Radiohead's best songs are a combination of lyrics and music. In fact, it's often hard to separate the two. But as the band's confidence swelled during the making of 'OK Computer,' so did their flights of lyrical abstraction, which makes it hard to pinpoint the 10 Best Radiohead Lyrics. Their greatest tracks -- especially those on their trio of great albums about technological fear and breakdown -- pull and come together from various places. It's not always easy to figure out what they're saying, but these lyrics move us all the same.
"I'll drown my beliefs to have you be in peace / I'll dress like your niece and wash your swollen feet."
The only new song on the 2001 concert album 'I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings' dates back to 1995's 'The Bends.' It's a relatively simple love song by Thom Yorke, featuring ages-old sentiments about love, desire and loneliness. 'True Love Waits' is played solo and acoustic on 'I Might Be Wrong.' Its stark and forward delivery are striking to say the least.
"My thoughts are misguided and a little naive / I twitch and I salivate like with myxomatosis / You should put me in a home or you should put me down / ... No one likes a smart-ass, but we all like stars / That wasn't my intention / I did it for a reason."
Thom Yorke told Spin that this 'Hail to the Thief' cut was about "wishing that all the people who tell you that you're crazy were actually right. That would make life so much easier." The song's woozy rhythm plays along with the lyrical theme.
"I am the key to the lock in your house that keeps your toys in the basement / And if you get too far inside, you'll only see your reflection."
Like 'Myxomatosis' (see No. 9 on our list of the 10 Best Radiohead Lyrics), 'Climbing Up the Walls' uses mental illness as a launching point. But this 'OK Computer' track is more direct in its approach, especially as the music and narrator ("lock the kids up safe tonight") reach their breaking points.
"It's the devil's way now / There is no way out / You can scream and you can shout / It is too late now."
Thom Yorke has said that '2 + 2 = 5' (from the 2003 album 'Hail to the Thief') was inspired by the work of the Italian poet Dante. But its more obvious reference point is George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four,' which uses the phrase as a form of mind control. The song's lyrics ("don't question my authority") are definitely Orwellian in nature.
"Cook him up, squash his head, put him in the pot /
I want you to know he's not coming back / He's bloated and frozen / Still, there's no point in letting it go to waste."
Ewww ... is this 'Amnesiac' song about cannibalism? It sure sounds like it, and Thom Yorke has admitted to such occasionally. But given the themes of isolation and desolation that run through 'Kid A' and 'Amnesiac,' it could just as well be about modern man's inability to connect on even the most basic levels. Either way, yuck.
"This is my final fit, my final bellyache / With no alarms and no surprises."
The first song recorded for the monumental 'OK Computer' is all about another breaking point being reached (seems to be a recurring theme, one way or another, in our list of the 10 Best Radiohead Lyrics). The narrator of 'No Surprises' may have already reached the end (some fans have speculated it's about a suicide). Whatever the case, lines like the opening "a heart that's full up like a landfill" are far from hopeful.
'How to Disappear Completely'
"I'm not here / This isn't happening / I'm not here."
The refrain of this somber 'Kid A' track pretty much sums up the landmark 2000 album. It also recalls another of the record's key lines -- "This is really happening" -- from 'Idioteque' (see No. 3 on our list of the 10 Best Radiohead Lyrics). And, coupled with the other song, it serves as perfect example of the album's dichotomy. Another reason why 'Kid A' should be digested whole rather than in pieces.
"Ice age coming, throw him in that fire / We're not scaremongering / This is really happening."
One of 'Kid A''s most celebrated musical tracks also packs a lyrical punch that, along with it's somewhat companion piece 'How to Disappear Completely' (see No. 4 on our list of the 10 Best Radiohead Lyrics), sets up the album's apocalyptic theme of a technological breakdown. Much of the song's power comes from Thom Yorke's clipped delivery. But there's no escaping the force of that line.
"Karma police, arrest this man / He talks in maths / He buzzes like a fridge / He's like a detuned radio / Karma police, arrest this girl / Her Hitler hairdo is making me feel ill, and we have crashed her party."
'Karma Police' is all about big-corporation takeover of souls and spirit. And like the rest of 'OK Computer,' it puts up a good fight against it. There's some resignation here, possibly worn down in defeat after time. Then again, Thom Yorke has said the song was written as a joke. Ha.
"When I am king, you will be first against the wall with your opinion / Which is of no consequence at all."
'OK Computer''s musical centerpiece is also a lyrical showcase that, like its various rhythmic sections, shifts perspective during its twist-and-turn passages. In a way, 'Paranoid Android' ties together the album's overriding themes of isolation, paranoia and madness ... all underscored by the hint of violence lurking just below the surface.