Favourite 45 Radiohead Songs

Thom Yorke

45. Give Up The Ghost (King Of Limbs): Once you reach the second half of Radiohead’s latest effort, the jangling, jittery noise and alienation evaporates and leaves us with a number of near-ballads. What is simple seems all the more potent and this is one of the band’s most laid back, quiet songs. The lyrics are sparse and repetitive, recurring and fading away with an equally cyclical melody.

44. How I Made My Millions (B-Side): From one gentle track to probably the softest song the band have recorded. Complete with the sound of domestic chopping board bliss/boredom as a backing Thom unleashes various emotions whilst banging on his piano. Decipher the lyrics as you will, mostly they appear as a spur of the moment cut up style. There are few words, but most of the important things in life can be discussed in such a way.

43. Jigsaw Falling Into Place (In Rainbows): The penultimate track on In Rainbows is as close to a straight rocker as you will get on the album. It is high paced for a Radhiohead track, opening with jagged strumming and hums. The emotion and force builds until the group beckons us to ‘Let It Out’ and Thom’s vocals get all the more manic juxtaposing the notion of a jumbled mess becoming coherent.

42. Banana Co (B-Side): This is a classic Bends era B-Side which could have fit snuggly into that album. There is an Iron Lung/Just feeling to it with chunky chords and Greenwood string bends as well as the requisite melodic genius. Once again let your imagination run wild with the lyrics, but just enjoy the big chorus and odd moment of chaos.

41. My Iron Lung (The Bends): When Radiohead do big rock numbers, they go all out to make a serious noise, and usually a serious point or two. This was their response to the idea that after Creep they were one hit wonders. This song proves that they could do it all again, and time has shown that they can be equal parts hits and mind-bending noise makers. While Creep was straight-forward, this is a multi layered tirade; angry, bitter, and funny as only Radiohead can be, the music is loud, brash, and full of innovation- just listen to those ‘solos’.

40. Ripcord (Pablo Honey): I’m sure a lot of ‘real’ Radiohead fans will disagree with the number of Pablo Honey tracks here. While the band may have distanced themselves from the album which made them I think it is as nonsensical to dismiss it as it is for Bends/OK fans to dismiss everything they have made since those two albums as pretentious, unlistenable junk. Ripcord highlights everything that they were and what they could be- intelligent lyrics with a depth of feeling and meaning, taking traditional song structures and messing with them, innovative with their instruments, and packed with so much emotion that the listener may collapse under the weight. Sure it isn’t as big or clever as later songs, but it’s a joy to listen to.

39. Scatterbrain (Hail To The Thief): In quite a dense and epic album, Scatterbrain is one of those quiet moments which will stick in your memory long after the first listen to the entire record. Thom sings old school, backed by a looping drum rhythm and perfectly toned guitar. As the song progresses we get extra instruments in downwards scales against the overall upward direction of the guitar.

38. Talkshow Host (B-Side): For a while this was the band’s most famous non-album track, and with good reason; it showed that the band were moving in new creative directions whilst retaining their nose for a memorable tune. This is hypnotic, other-worldly, and still today somehow sounds futuristic- maybe the rest of the musical world still hasn’t caught up.

37. Creep (PH): Before the world knew what the band were capable of, and before uselss talent shows had trained the track of much of it’s power, this was a kick to the gut of the charts. Britain apparently had a band that could rival Nirvana in terms of noise and angst, as well as taking the ill earned money from disenfranchised teens. Of course the band would later distance themselves from all charts and all other artists, but here they have never sounded more potent. It can be seen as a cry of angst, an adolescent whinge-fest of the highest quality, but given the band’s later output we know they are smarter than that. Sure it’s a song of alienation, like many of the early songs were, but it’s so perfectly written in every way that it’s impossible not to get a chill when listening to it. If you haven’t heard the album version in a while, give it a listen- you’ll be surprised by how powerful it is. We are introduced to Yorke’s soaring, agonised vocals and Greenwood’s guitar ability. Has there been a more famous guitar part in the last 15 years  than the pre-chorus KA-CHUNK?


