"I've escaped it, a life wasted/And I'm never going back again." - Pearl Jam, "Life Wasted"

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Top 20 Radiohead songs

Obtuse, wilful, depressing - yet no other band captures the spirit and anxiety of the information (overload) age like Radiohead.

Some may think them as pretentious - and they do have a point - but I think they're bloody brilliant. Not many bands can consistently surprise me with every album release. The exhilarating, intoxicating heights they reached with "OK Computer" has not been surpassed.

Thom Yorke and gang spur me on to dream, to muse and to create through music. Here's 20 songs that still do.

20 I Will (Hail To The Thief)
A two-minute prayer tucked deep inside their latest album. Thom Yorke overdubs himself into a choir, and sings a lullaby with what he deems his "angriest lyrics". Yeah, right. Spine-tingling moment: Thom Yorke baritone whispers "Little babies' eyes/Eyes, eyes, eyes" while Thom Yorke ghostly voice floats behind.

19 Subterranean Homesick Alien (OK Computer)
If one were to write an account of his alien abduction, it should be as shimmering and dreamy as this. No one will believe you, though. They'll finally think that you've lost it completely. Spine-tingling moment: Exquisite opening guitar from the incomparable Johnny Greenwood.

18 Motion Picture Soundtrack (Kid A)
After the maddening experiments of a difficult album, this track drifts in finally like a comforting shoulder. Or maybe not. Over an organ progression, Thom sings about going crazy, maybe. Spine-tingling moment: The sad last line, sung in Yorke's inimitable falsetto: "I will see you in the next life."

17 Planet Telex (The Bends)
The first signs of avant-garde tendencies from the britpop band. As the song begins, strange, wobbly piano riffs tumble with tremolo guitars. Then, an extraordinarily powerful chorus to ram home Thom's manifest fears: "Everything is broken/everyone is broken." Spine-tingling moment: Johnny creeps in with a chilling guitar line right at the end. Worth the wait.

16 I Might Be Wrong (Amnesiac)
It is hard to love Radiohead in their experimental phase, but it is not because their music is unlistenable. It's just....they've become incredibly hard to understand. Oh well, whatever, nevermind. This riff rocks anyway. Spine-tingling moment: The sudden appearance of the dreamy coda is joltingly good.

15 Sail To The Moon (Hail To The Thief)
Lucky kid, Thom Yorke's son. To have his father write a lullaby so achingly beautiful like this. Spine-tingling moment: To have his father's sidekick compose guitar lines that outdo the beauty of the song. Oh what I would do to get Johnny's guitar tone, with my Les Paul. (Nice dream).

14 Idioteque (Kid A)
Their best electronica experiment. The striking drum track, the swooping synth and the utterly indecipherable lyrics somehow conjure a sense of icy dread. Radiohead depress us with strange music ingredients. Spine-tingling moment: Thom mumbles "The first of the children" with such vehemence as if it means something so urgent. Who knows?

13 Let Down (OK Computer)
It's a wonder how the most beautiful Radiohead music are always married to the most depressing lyrics. Perhaps that's their calling card. This excellent dream pop could be paired with equally dreamy lyrics. But, no, Thom has to mess with our heads with anxious phrases like "disappointed people clinging on to bottles", "It always ends up in drivel", "hysterical and useless" and, of course, "let down and hanging around". Spine-tingling moment: Buried in the mix are the familiar sounds of game arcades. Neat.

12 My Iron Lung (The Bends)
A total waste of time, as Thom labels this song in the superb lyrics. Not quite. Spine-tingling moment: Not with the best opening riff Johnny Greenwood came up with - morose but as chimingly good as any of The Edge's riffs.

11 Optimistic (Kid A)
Strange tribal-like rock that somehow cuts deep. Phil Selway uses timpani sticks to muffle his propulsive drums, so that it sounds like a deep throb. Add a spidery guitar line, and Thom's crazed lyrics, and it's instantly memorable. Spine-tingling moment: Radiohead rival U2 in majestic choruses, so when Thom sings: "You can try the best you can/The best you can is good enough", it's enough.

10 There There (Hail To The Thief)
Glorious riff alert, that intricate Bm7 riff. (Ok ok, stop rolling your eyes. I'm a music nerd.) But this song is great because the band sound rejuvenated after their post-postmodern experiments. And when they want to, Radiohead can produce the most beautiful rock music without sounding wimpy. Spine-tingling moment: The monstrous drum fill right at the end brings the song to an apt conclusion.

9 Everything In Its Right Place (Kid A)
The best song ever written about the numbness of depression. Thom repeats one-line observations over a hypnotic piano riff, ad nauseum. Somehow, he had thousands of fans singing with him during their sell-out concerts. Spine-tingling moment: When Thom's voice gets eaten up literally at the end of this weird song.

8 Lucky (OK Computer)
Did I mention that Radiohead write great choruses? This one sends goosebumps up my neck whenever Thom sings "Pull me out of the air crash" and Johnny takes over with tasteful guitar lines after the second chorus. Spine-tingling moment: A splendid vocal leap in the second verse: "It's gonna be a glorious day."

7 High And Dry (The Bends)
Here's where they got compared to U2 and all the arena rock greats. Here's also where they found their feet, writing moody songs set to impossibly beautiful music. Here's also where Thom's falsetto sends shivers whenever he uses it. Here's also where Johnny's ringing guitars lift a somewhat so-so song, as he will do whenever he has to. Spine-tingling moment: The memorable solo, something which I can pick up on first listen.

