There are only a few acts in rock history that have been able to shape-shift and stay both relevant and innovative over a 20 year span. American chameleon Beck is certainly one, with his incredible new summer jam “Wow” certainly being an example of that, but Radiohead is the most notable from across the pond. Radiohead’s new album A Moon Shaped Pool is an extension of that continued innovation, building out beautiful and dissonant orchestration into the band’s sound, influenced by the experimental film scores done by guitarist Jonny Greenwood (There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice). All three of us were at the perfect ages for Radiohead to really take hold (though it only took hold with two of us), with Kid A, Amnesiac, and Hail to the Thief releasing during our high school years and In Rainbows releasing in our college years. So without further ado, our 10 favorite songs for a band we hold dear.
10. “Give Up the Ghost”
Radiohead has built its reputation on being weird, electronic, and experimental, but the band does beautiful ballads as well as anyone. The hypnotic looping of “Give Up the Ghost” is the perfect example of Radiohead at their most emotionally resonant. The first time I saw this live a year before the release of King of Limbs, there wasn’t a single person not transfixed to the stage during it.
9. “Burn the Witch”
The lead track off of the Radiohead’s latest, “Burn the Witch” combines beautiful yet jarring orchestration with piercing political commentary. Thom Yorke often speaks caustically to the political climate of our time, but he has never done so more poetically than “Burn the Witch”
8. “There There”
In the beginning of the George W. Bush’s presidency, Radiohead released Hail to the Thief, calling out our world’s leaders years before the reality of all the corruption, greed, and unjust war became clear. “There There” comes off as snappy and playful as Radiohead gets, but its soaked with the impending doom right around the corner.
7. “Pyramid Song”
Like I said before with “Give up the Ghost”, Radiohead does piano ballads in a way that just makes you float off your feet. “Pyramid Song” feels like floating into another dimension.
The crash of percussion and the still, harp-like guitar riff announces “Reckoner”, one of Radiohead’s most arresting songs off of their most colorful album, In Rainbows. The way “Reckoner” grows and shifts is just picture perfect: every piece of instrumentation in just the right place.
“Electioneering” is Radiohead at their most manic and chaotic. Early in their years of writing politically, the band sounds as urgent as ever on “Electioneering”.
4. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”
One look at the alien-like individual that is Thom Yorke, and you wouldn’t think of him as a hopeless romantic. And certainly he’s not, but Yorke writes some of the most moving love songs around. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” is a simply gorgeous love song that is hard not to get wrapped into.
Inspired by The Beatles “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, “Paranoid Android” is really three different songs fused into one blazingly epic song cycle.
As much as Radiohead breaks ground on every album, Kid A may be the only one that truly transformed music, ushering in an era where electronics, experimentation, and rock all belonged together. “Idioteque” is a disco for the apocalypse.
“Everything In It’s Right Place”
“Everything In Its Right Place” is really a perfect song. It’s beautiful, alarming, and creepy all at once. It combines all of Radiohead’s best elements: bold experimentation, arresting vocals, and abstract yet expressive lyrics.
Austin – “Codex”
Austin is the only one of us that isn’t a Radiohead nut, but he does find enjoyment in King of Limbs. “Codex” sort of hearkens back to the best piano ballads from Pink Floyd, a band that Austin certainly cherishes.
Todd – “Life in a Glass House”
Todd loves his jazz and “Life in a Glass House” is a swinging, messy jazz tune and an interesting genre departure for Radiohead.
Wes – “Street Spirit…Fade Out”
The Bends may have been Radiohead’s second album in 1995, but it was really their first as the bold, experimental band we know today. “Street Spirit…Fade Out” is one of my favorite album closers period: its pacing, restless and just doesn’t want you to leave or stop listening.