Top 10 Radiohead SongsEdit
Yes, Radiohead's catalogue is interesting and diverse enough to merit a top ten with writeups. This is a band of consistency, if nothing else, so the top ten songs by them are all held in high regard, and many more could make the list and not look entirely out of place. This is one of those bands that, on B8 at least, cannot be discussed by anyone without hastily thrown together rankings and inequalities about the songs, albums, band members, or Jonny Greenwood's ten fingers. I'm partial to his right ring finger myself, but this isn't about that. This is about an objective look at their songs. I say objective because I mean objective. Because I can do that. To the write-ups!
10. Sail to the Moon
This is the third track off of the Hail to the Thief album, often criticized for having weak sections. Well, this is the strongest point on the album in my opinion. It's very ethereal and bluesy, without being overtly depressing. That's one of the things Radiohead does best: creating a certain mood or feeling that you can't quite put your finger on. The piano lines are creepy, the guitar serves to characterize the song, and the small break right after "sailed on shooting stars" is amazing. The vocals are haunting and the lyrics compliment the soundscape well enough. It's a classic slow, drawling, haunting Radiohead song. I think it brings a lot of character to the album it's on, although I tend to hold this track in higher regard than most people do. See for yourself if you like it.
9. Exit Music (For a Film)
Many people were introduced to this song by Baz Luhrman's "Romeo and Juliet", as this song was played during the credits. It was written specifically about Romeo and Juliet for the movie, hence the title so unimaginative that it somehow fits. Anyways, this song is incredibly cold and depressing, what Radiohead tends to be known for. The gaunt vocals/acoustic guitar set up the perfect dreary mood for the rest of the outing. In the second verse, a kind of dark synth choir joins the singer's sorrow, along with what is rumored to be a loop of a blackbox recording from a crashed plane. Then the drums enter with a lunatic bass and a string section that resembles a russian dirge. Finally, they all break out into a frenzy for the climactic: "Now we are one in everlasting peace". The song closes with the off-color sentiment "we hope that you choke", repeated enough to make you question the singer's mental health. This song could be considered perfection, as everything about it (lyrics, vocal/instrumental performance, instrumentation, arrangement) seems to work to it's fullest, with no excesses or shortcomings to be found. Truly one of the best, and anybody with a knack for minor key misery should be able to appreciate this.
8. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
This is a standout track from the most recent album, In Rainbows. It was one of the first of the newest batch of songs to be revealed, originally as an orchestral piece with vocals. On tour the band turned it into a rocker, and on the album we got to hear a nice median between the two popular versions. The word "Arpeggi" literally refers to what the guitars are doing in this track (arpeggiating). If you listen cloesly, you can hear that some members of the band are playing their lines in different time signatures than one another. This creates a disorienting effect that makes it hard to follow. Instead of being able to predict and keep track of everything that's going on, you may find yourself getting lost in a sea of sound, which is precisely what Radiohead intended with this track: an underwater ethos. To me it sounds like the sound is coming out of speakers from beyond the other side of an aquarium. Of course, it'd be hard to miss the lyrical references to the ocean and "weird fishes", but in this case the instrumentation does a perfect job of speaking for itself. And then there's all that buildup of noise and chaos until the singer reaches the bottom and escapes. The great thing about this track is that you can intepret it as a song of hope or a song of death, or anything and it adds a different flavor to it. It may sound nerdy, but I like to listen to the song from a different angle every time and try to see how much I can get out of it. It's only grown on me, too.
7. Climbing up the Walls
Coming in at no. 7 is possibly the creepiest song in the Radiohead arsenal. Dark synth bass sounds and heavily altered vocals serve to make this a perfect one to weird out your friends and disgust the ladies. It's just dark, dark, dark to the max. Even the least dark part musically is marred by "Either way you turn, I'll be there. Open up your skull, I'll be there, climbing up the walls." Awesome performance by all band members here, and who can't love the bassline? IT really defines the song, and you should know by now that I love songs with character. Well, this one's got it in spades. The scream at the end feels so honest, it's just breathtaking. In my opinion (goes without saying), this really takes vocal performance to a higher level. This is track 9 on the album OK Computer, and it's the climax of this song is really just the climax of the entire album before it goes into it's three-track resignation. It deserves to be too, it's one of the most powerful things they've done.
6. The National Anthem
Aww yeah, the first overtly jazzy song on the list. Again, another crazy-awesome bassline drives the whole song here (not to mention the fantastic drumming), but what makes the song work is the ondes martenot played by Jonny Greenwood. It's an archaic instrument that looks like a keyboard, but lets the player waver their finger with some kind of apparatus (I don't know that much about it) in order to control microtonal effects. Or something like that. Whatever he does works, because it makes the spaciest damn sound I've ever heard. A lot of people don't see it this way, but I like to think the song is about alien abduction. I can just hear it in the music for some reason. The lyrics are nearly nonsensical (Everyone is so near, everyone has got the fear, it's holding on. wtf?), as they were supposedly picked out of a hat for the entire album (Kid A). Anyways, the song definitely evokes some kind of destruction or incident, especially with the chaotic horn section, which also makes this song into some mutant form of free jazz. The live version above just further exemplifies this, as Thom tends to jump around and 'spaz out' the entire time (and coincidentally, adds scat vocals on some performances). This was definitely a succesful "expirement", as far as songwriting goes. It's so primal and chaotic that I just want to dance around whenever I hear it. Definietly some crazy alien **** right here. This IS alien music.