36. Vegetable (PH): More than anything else, Pablo Honey is an album of anthems. Maybe even THE anthum album. Perhaps this was unintentional, but that is how it will go down in history. Thanks to some U2 style vocals and drumming, many of the tracks feel arena-bound and Vegetable is no different. It begins softly enough with simple music and gentle singing and playing. Once we reach the bridge, Greenwood is on top form twisting each note into realms unexplored. The chorus is held off for a while ensuring that it is even more crowd pleasing when it finally arrives and Yorke belts out the infamous lyrics.  All together now- ‘I’M NOT A VEGETABLE!’

35. 2 + 2 = 5 (HTTT): When I saw the band at Glastonbury in ’03, this was not the opening track, but may as well have been- it works as a brilliant introduction, building and building from soft beginnings to the frenetic explosion of the ending. Suffice to say that after a bag or two of red wine, as this was playing my limbs were going off in all angles. This is amongst their best album openers.

34. Punch Up At A Wedding (HTTT): A chilled offering, this comes at the exact right moment in the album. Largely piano led, Thom’s harrowing ‘no no’ intro is classic and from that moment, through the gorgeous chorus, over the wonderful and coherent lyrics, to the the groovy, blip filled end this is a symbol of a band on top of their game.

33. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi (IR). I didn’t think much of In Rainbows on first listen, but it didn’t take long for me to catch up thanks to tracks like this. From the watery opening to the exquisite vocals it is a song undeservedly forgotten.

32. Where I End And You Begin (HTTT): Opening with some scary sounds and with a melody eerily similar to The Gathering’s On Most Surfaces this morphs into a funky jazz rock beat. The generally mellow tones don’t cover the anger and confusion of the lyrics. In an era of collapsing Radiohead melodies and a lack of simple constructions, this stands out as a fairly old school Radiohead song but with all the sounds and experience they lacked 10 years previously.

31. Nude (IR):  Aah, a classic Yorke lyric which floors you with its defeatism and realism. Aside from the words and tone the music is beautiful. Again we are faced with Pyramid Song style ghostly evocations and rarely are they shared more clearly here. We even get an old school Thom Yorke clean, high, sustained note. Lovely, in an album which likely confused many MOR Radiohead listeners.

30. Myxomatosis (HTTT): What an opening riff/noise/noyse! This one attempts to stretch your ears to breaking point while Yorke bleats over a simple drum loop. You’re likely to miss the lyrics first or tenth time round, so read them to appreciate their genius. This is violent, horrible, vicious, and inspired.

29. Permanent Daylight (B-Side): A teeny, tiny Radiohead song this with a teensy weensy lyric. But every second counts, every note, every word. I love the distortion on the vocals and on the guitar, I love the melodies, I love the fact that it is a quick few lines which you assume will be repeated or expanded on in a second verse, but instead the song finishes in a flurry og guitars and noise before slowing and fading away with a chord of ‘so what’?

28. Killer Cars (B-Side): Thom Yorke doesn’t like cars. He doesn’t like crazy drivers, he doesn’t like traffic. These of course are fears of a modern world, where instant death through no fault of your own lies potentially around every corner, and where instant boredom can turn a sane man into a jammering wreck. Opening with a strange refrain, the song is a series of ‘what ifs’ and paranoia. Like most early Radiohead songs you can easily look past the lyrics and sing along numbly because the tune is so holy. Killer Cars is no different- verses, chorus, middle bits, end bits, all the bits really are the stuff of singalong legend. There isn’t anything complex here, just interesting end of the world guitar music.

Killer Cars

27. Stop Whispering (PH): The band invoke their inner U2 with this stadium filling anthem. We move from soft, yearning vocals through themes of rebellion to a chorus which begs to be screamed from the rooftops. The song builds in voulme and emotion as it continues until it eventually collapses in upon itself for a frantic middle section and ending. Pablo Honey is much more than just ‘Creep’.

