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A Guide to Radiohead’s Music—And How You Can Get Into It

Everyone knows and loves the hit song “Creep” off of Radiohead’s 1993 album Pablo Honey.  It’s great and nostalgic, but the band has so much more to offer than that.  If you’re a fan of late 90s rock or experimental rock in general, I highly suggest taking a deeper look into Radiohead’s discography.  It can sometimes be overwhelming trying to familiarize yourself with a new-to-you band’s best work, so here’s a guide that should get you started with the must-listens off a few of the best albums.

The Bends, 1995

The Bends is Radiohead’s second studio album, with Pablo Honey being the famous debut.  The Bends can be described as more post-grunge, and the band’s first step towards the cryptic lyrics related to social issues that would soon take over the later albums.  In terms of must-listens, “High and Dry” should be at the top of the list, as should “Fake Plastic Trees.” The title track, “The Bends,” is iconic for obvious reasons.  If you’re in the mood for a good cry, check out “Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was.”

Kid A, 2000

This album marked another great shift in Radiohead’s direction as the band started incorporating more synthesizers and electric-sounding beats.  Kid A was also one of the first notable projects to take advantage of Internet promotion in the late 90s.  The band released a series of strange and often unnerving animated shorts, called Blips, that contained illegible snippets of songs from the forthcoming album and avant-garde animation.  They played these intermittently on MTV and circulated them around the Internet, causing a lot of intrigue and confusion. Usually, the only indication that signified what the short Blips were was the quick appearance of one of the band’s logos, the creepy “blinkybear.”  It’s safe to say this is a favorite album of mine. Must-listens include “Idioteque,” “Everything in its Right Place,” and “In Limbo.” I’m particularly fond of “How to Disappear Completely.”

OK Computer, 1997

OK Computer is the quintessential Radiohead album that truly set the groundwork for their more experimental direction.  The lyrics are often abstract and layered. This album and Kid A are usually the two albums that are constantly fighting for the title of objectively best in the discography.  You can’t miss a lot of the songs on this album so it’s hard to single out just a handful, but I’ll try my best.  “Karma Police,” “Airbag,” “Paranoid Android” are absolutely must-listens. If “Exit Music (For a Film)” ever plays in a TV show or movie, as it often does, you know **** went down.  “Subterranean Homesick Alien” is a bop; the first article I ever wrote on Her Campus actually referenced lyrics from this one (Whatta nerd). If I don’t stop now, I’ll just end up naming every song on the album, so I highly recommend that this is one you just sit down and absorb on a quiet afternoon.

In Rainbows, 2007

In Rainbows is a popular favorite of long-time fans.  It’s a combination of lots of influences, including both electronic sounds and the more personalized lyrical tones from earlier albums.  A large majority of the themes in this album are related to love, but also many are experimental and almost incomprehensible. The band’s frontman Thom Yorke has quite a voice; sometimes you listen to a song and suddenly realize you have no idea what he’s been talking about for the past ten minutes.  ‘Tis the nature of Radiohead. Must-listens for this album are “Nude,” ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” and “Reckoner.” “Videotape” is also truly devastating. You could say I have a thing for sad songs!

In terms of honorable mentions, the 2001 album Amnesiac is a slow cluster of songs that will likely bring tears to your eyes.  A Moon Shaped Pool is the band’s latest release from 2016, but I wouldn’t recommend starting out with this one if you’re a newcomer to their music, as some people find its songs too long or inaccessible. I still love it, of course, but maybe start somewhere else!

The band Radiohead has gone through so many evolutions through the years, so there’s bound to be an album or song that suits your taste (That’s not allowed to include “Creep,” by the way; that’s entry-level Radiohead! If you’ve read this far, you’re better than that!).

 

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Ellie is a third-year English major with a minor in Cinema & Media Studies. When she is not busy cramming four years of college into three, one can usually find her binge-watching the latest Netflix obsession or reading novels of all genres. Someday she hopes to get a novel of her own out into the world.
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