5. Street Spirit (Fade Out)
This is one of the first songs of Radiohead's I caught on to. The simple arpeggio of simple chords (Am - Em - C) is just so effective, no matter how complicated I tend to like music to be. Maybe it's just becuase the do it the way it's supposed to be done, instead of hamming it up and sounding epicly ridiculous like most bands would if they had wrote the song. Thom's voice is really quite haunting, and it's the only kind that can pull off this kind of simple minor key stuff really well without making it into some stupid, overdone 80's power ballad (see The Darkness's cover of the song). Anyways, it's really dark sounding and ghostly. For three chords (okay, two uses of G at the very end make it four), they juice a lot of power out of them. And some of the vocal notes seem to drag on forever (a Radiohead trademark), putting Thom's deathly voice to work. As the first Radiohead song I really liked, this was not something I was used to in my music. It caught me though, and damn hard. For me this was like reaching a new level of honesty of music (go ahead, laugh). I can't really explain this one, it just gets me. It also has what I still believe is the best music video ever, so that can't hurt. When I saw this for the first time (about 5 years ago), I think it started to get me to think that music really could be fine art and not just background noise. So this one gets 5th for changing my musical opinion, and it's still a great song today that will send chills up the spine at times. Immerse your soul in love!
4. Life in a Glass House
Aw yeah, another jazzy Radiohead song. This time the closer from "Amnesiac", almost an odd one out from the rest of that album's songlist. The jazz piano is just so badass, and the whole mood of the song for some reason just does not seem like regular Radiohead to me. I guess it's the trumpets and flute. The verses are swingin, the chorus is BAMF, and the drive into Thom yelling "only" for half a minute is a gorgeous climax to a strange and cold album that really needed it. Yeah, this song really hit me because of the context of the album it's on. If I had first heard it on the "Radiohead's most overtly jazzy tunes" compilation, I might not have noticed it much. But for some reason, the counterpoint with the rest of the album tends to give this one all the room it needs to make a name for itself and blow you away when you hear it. It's like eating a bunch of TV dinner chicken crap, and then finally eating that delicious brownie at the end. No offense to the rest of the album, becuase I love it dearly. It's just different is all. And this track is just indescribably badass enough to rank it above all the other depressing crap so far.
3. All I Need
Alright, so guess what. I don't even have any special ties to the lyrics on this one. But with a song so beautiful and supreme, who cares! This is musically pretty much my favorite thing from them right now. The bass is perfect, the drums are perfect, the glock is perfect, the vocals are perfect, the climax is the best they have. Period. The actual songwriting and arrangement is just amazing. When that climax hits, it really just takes me to a higher place where I start to believe that Thom Yorke is some kind of god or advanced alien creature for creating sound so perfect. It's just friggen enigmatic. This song is like perfectly in tune with my brain waves or some crazy **** like that. I really don't know how to describe what it makes me feel. Just....so awesome. Listen to it now!
2. Let Down
Okay, so now that I got my current song infatuation out of the way, we move on to the top 2. Don't watch the video above, just let the music play! Let Down is the third enty on this list from OK Computer, and it appears right after Exit Music on that album. Once again the band is in different time signatures (guitars/voice in 5/4, drums/bass in 4/4). The effect, as mentioned before, has that quality of making the song instantly ethereal and difficult to follow. It's almost gimmicky how they do this, but it's so clever and hard to pull off that I can't help but only appreciate it. I don't know what key this song is in (something in A I presume), but it's just gorgeous the way this songs flows around like a waterfall. The lyrics are my favorite from Radiohead (One day I am going to grow wings). Yeah, it sounds a bit sappy, but who cares. The song is about wanting to morph like a bug into a more perfect creature, or perhaps something that has greater range of emotion. That's a better way to put it. Wanting to feel more emotion than can be felt. I've also heard interpretations that the computerized sounds at the end represent computers trying to replicate all the emotion of such a song, but they can't do it because they can't convey emotion, so all the notes (while in the right key) sound too robotic and contain no value. It's kind of a depressing, but I believe it's a perfect interpretation. So the song is about humans, computers, bugs and greater emotion. It's a rather simple concept, but brilliantly executed. I love this song's emotion.
1. Like Spinning Plates
Back to the creepy songs, eh? Yeah, this is the oddest thing I've ever heard. The songs origin is worth mentioning: It actually started as a Radiohead song (I Will) played backwards. The band heard the reverse of I Will and decided it actually sounded better that way, so they wrote out some new lyrics and set out to record it. But, staying true to the songs origin, they decided to play the song backwards in the studio (meaning they played the chord changes and arrangement for I WIll, but with different instrumentation). Even the vocals were recorded backwards meaning Thom Yorke had to learn how to sing the phonetics...backwards. He's that dedictated to an idea. Anyways, they play what will become "Like Spinning Plates" backwards, and then in the studio simply reverse the track, creating the song you hear in the youtube like. I think it creates the coolest mother****** effect ever. Some think it's incredibly pretentious and self-indulgent, I think the idea is so damn genius that I can't even bring myself to care if it's masturbatory. Music is about the sound that comes out of the speakers, so if it sounds good, I like it. And damn, does this sound good. Everything coming out backwards is the weirdest thing, especially the vocals and wild bass (trust me, it's a bass, I've played the song backwards). The singing sounds like it's coming from the damn devil himself: the words are there but the pronounciation is inhuman. Literally. Beyond concept, the lyrics are good enough and the music is actually amazing (try listening to the live version - it's a trip). I can see why they stayed dedicated to this one, becuase as a raw song it might have made the top ten. But with such an awesome concept behind it (I'm not even going to go into the possible symbolizm of it), it gets no. 1 easy.
Well, someone better give me some indie cred for this. My pretentious-level must be through the roof! Yes, I overuse ridiculous alliteration and specified descriptive words, but I have to write SOMETHING to get my musical opinions across. I just love the band so much! And so should you, because they are awesome! Or at least check out a few of the youtube links to see if you like anything (hrmph, which you should).