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“Dolby’s Top 50 Radiohead Songs”

Can you believe I met someone around 2001 who didn’t think Radiohead was going to go down as a “legendary” band one day?
Well, 2001, 2018 is not, and I think we’re all in general consensus that we’re dealing with one of the best here. It’s the only group of musical whities I know of besides perhaps The Beatles to be covered by musicians of color on multiple different occasions (see the Easy Street All-Stars’ “Radiodread” installment of their reggae covers series, as well as jazz musician Robert Glasper’s take on “Reckoner”). And of course there is the great story relayed by cokemachineglow.com about the fist fight breaking out over an argument about what the time signature was in “Pyramid Song.” He**, I got an A+ in Music Theory and I’ve never even fully attempted to figure it out. I think I tried for like four seconds one time and got a migraine.
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Addenda: TKOL RMX 1234567
As you might have guessed from the yawn-draped critical reception of 2011’s The King of Limbs, it’s not exactly a career benchmark in Thom Yorke’s songwriting dominance. Nonetheless, it is an undeniably percussive Radiohead album, and there is something to be said for that especially as we see it morph into the modulation of TKOL RMX 1234567, which sh** it might be BETTER than The King of Limbs… I’m not entirely sure that it matters… let’s remember this is Caribou’s crazy period so anything can happen there. Either way, the RMX definitely flew under the radar for not being a conventional “Radiohead album,” but in hindsight we see how the subjective rudiments of this era in all things ‘head definitely called for it, or at least allowed for it. The specific one I stumbled on on Spotify was “Bloom (Harmonic 313 remix)” and found it a moderate improvement over the original. Are we RIDIN’ Radiohead too much? Probably. Yeah, I’m ok with it too.
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50 “Life in a Glasshouse” (Amnesiac)
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For a band to be as good as Radiohead, it at least doesn’t hurt for the lead singer’s voice to carry a sort of preternatural, primal reflection of the strategic objective that the band with their music should eventually try to achieve — in light of this, though, “Life in a Glasshouse” is still as deliberate as it is crystallized, and the message remains clear: depict the incredible emotional sparseness prevalent in Britain in Radiohead’s own post-Britpop temporality.
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49 “Bloom” (The King of Limbs)
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I’ll admit to having kind of missed the boat on The King of Limbs when it came out — my tastes were so saturated with the Four Tets and Flying Lotuses of the world that it hardly seemed necessary, but the album’s opener does combust forth with these sort of different percussive moods as well as a killer ethereal string/horn session.
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48 “The Bends” (The Bends)
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For all I know this song might, deep down in my subconscious, actually be my favorite Radiohead song, and I just can’t bring myself to admit that for all my affection toward “Life in a Glasshouse” and “The Tourist,” I actually consider them a mid-‘90s rock stylistic also-ran, which I guess at this point in their careers they were. Anyway, for the record, he doesn’t say “The planet is engulfed in a sea of fear / And we like it”, as I’d thought he did, for a further feather in its cap.
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47 “Morning Bell/Amnesiac” (Amnesiac)
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Wow, this song is just PURE foggy, rainy South Bend mornings to me — it’s so good and ethereal it seems to almost summon up a new kind of sewer-dwelling species, one of which doesn’t of course ENJOY its identity as a scavenger, but whose displeasure is greatly mollified by said imaginary species’ voluminousness and uniformity.
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46 “Ripcord” (Pablo Honey)
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Is this that song that everybody hates, despite the fact that it’s exactly like “How Do You?” It must be, since I didn’t see it anywhere on the Spotty Dotty search results when I looked up “Pablo Honey.” The intro reminds of Living Things’ – “New Year,” which… oop… that’s another song everybody hates. Eh, fu** it.
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45 “Let down” (OK Computer)
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Here is where my lateness in getting into A Moon Shaped Pool really gets me — because if I’d been on it from the start (he** if they wouldn’t have slopped that atrocious rehash “True Love Waits” on there I might have really usurped it), I could totally play that card against the nauseating 20th anniversary buzz over OK Computer which had the online moguls making nauseating quips like “For a minute there I lost myself” before the band trudged poker-faced through an obligatory 2017 ham-up of “Karma Police.” Anyway, this is the song on OK Computer everybody likes, and I kinda like it too.