26. How Can You Be Sure (B-Side): An interesting acoustic moment this from the funny looking ones, this is a lighter, funnier track akin to Thinking About You. The band sound as relaxed as they ever will here, and gasp upon coughs you can almost imagine them playing this on a sunkist beach- if you were drunk. The moment when the verse gives way to pre-chorus (complete with scorching piano and organ), and on to the main event is beautiful and will probably remind those lost after Kid A why they loved the band in the first place. Spot the the backing vocals too. Great lyrics.

25. Prove Yourself (PH): Another Pablo Honey anthem, charged with U2 style vocals, stadium filling melodies, lots of guitars, yet those darker, self mocking lyrics that Radiohead excel at. Those pre-chorus lyrics though- even though they touched a nerve with much of the disenfranchised youth who heard them they were still powerful enough when heard from the other side by Thom to warrant him choosing to never play the song again.

24. Bullet Proof (TB): Anyone who sees Radiohead as ‘that depressing, suicidal band’ should probably not listen to this song as it seems to instantly justify their opinion. Bullet Proof is slow, sombre, dreamy, the sound of lonesome thoughts drifting upwards and away from a broken mind. On the other side though it is absolutely glorious- the fusion of Thom’s voice, the careless drumming, the chaotic downward spiral of the effects, and Johnny’s light guitars creates a timeless snapshot of many parts of the 90s British mindset.

23. I Can’t (PH):  Possibly the epic of Pablo Honey, this screams out of the stereo- the sound of a young band surely destined to be the next big thing. The chorus lyrics are the epitome of British grunge, whilst the more refined crunch and whine of the guitars is at once more melodic and resigned by the American counterparts. It’s a simple song, like most from the band’s debut, but a lot of ground is covered nonetheless; the band are pressing gently against the barriers of what can or should be done in a rock band before exploding through them a few short years later.

22. Maquiladora (B-Side): This is one of the best ‘lost’ Radiohead tracks, in the sense that many of their fans will not have heard it. Those fans crying out for a return to the sound of the early days who missed these tracks first time round should search for them and turn by the clock. Musically it is the subtle quiet tones drowned suddenly out by a barrage of noise that the band did so well in their early days- we even get a middle guitar section which sounds just as bombastic as anything from The Bends, lyrically it is excellent, and melodically it is strong enough to be a single.

21. The National Anthem (Kid A): What should have been Kid A’s opening track, The National Anthem (as if the title wasn’t enough of a clue) is the soundtrack to the millenium’s turning point signifying the multiple ‘whatthefucks’ cascading from all angles of the globe. The world was get smaller, border were merging, society was becoming one, and every last one of us was too terrified to look out of the window for fear of another lost fool staring back in at us. A repetitive drum wall and possibly the band’s best riff try to stabilise things, but the endangering guitar slices cut swathes through the veil of normalcy whilst the brass fragments make a squealing mockery of what is lieft of humanity’s sanity.  And all the while Thom shrieks 12 foot back from the mic, in another room, in another time, that ‘it’s holding on’. Oh no it isn’t, Thom, oh no it is not.

20. Like Spinning Plates (Amnesiac): The album may not be seen as a high point in the band’s career and more like the cutting floor scraps from Kid A, but if this is a scrap then all of us should be proud to be rats at the foot of the band’s table. Backwards, forwards, wrong, right, this is music at it’s most hautingly pure artistic form. Listening too much may indeed leave some sort of stain on you and send you into some places you’d rather not go. But these are places we all must go, so why not have a soundtrack to the despair, the confusion, the void. When the verse gives way to the chorus it is one of the closest things to a mass epiphany that any group of fellow listeners could experience.

19. The Tourist (OK Computer): How do you end what is generally considered the best album of the 90s? Effortlessly. Withdrawn verses, hallelujahs for choruses, pleas for calm, drug induced peace, confused speed, inevitable disaster, all symptoms of THE END, and no apocalypse has ever sounded at once so welcoming, so unavoidable, so pointless. There are few moments of space on OK Computer, this is the sound of the machine shutting down, of the screens going blank, of the lights going out. Or it could be a joke put together after one of Thom’s wacky experiences on the road, words made to fit sounds made to fit the tone of an album made to make millions.

