From an introverted indie band to one of the most influential groups of the past decade, Radiohead has gone through many phases in their 20-plus years of making music. The quintet from Oxford began as a simple rock band in the mid-’80s but unexpectedly evolved into one of the most experimental and electronically influenced bands of all time. Their music transitioned from album to album, with each release being much different than the last, be it in style or sound. They’ve been a rock band, an electronic outfit, and even a drum and bass ensemble at one point. With their latest release, “A Moon Shaped Pool,” out now, there’s never been a good time to pick the ten best Radiohead songs of all time. The list is based on a combination of record sales, song arrangement, and “wow” factor, so it does lean more towards the mainstream. But Radiohead, at their experimental and electronic best, can be just as musically impressive as their rock and acoustic sides.
10. No Surprises (“OK Computer” – 1997)
This song is the epitome of what Radiohead is all about. It has turbulent lyrics that are fit together with an uptempo melody. The song was released on the “OK Computer” album, one of their most electronically influenced albums at the time. Thom Yorke’s vocals are haunting, and it can be considered one of the greatest songs to come out of the 90s. As usual, the group kept the song’s mood melancholic and brought it to life with a psychedelic video. In the video, Thom Yorke is seen singing in front of an old TV surrounded by stuffed animals. The video was directed by Grant Gee, who also directed the video for Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower” (2011).
9. High and Dry (“The Bends” – 1994)
A simple guitar riff introduces the song and then pumps up in a way that would make The Pixies proud. Thom Yorke’s vocals soar over this unforgettable track. The lyrics tell the story of someone who is overly dependent on another person, which perfectly fits the melancholic piano melody at the beginning of the song. High and Dry was released on “The Bends,” one of Radiohead’s other well-known albums. The album has several hits, including Fake Plastic Trees” (1995) and “Just” (1995).
8. Fake Plastic Trees (“The Bends” – 1995)
Fake Plastic Trees is another classic from the 90s. A slow-tempo guitar riff with a mellow tone accompanies Yorke as he sings about fake plastic trees that “echo” after being stepped on. His vocals fade away and then come back again, only this time with more effects and distortion. The song suddenly becomes louder and more intense and then goes back to its original state. Fake Plastic Trees was released as the second single from “The Bends” and peaked at number 20 on the UK Singles Chart. It’s widely considered one of Radiohead’s best songs.
7. Karma Police (“OK Computer” – 1997)
“Karma Police” ’s lyrics paint a vivid picture in the mind of the listener. “This is what you’ll get when you mess with us,” sings Yorke in this futuristic track. The verses consist mainly of a bass groove and synthetic strings, but the choruses have much more going on, including a “loud” drumbeat, wailing guitar chords, and passionate vocals. This song was released on “OK Computer” and is considered one of the greatest albums of all times.
6. 2+2=5 (“Hail to the Thief” – 2003)
This song has a simple guitar riff that repeats throughout the track, with occasional breaks for more intense sections. Thom Yorke’s lyrics are somewhat indecipherable, but they’re gloomy enough to fit right in with this song’s dark tone. The verses are somewhat slow-paced, but the chorus picks up the pace and leads the listener into an intensity that continues throughout the song’s climax. The lyrics can be interpreted in many ways, depending on what you believe in or who you follow. This song was released on “Hail to the Thief,” which many consider their most political album.
5. Paranoid Android (“OK Computer” – 1997)
This song is a perfect example of what makes Radiohead’s music so unique and interesting. Paranoid Android is an epic track that goes through several mood changes in its almost six-minute running time. It begins with a slow, mellow guitar riff and continues with the main rhythm section of drums and bass. At about three minutes in, it becomes much more intense. The intro riff returns for a short while before the song concludes with even more intense than when it started.
4. Just (“The Bends” – 1995)
Just is one of Radiohead’s more straightforward songs. It has a repetitive drum beat and guitar riff with lyrics that you can sing along to without even knowing what they mean. Yorke sings about how he is “just” having fun, but the overall feeling of the song suggests otherwise. The lyrics may not be literal, but I believe they’re supposed to represent someone chasing a dream and working through hardships.
3. Idioteque (“Kid A” – 2000)
Idioteque is one of the more experimental tracks on “Kid A.” It starts with a light electronic beat and natural sounds. The song soon becomes very dense, with lots of layered sound effects mixed over top of heavy drum beats. It’s the type of track that’s perfect for headphones because there are so many little details that you might not be able to pick up on the first few times of listening.
2. Everything in Its Right Place (“Kid A” – 2000)
Everything in Its Right Place is one of the most electronic-influenced tracks on “Kid A.” The song begins with a simple piano melody and then moves into a more complicated section similar to computer code. Lyrics eventually appear partway through the track, but instead of Thom Yorke singing them, the vocals consist of a computerized effect similar to a vocoder. The track remains very electronic throughout and features glitchy beats until it ends with a reversed piano melody.
1. True Love Waits (“A Moon Shaped Pool” – 2016)
This song has been played live since the late 1990s. The lyrics are mostly spoken-word and feature Thom Yorke asking someone to meet him outside of town after dark. True Love Waits was released for the first time on “A Moon Shaped Pool,” Radiohead’s 9th studio album. It’s one of the more mellow tracks on the album , but it gets somewhat intense at times. The track feels a lot like a lullaby and provides a nice end to the album.