambiguous and dominated by rhythm, ‘The National Anthem’ is simultaneously a great pop track and a post-rock masterpiece. A totally different beast live when compared to its studio recording, I choose the former for the twirling interplay between Ed O’Brien’s guitar and Jonny Greenwood’s ondes Martenot.
For more Radiohead fanboyism, follow Rob on Twitter: @robbro7