The Tourist

18. Motion Picture Soundtrack (KA): Sweet Jeebus when Radiohead get an album closer right they get it perfect. Organs in the future will sound like the organs of the past, our funerals will sound like a shopping trip, our loves will have the substance of moisture running through a tube, our thoughts will be digitally dispersed like peanuts in the sun, our movies perpetually lost in the fifties. The more crazed fans point to songs like this as causing angelic, religious experiences- you can’t disagree with them, but you can run away fast.

17. Lucky (OC): This is the cold joking heart of OK Computer, the controlling force of your life laughing at you as it watches you bounce from one near catastrophe to the next. You think your choices are laid out simply like a series of crossroads? Maybe, but you’re just a strapped passenger in the taxi of a crazed blind drunk who will scream over lanes listlessly providing nothing but fiery gruesome horrors at every junction. Thom drawls all over this one, the wavey, circular effects are closing in, and Greenwood lets rip with one of his most effective chilling guitar parts.

16. Nice Dream (TB): Beautiful floating guitars give way to an electrical storm of epic proportions as the dream is violated by the waking gaze. The band to let a pleasant string section into the song, and by this point we know that is asking for trouble. If you think that you’re strong enough you’re sadly mistaken as reality has a way of chewing through any protection you thought you had and tearing happily into and beyond your soul. Melodically superior to all the copycat bands who have come and gone since (melody is the simplest part of a song to write) this also pisses all over those same bands musically, lyrically, artistically, and even pissingly.

15. No Surprises (OC): Simply glorious, no metaphor silly enough, no drunken rambling inspired enough can touch the grandeur of what is on display here. Something so simple can become something so powerful and a moment such as the dual vocals on ‘my final’ can become a defining moment in the life of  the listener.

14. High And Dry (TB): The Bends has its moments of balls to the wall rocking, but what it will be remembered for are its quiet moments, those anthems which didn’t need volume to speak volumes. High And Dry is perhaps the most famous of these, with its light verses breaking into sky-scraping choruses and reaching heights of emotion which few bands even aspire to never mind reach. The lyrics are open enough for you to interpret them any way you choose- most lost in love kids took the song to heart for a variety of reasons. Greenwood gives an effortless, almost anti-solo guitar solo in the middle which stands as one of his best moments.

13. Electioneering (OC): OK Computer’s forgotten moment is one of its best, and the only real moment of rawk on show; possibly that is why many deride the song unfairly as it doesn’t fit in with what they feel the flow of the album is. I find it a perfect break from the slower, more introspective songs. See it if you will as our hero hitting breaking point with the world and unleashing a bitter fury on the wrongs he sees. Yorke spits instead of sings, there is an outside or reality eastern feel to the song encapsulated by the introduction, and Greenwood gives another one of his best guitar parts, twiddling wildy on the strings and knobs to enrich the off kilter experience.

12. Polyethelene (B-Side): For much of their career, this had been the band’s greatest B-Side, remaining unknown still to much of the band’s less fanatic fanbase. It is a standard bearer for the bands first 3 albums and is almost criminal that it doesn’t appear on any album. With volume turned waaay down, Part 1 is a softly softly acoustic ballad which entices you to turn up the volume just so you can hear what is going on. It has the major/minor melody switching which gives many of the band’s songs their emotional core. This ends abruptly with a whisper, giving way to a softly growing swirling effect which then breaks out into Bends style distorted chords. Yorke unleashes some of his best vocals against Greenwoods clanging strokes and riffs to create some glorious chaos.

11. Thinking About You (PH): A seemingly simplistic, angst ridden love song the likes of which the band would and could never write now. This is Pablo Honey’s most tender, most innocent moment and while the lyrics are still bitter, twisted, and self-deprecating, there is a heart which the band would abandon on almost every other track. Musically it is plain and easy, acoustic chords with few flourishes, making it the quiter cousin of Creep.

