I know Radiohead's most recent album, The King of Limbs, was "sooo two months ago", but in light of all the mixed reviews its been getting and the recent attention the band has been receiving, I thought it would be fitting to make a list of my favorite Radiohead songs of all time. I can't say, after making this list, that I understand any better how The King of Limbs fits in the grand scheme that is the Radiohead discography, but oh well. Oh and by the way, I don't claim to be a Radiohead expert or even the world's biggest fan; these are the ones that have stuck with me the longest.
While a lot of "hardcore" Radiohead fans tend to overtook their most popular single of all time behind, I find "Creep" to be a great representation of how even from very early on, Radiohead was able to write music that resonated with listeners in a very special way. After seeing a cover of the song sung by a choir in the trailer for the recent film, Social Network, it became so very clear to me that there was something significant about the way this band would come to inhabit the voice of an entire generation of people entangled in issues of self-image, individuality, and alienation.
9. High and Dry
If you listen to this one up against the other songs on the list, you'll find its pretty striking how much Radiohead has changed their sound. A single off their second 1995 alternative rock album, The Bends, "High and Dry" represents the best of Radiohead's more mainstream pop/rock sound and is a good reminder of how good the band once was at this sound.
8. Let Down
The big single off of OK Computer, "Let Down", saw Radiohead mastering their new experimental rock sound and perfectly combining it with the mainstream rock sound of The Bends, their previous album. "Let Down" was just the kind of anthem that the band needed to boost them into the stratosphere of global popularity and stadium rock stardom. Plus, the cute, sine wave tinkles at the end of the album are a naive, but cordial prophecy of the electronic experimentation of Kid A that was just around the corner.
7. Paranoid Android
This incredibly strange track off OK Computer shows off Radiohead's bizarre harmonic language that shows off the band's uncanny use of traditionally non-pop chord progressions and key changes. Taking cues from progressive rock and the late Beatles albums, this multi-sectional song had just enough dark sonic exploration and explosive electric guitar fuzz to win over fans from all sides of the "rock" spectrum.
6. House of Cards
Who honestly knew Radiohead still had this side of them around? This often overlooked, reverb-laden track off of In Rainbows, has got to be one of the most simple songs Radiohead has ever released. Its soaring melody, love affair-themed lyrics, and simple production makes this one my favorite "ballad" (if you want to call it that) by Radiohead and shows that for all Radiohead's contrived instrumentation and pretentious lyrical ideas, they can still write a simple love song and pull it off with a convincing amount of tenderness.
This more "classic Radiohead" sounding, track off of Kid A is often seen as the one misnomer in the Kid A album. Whereas the rest of album retreats from incredibly popular sound that the band achieved on their previous record, OK Computer, "Optimistic" finds a lot of overlapping ground with it. Featuring a full-fledged rock band Fortunately, Optimistic is simply too good have been left off a Radiohead album and features just enough lyrical and sonic experimentation to fit in well enough on the album while at the same time giving older fans something to hold on to.
Only after three albums of electronic experimentation could Radiohead be free to release such tracks like Reckoner of pure, simple, unrestrained beauty. In "Reckoner", a track off of In Rainbows, we are again reminded of how sweet and powerful Thom Yorke's haunting falsetto vocals truly are. Yorke's long sweeping melodies contrast up against the assorted percussion from the rest of the band and culminate in a beautiful drop-out bridge section, only to return to the previous section with layered strings and percussion in the arsenal.
This one is the crown of Kid A and perhaps the climax of the album as a whole. Using the sounds of house and techno beats to drive the unnerving post-apocalyptic tension in this track, Idioteque is the prime example of what I would call Kid A's thematic emphasis on 'digital anxiety'. The beautiful chorus melody contrasts starkly with the ghostly atmospheric noises and hollow drum machines and making Idioteque land somewhere between a dance song not meant for dancing and a rock song without any real instruments. However you classify it, it's straight up genius and that's before hearing the energetic live versions that made turned it into a fan favorite.
The opening distorted electric guitar notes that begin "Airbag" and OK Computer are truly representative of the more experimental rock genre in which they were headed as well as the lyrical ideas of the album. While not a true concept album, OK Computer dealt quite directly with issues of consumerism, alienation, industry, and apocalypse and "Airbag" opens with these evocative lyrics: "In the next world war/In a jackknifed juggernaut"/I am born again" and "In an interstellar burst/I am back to save the universe". People have linked the 1997 album to the millIt was all of a sudden very clear that Radiohead's era of soul-searching and personal lyricism was over and they were entering into the strange, mysterious ground of concept.
1. Everything in Its Right Place
Okay, so I guess I'm a sucker for album openers. To me, this first track off of Kid A is not only my favorite Radiohead song, it was also the face of the new sound Radiohead wanted to project with their shocking, new electronic sound in Kid A. The smooth electronic organ, the strange vocal manipulations, and the uniquely Radiohead harmonic language just perfectly sums up the band for doing what they are best at: constantly redefining what it means to be a rock band in our ever-changing cultural landscape through beautiful musical experimentation and masterful songwriting.