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44 “Little by Little” (The King of Limbs)
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I like the loose, aerated guitar work that flanks this whole project incessantly, sort of presaging the hypnotic techniques which would surface on their next album on songs like “Desert Island Disk,” where of course the roots-rock-and-roll silhouette would really branch out, maybe more so than we’ve ever seen with the band to date.
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43 “Like Spinning Plates” (live) (I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings)
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It’s important to demarcate that I am actually referring to the live version here, in specifics, and not the installment featured on Amnesiac, as on the live version there is some beautiful piano work being purveyed, in addition to Thom Yorke actually sounding, you know, like a PERSON. That never hurts.
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42 “Morning Mr Magpie” (The King of Limbs)
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Riding what is perhaps a less than stellar chorus (it rides it like a trike), “Morning Mr. Magpie still has that signature King of Limbs trippiness with percussion checking in and out as if self-unaware, the automated and therefore ironically natural “limb” of the overall Radiohead animal.
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41 “I Will.” (No man’s Land.) (Hail to the Thief)
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And I must submit here that the really handy-dandy version is the one on the original album of 1:59, and not the stupid elongated rendition which seemed to be the only one I could find on Youtube the last time I looked. “I Will” is a little short. That’s ok: it’s a dashing little ballad about a “Little baby’s eyes”, doing every bit of justice to that very phenomenon.
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40 “Scatterbrain.” (As Dead as Leaves.) (Hail to the Thief)
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I have to say Hail to the Thief is an album I kind of claim as MINE, like a little brother or something, partly I guess because I was in college when it came out and was definitely adamantly anti-George W. Bush. “Scatterbrain,” of all things, on a protest album from one of the dorkiest bands in history, is quintessentially COOL, jazzy but rounded guitar riffs from latte-sipping amps just filling the dark, gloomy autumn air, where other projects like “Myxomatosis” can just come off forced or robotic.
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39 “Knives out” (Amnesiac)
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I don’t just like Amnesiac because everybody hates it. I could see some teacher like maybe making me write that 50 times on a chalkboard or something. Anyway, “Knives out” is about as Amnesiac as it gets — unorthodox phrasing, pitch intervals so lugubrious they go a bit BEYOND simple minor chords, and of course a classic Thom Yorke line about the disgusting aspects of simple food-chain mastication. Yup, it’s got it all.
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38 “Backdrifts.” (Honeymoon is Over.) (Hail to the Thief)
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This is where Hail to the Thief branches into psych-rock territory all the way, sort of riding that effects pedal all the way through for a solid B+ song. Sequentially, Hail to the Thief is an arbiter here, pitting classic rock against jazz with all the requisite tension.
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37 “Exit Music (for a Film)” (OK Computer)
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The Smiths have this song “Rubber Ring” with this opening stanza “A sad fact widely known / The most passionate songs to the lonely souls / Are so easily outgrown”… and I hate to say it but “Exit Music (for a Film)” sort of has the INKLINGS of that phenomenon about it, in addition to all the customary excessive chatter surrounding this album (which I wish would precipitate more LISTENING to it). But anyway, it’s terse, and poignant, in its own way, if perhaps a bit teenager-ey.
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36 “Idioteque” (Kid A)
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Oh, self-mockery. I think we’re living in the age thereof, a fact which should have been evident when I looked up in downtown Denver and saw a dude in a Cat in the Hat costume smiling straight at ME. He was jiggling his hand around, like he had something in it, although I didn’t see anything. Maybe all of this isn’t important. Or maybe it is. Oh yeah, this is a bona fide “club” song the rhetoric of which is clearly anti-club. Yeah, there’s a reason why I like Amnesiac better.
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35 “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief” (A Moon Shaped Pool)
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I think here, along with the incessant kick drum of which you basically hear purely feedback and no actual body, we have somewhat of the cursed, age-old British accent quandary. Actually, he reminds me of Liars’ Angus Andrew on “No Tree No Branch,” where he seems to lose himself a bit and start pronouncing words more provincially, as if he’s really indulging in mind in his conception of the blues music that inspired him. Anyway, it endears, finely capping off A Moon Shaped Pool (yeah I still hate “True Love Waits”).