10. How To Disappear Completely (KA): Speaking of quieter moments, this stunning mid album track is in many ways the bridging gap between original Radiohead and new Radiohead. There are melodies at its core but many of the traditional instruments have made way for computers, and everything which may have been once has been turned on its head. It’s six minutes glide by beautifully, taking the listener on a river ride through the Underworld, showing us despair and hope as one, throwing our ideas of self back at us as we witness our past and future lives colliding. It is one of the few great epics of the new millenium, utterly enchanting, crushingly sombre, viciously inspiring, and packt like sardines in a crushed tin of emotion.

How To Disappear Completely

9. Anyone Can Play Guitar (PH): Everybody knows Pablo Honey as that album with Creep and a pile of other rubbish songs no-one knows. They’re wrong, of course, exemplified by this song. Already we can see the direction the band wanted to go with their next albums here- yeah, it’s still guitar driven rock with typical Yorke lyrics and vocals, but moreso than any other track on their debut it shows their ambition to create something different and topple the average rock song. Sure anyone can play guitar, but we want something new. A soaring, searing chorus with effective bridges leading in, lots of disparate guitar fuzz coming together like they really shouldn’t, and a big bang of ideas all aiming for a new creation.

8. The Bends (TB): Probably still the best straight (almost) rock song they have ever made, this title track is more ambitious than anything they had done up to this point and features the alienation themes and unique sound which would serve the band for their next albums. Lyrically brilliant and action packed, it is nevertheless the melodies which stand out. Although special mention must go to the peerless structure, the crashing intro, and Greenwood’s anti-solo in the middle. And of course the ironically hopeful happy ending.

7. Street Spirit (TB): If Creep proved to the masses that Radiohead were an angst ridden angry rock band, then Street Spirit perpetuated the pseudo-myth that they were wrist cutting depression instigators. For the uninitiated it’s easy to understand- just listen to all those minor notes, just look at those bleak, dark lyrics, hear the wailing chorus, see the black and white slow mo video; clearly this is an unhappy group of individuals who would cause suicidal thoughts in any listener. And for the next 8-10 years this is what many people thought about Radiohead. On closer inspection comes the truth as Street Spirit is another of those trance inducing, near holy experiences with epic highs and teaming with emotion. In many ways it’s the perfect album closer, and it certainly fits the rest of The Bends to a T- our journey of confusion ends only with some stark realisations, but at least it is at an end. The anguish from unanswered questions, the trauma of not knowing or over-knowing is over and we can be at peace to immerse our souls in love. Ha.

6. True Love Waits (B-Side): This one came strikingly out of the blue when it seemed that the band had forever turned their backs on easy songs, instead heading towards a distinctly uncommercial, sometimes tuneless, and often confusing direction. Once Kid A appeared the band lost roughly 50% of their fanbase, outraged that their sullen heroes appeared to be dealing with sounds from beyond and forgtetting that music is meant to have notes and a purpose. For the rest of us, we sat back in awe as the group turned and churned out more maniacal genius. Then they started playing this live, a solo Thom on stage singing with only an acoustic guitar about, shock, true love, in heartbreaking terms and hauntingly beatiful melodies. Clearly the band could still do what they had spent their first 3 albums doing, and not only that, they could improve upon what had come before. Add some organs and swirly effects to the Live version and we have one of the bands best ‘ballad’s or soft songs and one whose force is undeniably limitless.

5. Let Down (OC): This is really a lesson in how to take a simple verse/chorus song and turn it into something magnificent through masterful planning and studio wizardry. Merging seemlessly with the previous song on the record, this comes bleeping in like an alien relic before Thom begins to bemoan the pressures of End Of The Century Planet Earth. He drones his way through the verses only to let rip on the chorus, all the while surrounded by fantastic sounds. The best part though, and possibly the high point of their career, comes after the short, slow interlude which sounds like a number of computers making love where the verse comes building back towards us and a host of Yorke overdubs come together like a choir straight from heaven; close your eyes and drift away.

