10 Best Radiohead Songs
When Radiohead's debut single, 'Creep,' came out in 1992, it seemed to be just another self-deprecating guitar-powered song from a bunch of upstart indie rockers. But with their 1995 sophomore album 'The Bends,' the band began one of the longest and greatest streaks of significant records from the past quarter century. In the past two decades, they heavily dosed themselves in electronics, played around with some funky time signatures and revolutionized the music industry by making and releasing records on their own terms. They've become more complex over the years, but no less interesting. Our list of the 10 Best Radiohead Songs follows a similar path.
Snobs complain that Radiohead's debut single is not at all representative of what the band is capable of. In fact, they usually sniff their noses at 'Creep''s inclusion in lists of the 10 Best Radiohead Songs. But it's a critical song in their career, and not just because it's their first single. It's also the moment where they learned that they didn't have to play to anyone's expectations.
Radiohead released their seventh album as a pay-what-you-want download, and it forever changed the way independently minded artists would control their music. 'In Rainbow''s best song is a sonic dreamscape that folds into itself before finally, and completely, slipping into the heart of darkness that drives it.
Radiohead's second album set their working template for the next decade — all atmospheric build-up washing over Thom Yorke's equally moody vocals. 'Street Spirit (Fade Out),' the record's final (and unconventional) single, is a taste of what was to come. Namely, the conceptual tone of their 1997 masterpiece, 'OK Computer.'
Like many of the songs on the band's terrific sixth album, the lead single, 'There There,' marked a return to more guitar-based rock after the experimental electronic elements of 'Kid A' and 'Amnesiac.' But make no mistake: The tripping 'There There' is steeped in krautrock mechanics that occasionally reveal a human pulse.
Radiohead's third album, 'OK Computer,' was called a masterpiece from almost the moment it was released, but only one of its songs received a substantial amount of airplay (and even that couldn't help it crack the modern rock Top 10). Still, 'Karma Police' is one of the record's highlights, a tongue-in-cheek ego check by a band slipping into legend.
'The Bends' was a mere setup for 'OK Computer.' Taking the basic foundations of their second album, Radiohead embraced their artsy side for LP number three — layering sounds upon sounds, injecting the music with electronic rattles and hums and piling on abstract imagery. It's gorgeous, distancing and positively brilliant. 'Let Down' is all that, plus one of the album's warmest melodies and performances.
The opening song on the band's fifth album arrives like a warning shot, a signal that something radically different is on the way. Featuring just a drum machine, electric piano and Yorke's manipulated voice, 'Everything in Its Right Place' — strung together by random words — announces Radiohead's electronic era like a prophet from the future. It's as exciting as it is disorienting.
A total turn from the somewhat generic 'Creep' (see No. 10 on our list of the 10 Best Radiohead Songs), the first single from the band's second album begins their search for identity. It's one of the loveliest songs to come out of the mid-'90s alt-rock boom, a meditation on artificiality in the real world. It's the moment where Yorke and Radiohead found their voice.
No singles were released from Radiohead's landmark fourth album, but it includes many of their best tracks (see No. 4 on our list of the 10 Best Radiohead Songs). The mind-blowing 'Idioteque' is all skittering digital beats that barely can keep up with the rest of the song, while incorporating a pair of computer-based music samples from the '70s. There are no guitars, lyrics that were pieced together randomly and a sense that the world will never be the same.
The centerpiece of Radiohead's best album is a three-part, six-and-a-half-minute suite that's as tricky and complex as anything found in 1970s prog. It shifts from one movement to the next without breaking form — a monumental achievement from a band hounded by 'Creep' only a few years earlier (see No. 10 on our list of the 10 Best Radiohead Songs). 'Paranoid Android' is epic, ambitious and a sprawling, defining moment in the band's illustrious career.