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34 “Planet Telex” (The Bends)
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This is a great The Bends opener here: I have a distinct memory of starting out this album on a train ride in high school and just thinking, man, they really nailed it. This band is really underrated. Keep in mind, this was 1999 or so.
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33 “I Might Be Wrong” (Amnesiac)
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This song has an interesting sort of myth about it in that it spawned the name of the band’s 2001 live album and it was the fave Radiohead track of this one punk chick I used to work with. Sorry, I probably have an excessive fixation on everyday people. I should really ask, like, Jared Leto what his favorite Radiohead song is.
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32 “Desert Island Disk” (A Moon Shaped Pool)
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Is A Moon Shaped Pool SLEEPING? Moon Shaped Pool, you sleepin’ again? Drop and gimme 20! I have to say this is the point on this album where the whole thing is so laid back it should be illegal: it’s like an epidemic of this magical kind of opioids that never wear off. Never was an album more deserving of a song title “Soma,” no disrespect meant to Smashing Pumpkins or The Strokes.
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31 “Creep” (Pablo Honey)
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Radiohead biographer Tim Footman had an interesting take on defining the term “creep”: he pegged it as an individual with low self-esteem. In general, sometimes I feel bad for British rock artists in general because with their accents they sort of have an uphill battle (think Roger Waters, definitely), and it certainly doesn’t help that when Thom Yorke calls himself a “weirdo” it sounds like “widow.” I don’t think anyone names “Creep” as their favorite Radiohead song, but no one dislikes it either, I don’t think, and it is the one that put them on the map in their early days.
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30 “Climbing up the Walls” (OK Computer)
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There’s something that happens, I think, to just about every person between about the ages of 16 and 23 — you stop living purely on your time and you taste the spite of others, which is where fighting either comes in, or it doesn’t. “Climbing up the Walls” is a song I found abhorrent at a young age but came around to (perhaps not quite to the extent of its iconic status, but somewhat still) when I got a full whiff of the repetitive drudgery of life.
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29 “Bones” (The Bends)
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I put this one on this “‘90s Pop Mix” I made one time. It sidled up nicely next to The Breeders’ “Do You Love Me Now?” and Nirvana’s “Lithium” and that’s about all it is — a cooperative little alt-rock song, albeit a great one, and one with a stylish five-bar phrasing in both the verse and the chorus, which shows songwriting fortitude.
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28 “A Punchup at a Wedding.” (No no no no no no no no.) (Hail to the Thief)
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The curse of being Radiohead, of course, is that in all their sonic explorations and bitter lyrical ironies they sort of surrender the true ability to actually just craft a regular rock song and have it fully appreciated. With this being the case, I probably never really gave this one a fair shake. I even heard it on I think this small-broadcast radio station and I almost hated it for how normal it was considering the band playing it, but one side of my brain seemed to comply.
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27 “Airbag” (OK Computer)
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Radiohead. Hootie & the Blowfish. One band everybody worships. The other band everybody makes fun of. Hey shouldn’t they both be bad? I mean Radiohead are British, right? Anyway, I have a keen anecdotal memory of Cracked Rear View and OK Computer being my favorite two CD’s to pop in on my drives to school my senior year, and being as it was the age of CD’s, I’d get excessive exposure to the first two tracks on both albums, since I lived pretty close to school. Let’s just say Radiohead kept this very phenomenon in mind when they sequenced their 1997 masterpiece.
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26 “Just” (The Bends)
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I have this funny thing about “Just” where I heard it one time on MTV 2 having I guess never gotten that far in The Bends when I was younger (“Nice Dream” sort of made me indulge in just that every time I heard it), but I hated the band Gorillaz so ravenously against the pervasive proverbial fellating I encountered of them all around me that just to coalesce I convinced myself that this song was by Gorillaz (I actually didn’t know who it was by), in order to start hating humanity less than I did. It’s definitely pretty un-Radiohead, but proves that they can at least RUN WITH Blur in the fuzzy alt-rock chariot race.