4. Exit Music (OC): But even before we get to Let Down comes the song that it fades in from so wonderfully. Opening with gut wrenching minor chords and evoking terrible images of lost innocence, pain, hopelessness, and tragedy, this song was used to perfection in the DiCapprio/Danes rethinking of Romeo and Juliet. The lyrics do seem to match that story very well, especially at the start, but rarely does a song come along which blends it’s separate parts together so well. Those haunting sound effects in the early section add much to the whispery vocals, but the conclusion is the stuff of legend- a crashing drum leads in an electric hum to ruin a billion minds while Thom takes his vocals to extreme new heights with melodies which will be forever burned into the mind of every listener, then it all grows quiet and we are left with the dying moans of ‘We hope that you choke’.

3. Fake Plastic Trees (TB): People remember High and Dry, but many seem to forget this. It’s their best soft song, a gentle based, slowly building magnum opus, and one which gets to the core of the band’s early emotional and psychological state. For all of the experimenting with sound and structure going on in the rest of the album, Fake Plastic Trees revels in its simplicity and purity. Largely acoustic and almost entirely a solo effort, Thom sings the soothing melodies with an ever so tender, tear-stained voice, and while the lyrics are mostly nonsene, they seem to fit the song better than any other words ever could. The rest of the band gradually appear, we get a crescendo of noise towards the end, before an extending final moments of fleeting fragility as a nation of heartbroken people echo the sentiment that ‘If I could be who you wanted all the time’ then maybe everything would be ok.

2. Paranoid Android (OC): Stairway To Heaven, Bohemian Rhapsody (and yes, Halo Of Flies), classic songs which were both commercially succesful and changed people’s expectations of what could be done in a ‘pop’ song. Paranoid Android joins that list and stands tall as one of the defining songs of the decade, of the band, and remains their one true epic. Like the 3 songs mentioned above, Radiohead’s singular masterpiece weaves through various phases, explores a number of sounds, swells and retreats, makes you jump, think, scream, feel, and wonder how such a thing could ever come into being. Beginning with flickering acoustics climbing and ending in a crash bang wallop of screams and rips we hear a story of uprising, of tyranny, drenched with vitriol, and are treated to shifts in tone, pace, sound, and not a milli-moment of it sounds out of place or nothing less than vital.

1. Black Star (TB): It says a lot about the band that the most simple song on arguably their best album, the song where they sound as if they aren’t even trying, turns out to be my favourite thing which they have ever written. When a band who aren’t even trying can make a song as perfect as this, how amazing must the rest of their stuff be!? The rest of us may spend years of struggle trying to write something with a fraction of the emotion, beauty, and power that is in every second of Black Star- and it’s a song you will likely not find on any other best/favourite lists. Does this mean I am mental? Possibly, but it’s understandable that amongst the singles and the tracks which are played live that this one is oft-forgotten. It has everything I would want in a Radiohead track- vocal perfection, wonderfully catchy and emotive melodies, sublimely written lyrics which anyone can try to relate to but which are open to interpretation, and musical invention. Not only do we get a glorious, timeless chorus, but we have verses which sear with emotion and can bring inexplicable tears everytime; it’s like the band have tapped into some long lost subconcious human feeling. Or maybe I’m talking balls.

Black Star (Hole)

As always, feel free to comment on my list and tell me how badly wrong I got it, or even offer your own list!

2 thoughts on “Favourite 45 Radiohead Songs

  1. sj June 23, 2012 / 3:22 am

    I agree with most of what you have here, but I’d also add Man-o-War/Big Boots, Wolf at the Door and their cover of Ceremony. 🙂

    • carlosnightman June 23, 2012 / 1:20 pm

      Thanks, it’s a difficult task making these lists, especially for a band with so many great album and non-album tracks, though I wanted to keep away from covers as much as possible

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