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25 “Hunting Bears” (Amnesiac)
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It’s funny when you look up information on where the Amnesiac songs were recorded (which I just learned were the same sessions as Kid A) because the whole thing starts to play like a little tour of Western Europe. The outings were divided between the urban, Copenhagen and Paris, and the rural, the band’s Oxfordshire studio, the latter of which would seem to corral this neat little instrumental, as well as the last song about “glass houses.” I got a picture of Oxfordshire on Wikipedia and it’s definitely pretty secluded, from the looks of it, but it’s almost strange to see the place in daytime so distinct are the ominousness and sense of darkness depicted by these side b Amnesiac tracks.
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24 “The Tourist” (OK Computer)
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I have many great memories of driving back from college stoned listening to this album, the last song “The Tourist” always ushering in that feeling of dread that the album were actually ending at all, which makes the chorus all the much more appropriate: “Hey man slow down”.
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23 “The Numbers” (A Moon Shaped Pool)
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A Moon Shaped Pool really is a great album and I think “The Numbers” might be a sort of centerpiece. It’s got this biting, poignant melancholy in true Radiohead fashion that sucks you in like a veritable whirlpool. One interesting this I noticed when picking up on it the last time is that it begins with this jumbled, seemingly senseless noise, which you’d think were a carry-over from some studio found art traipsing the last track, except “Identikit” ends in total silence. A Moon Shaped Pool is full of these liberties, but still, to Radiohead’s credit, what will always stand out is the unflinching placidity.
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22 “Karma Police” (OK Computer)
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I remember this being the biggest single off of OK Computer and listening to it just like, ok… at that point I think my favorite cut was “Let down” and then soon afterward I feel excessively in love with the album’s one-two punch of “Airbag” and “Paranoid Android,” and also it’s hard to separate from the haunting, utterly classic music video which used to air for it on MTV. There, that’s a lot of cultural stuff to sift through (the curse of the 1990s mainstream rock innards, I guess). Eh. It’s better than Jamiroquai. There, how’s that.
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21 “Where I End and You Begin.” (The Sky is Falling in.) (Hail to the Thief)
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Sometime while listening to this very song, I think I had the thought, there is zero chance Radiohead will ever make a better album than this. On the tenuous premise that A Moon Shaped Pool is actually a collection of previously written odds and sods, pocket aces, if you will, rather than newly hashed material, I think this premonition holds up. Whew.
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20 “How to Disappear Completely” (Kid A)
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This is one of those SONG TITLES that’s just so cool that it makes it hard to judge the music behind it: something about stating this song vocally in conversation with someone in person as one of your favorites almost makes for a sort of anthemic occasion in and of itself. This being said, when people say “Daydreaming” is based on and an artistically adjacent continuation of “How to Disappear Completely,” it’s a pretty symbiotic comparison.
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19 “Daydreaming” (A Moon Shaped Pool)
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He is most certainly not being earnest when he says “We are happy just to serve you”: any seasoned fan of Radiohead should know that they’re veterans of ironic jesting (I mean, “When I am king / You will be first against the wall”, anyone?) “Daydreaming” is long, impossible to conceptualize, and obstinately tranquil, just like the act of sleep itself. What’s more, it is wholly, undeniably, a tragic look inside a person whom a tedious, meaningless everyday life has befallen, rendered with ironic indicative mood for artistic effect. I should not even have to say this, but I do.
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18 “Dollars and Cents” (Amnesiac)
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What I mainly have to say about “Dollars and Cents” is that, and this sounds retarded, but there’s one part where Thom Yorke delivers this vocal in a sort of middle-eight bridge section and I was SURE he was going to carry out this one syllable for multiple beats, like an ahhhhh, or a whole measure, but he dashes your erstwhile conception of what the rock vocal is by miraculously cutting out early, in repeated form. That is why he is the master, or that’s how he mastered my “little soul,” at least.
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17 “Pyramid Song” (Amnesiac)
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Whoa! I only ranked this song 17th! I imagine I’ll certainly catch some flak for this one in the cokemachineglow.com camp if they take a glance at this list… I guess it can be a little bit monochromatic in texture, the lyrics a bit lacking in the characteristic Thom Yorke BITE we’ve come to know and love, though riding, admittedly, as I mention before, an entirely indiscernible time signature and a classic ‘head instrumentation that needs percussion like it needs a hole in that very ‘head.
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16 “Electioneering” (OK Computer)
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Ever hear somebody, like, talk? It’s really annoying, especially when they’re so certain that “Electioneering” is the worst song on OK Computer because like, Sarah Silverman said it was, or something. It is most certainly not the worst song on OK Computer and it’s elevated even from its rocking grunge status it already inhabits by an absolutely sublime reggae version on Radiodread.
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15 “Go to Sleep.” (Little Man Being Erased.) (Hail to the Thief)
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I was looking on Pitchfork for this review of this album… I got some “collector’s edition” as well as, I kid you not, a page with links to every album Radiohead has made since Kid A EXCEPT FOR Hail to the Thief, so I took a little diversion toward Spin’s review and God da** they just sum it up so perfectly right there in the byline that I didn’t even need to read the review: “Radiohead turn today’s frustration into tomorrow’s rock ‘n’ roll.” This is good too because I’d already had this track pegged as the centerpiece, with its warm but somehow ominous, relentless acoustic guitar groove and the typical mindfu**-style mid-song transition in perspective, conveyed within the lyrics. Out of all the liberties they take, sometimes their most stylistically conventional songs are the ones that really hit home.
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14 “Reckoner” (In Rainbows)
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In Rainbows came out and people were pretty agog over it, and still are really, I always found it a bit scattered, “Reckoner” perhaps hitting on a newly threshed jazz sense in the band’s songwriting prowess, as, yes, Robert Glasper so astutely illustrated.
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13 “In Limbo” (Kid A)
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Ah, sometimes in making this list all logic, all tenets, all arguments fall by the wayside, just like water down into the drains, and all you have is memories, most of them at nighttime for whatever reason and/or in rain, of just taking in the glow that is this legendary band from Bath, with life’s consummate impossibility flowing like running water.
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12 “Paranoid Android” (OK Computer)
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This song is… uh… charming. Yeah. Well, that might not be EXACTLY how I’d put it. But then I am a small townie… I grew up in South Bend, Indiana, and I don’t think I really knew what he meant by “Ambition makes you look pretty ugly / Kickin’ squealin’ Gucci little piggie” until I lived in Indianapolis around all the more plastic surgery-having types (there’s this one neighborhood in Chicago’s South Loop where literally like no lady’s face isn’t made of wax). But I liked the song before because it’s powerful and steeped in grunge, GRUNGE, grunge, just like “Electioneering.”
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11 “No Surprises” (OK Computer)
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Here we have, along with an entirely celestial guitar riff encircling the whole song, a lyrical portrayal which gnaws at the very heart of what I think the band wanted to do with the overall album concept of OK Computer, and which, as I allude to earlier, is certainly still alive in what’s continuing to unfurl in projects like Moon Shaped Pool’s “Daydreaming.” I can speak from experience, having actually had a job once where I sat at a computer all day and not having been able to stand it, but he**, it’s a common enough theme in our society in general, it’s just that nobody else had the guts to come out and say that success on somebody else’s terms is really failure.
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10 “Optimistic” (Kid A)
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“Optimistic” was sort of like that special card that Kid A proponents had to combat the naysayers who called it monochromatic because it obviously is a good ol’ meat-and-potatoes rock song stuck in the middle of an ambient album (whereas I’d call Amnesiac a “trip-hop” album, to a greater extent).
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9 “High and Dry” (The Bends)
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I’m not going to name names, but I read one critic who made the comment that on A Moon Shaped Pool, Thom Yorke was finally capable of initiating and feeling true surrender. (Excuse me while I spit my Pepsi out.) Um, what?
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8 “Lucky” (OK Computer)
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Impossibly languid, orchestrally complex and striking, “Lucky” plays as the sort of pinnacle of the overall dance with death that OK Computer is, to me… and yes, I’ve heard it said before, it is best to be stoned when you’re listening to this particular song. It exists in the spatial realm of the universe, in other words. Well, kinda.
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7 “Fake Plastic Trees” (The Bends)
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Ok I’m going to try not to talk about this dude I work with too much, but he did turn me on to A Moon Shaped Pool (I still hate “True Love Waits,” for the record, just like I did when I first heard it on the live album), and he’s got this awesome story about breaking up with his girlfriend because she failed to grasp the meaning of “Fake Plastic Trees” (he’d been implying that the emotions gained from the relationship seemed fake, or something along those lines). There. Now I’m done talking about that dude, hopefully. Unlike some bulwarks of MTV’s heady 120 Minutes compilation, “Fake Plastic Trees” actually was released officially as a single, although might not have fared too well with its throaty relentlessness of integrity and spirit, in the goofy, gimmicky world of late-’90s rock.
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6 “Decks Dark” (A Moon Shaped Pool)
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Accidentally, sort of, I discovered a live version of this song, but made the refreshing realization that Yorke really sounds vital when singing it, carrying expansive voice inflections along every melodic turn much like Victoria Legrand of Beach House has the commendable penchant of doing. It should be internalized to any listener at this point that A Moon Shaped Pool is as much influenced by the psych-rock of The Rolling Stones and Neil Young as it is by jazz and classical, which is part of why I think a lot of these songs are secretly carryovers from the band’s early days. But boy are they good.
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5 “Subterranean Homesick Alien” (OK Computer)
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The greatness of this song, the wild imagination, the impeccable slow burn of it all, really hit me during this last string of cold days we had here in the American Midwest — it really is an escape song, and one that no doubt took a lot of courage to write, much more to get the whole band on the same page with all those well-placed riffs. And how about that guitar sound!
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4 “All I Need” (In Rainbows)
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I’ve never met ANYBODY with the same favorite In Rainbows tracks as me… I keep getting all this “Weird Fishes” crap. God. I miss that song about as much as freakin’ flip phones and Snackwells.
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3 “You and Whose Army?” (Amnesiac)
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We had Amnesiac on at work one day, on a sort of moderately busy weeknight — the thing was a colossal beast of gargantuan proportions, every bit measured and calculated but purposeful, every little quip of rock or rhythm genius undeniable. When you have it on and you’re around people, rather than being anthemic, the songs almost seem to expand without themselves, as if they’re soundtracking the answers to questions you hadn’t even thought of yet. “You and Whose Army?” is every bit psychedelic as it is undeniably wayward and weird — classic Radiohead, in other words.
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2 “Burn the Witch” (A Moon Shaped Pool)
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This song is best ingested, I think, when the band hates you. Or at least, I envisioned them hating me for repeatedly bad-mouthing A Moon Shaped Pool on my little small-fry blog when I had no idea what I was talking about. It was like being punched in the gut repeatedly and it was the sort of pain I needed, and that only Radiohead could have provided, a band so subtle that sometimes, like a velociraptor, you don’t even notice that they moved at all. For as eerie as those percussive strings are, anyway, and this is a rarity in the band’s catalogue, but “Burn the Witch” is an achievement primarily lyrical, after which the music follows almost like a rank-and-file soldier.
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1 “There there.” (The Boney King of Nowhere.) (Hail to the Thief)
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At this point, I really have to take a step back and look at this list as a whole, and think to myself, well, how is my life DIFFERENT with Radiohead in it, from without it? And I think of the band’s fiercest influence on my psyche and my happiness — it’s the riding around stoned to “Lucky,” it’s the impossible Strawberry Alarm Clock retrograde of “Decks Dark,” and then there’s this song, which, few would argue and evident surely from that strange music video, soundtracks your darkest moments in life, rather than the brightest, or those of utmost realization. One memory I have is listening to this song down by the creek in Boulder, Colorado, reading some Celine, and then I recall it being a mainstay of my depressed lunch breaks on this job I had back at home. They’re telling you “Just ‘cause you see it / Doesn’t mean it’s there”. Well, that’s why it’s a good thing that it’s set to some exemplary music, the type of thing that is routinely covered interdisciplinarily. My favorite part is definitely the 11-bar phrasing in the middle eight: is it “Why so greedy / A moment / A moment / A moment”? As Adam Driver’s character in While We’re Young would say, on the exact topic of our excessive happy fingers at looking things up online, “Let’s just not know.” He**, it might not really be there, anyway.

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