6 Pyramid Song (Amnesiac)
Goodness, has there ever been a sadder, weirder ballad? The jerky rhythms, the funereal piano, the death-march lyrics - all meld together for a singular experience. It's like being thrown into a space walk - right after you've lost your parents. Spine-tingling moment: Eerie moans from Thom just before he starts his verses.

5 Airbag (OK Computer)
Fantastic opening to one of the greatest rock albums. Angular guitar riffs fly past, as does weird sound effects, electronic drums and a striking bass riff by Colin Greenwood. Thom intones anxious scenarios, then sounds relieved as he sings: "An airbag saved my life." Evocative, like seeing your life flash by in an instant. Spine-tingling moment: Johnny refuses to be outdone by his brother, coming up with a stunning solo.

4 Street Spirit (Fade Out) (The Bends)
Ed O'Brien's greatest moment. The second guitarist's masterful riff brings to life this most depressing song on Radiohead's impressive list. Fade out again? Not when the beauty lingers. Spine-tingling moment: Like I said, it's Ed's greatest moment.

3 Creep (Pablo Honey)
Ah, their great hit/fluke. It's still a thrill to listen and play this 12-year-old song, because it's so simple and raw. Yet, it's so typical of Radiohead's music - intense mood and weirdly beautiful music. Spine-tingling moment: If Johnny had not hated the song and tried to sabotage it with THAT two famous guitar scrapes, perhaps the band will never become great. Even my sister, who's not a rock fan, can HUM those scrapes.

2 Paranoid Android (OK Computer)
What utter madness it is, to mix three totally different songs into one. Yet, Radiohead turn this adventurous experiment into perhaps their definitive statement. Complex, bold and startling - the song starts out delicately with acoustic guitars and Thom's falsetto, then turns sharply into a weird time signature and louder guitars. Then it switches to dream pop mode and an exquisite vocal performance. Then it's roaring guitars again. Confusing? Take a few more spins, and then marvel. Spine-tingling moment: That spellbinding third stanza, when Thom overdubs some chilling vocals to complement his amazingly sad lyrics. Like angels singing to a dead man.

1 Fake Plastic Trees (The Bends)
From the opening strum until the synth fades out, Radiohead craft an exquisite masterpiece of weariness and dread in the concrete jungle. Thom's chilling lyrics portray people who are blinded by artificial objects, thinking that they are real. Such sad words, but he sings in such a wondrous voice that he draws you in, before launching into a snarling third verse. Then, the incredible heartbreak at the end: "If I could be who you wanted/All the time." Spine-tingling moment: I can't think of a specific moment, the whole song is such a head rush. Just listen.


Anonymous Bucky said...

It's not fair to compare Radiohead with U2, but I would compare some things to REM. I hate the list because it's so typical. Fake Plastic Trees is good, but not the best, and Ed O'Brien's greatest moment is not his riff for Street Spirit.
And by the way, it's "Jonny", not "Johnny".

8:37 PM

Anonymous peter deng said...


have you forgotten karma police?
surely it is top 5...

7:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, this page has a much set of radiohead songs


7:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:05 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

its hard to condense all their song to the top 20. this was a decent try though

12:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, this is a very good attempt in what would be 'squeezing' Radiohead songs into a pot - an impossible feat for such a band. I agreed with a lot of your picks, but for me the Radiohead twin pillars are Nice Dream and Fake Plastic Trees. Both fit to close any album.

6:47 PM

Blogger Gibson said...

a a a .......
Jigsaw falling in place
Bullet Proof.......

These are tops....

10:32 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i kept reading to see where how to disappear completely would be and i didn't find it. surely it's better than more than half the songs you named

3:29 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

3. Treefingers
2. How To Disappear Completely
1. No Surprises

[how did none of theese make it?]

meh. whatever, nevermind.

2:35 PM

Anonymous Walds said...

Last Flowers from In Rainbows Disc 2. That whole song is what I would definitely call spine-tingling. If it doesn't do tht to you, at least towards the outro, I'll eat my shoes.

8:16 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, not including Karma Police which is a masterpiece (kinda unlike Creep...) is a HUGE fail. Also, what about the "fan favorite" Just from THe Bends? Top 10 at the very least for both, Karma Police definitely top 5.

3:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel bad for you, as when someone dosent see their favorite song on here, they freak out and yell at you. Great list, but if you could extend it to Top 30 here is what you should add:
10. Dollars and Cents
9. Videotape
8. Reckoner
7. 2+2=5
6. A Wolf at the Door
5. No Surprises
4. How to Disappear Compleltely
3. Exit Music(For a Film)
2. Karma Police
1. Last Flowers to the Hospital
#1 could be my favorite song of all time. Jigsaw falling into place is also excellent. And how could you forget #2 & #3?Great list over all glad to see Let Down in it, a very under-rated song. I'm a Radiohead nerd. Sorry ;)

1:26 PM

Anonymous D.L.Harper said...

So, I know this is a personal list. I do agree with most of it, except for the 2 songs I would have placed for #1 and #2 aren't there. I believe that the top 2 should have been "how to disappear completely" and "Videotape". All in all very good list. despite a few misspelled interpretations of names.

7:32 PM

Anonymous David said...

You can't compress RH into a 20 song list. Each to their own. This list was made before In Rainbows.. I don't doubt that Last Flowers would have made it to #1 :)

5:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meh, this list was ok. I mean, I won't judge your opinion like most others on this comment board. But, if there were any songs I would add to this, they would be karma police, reckoner, all I need, just, and black star.

12:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talk Show Host

9:49 AM

Blogger Colliermoose said...

Glad to know that someone else actually likes I Will.

In Rainbows is one of R's best efforts but still none the songs from that album deserve to be in the top 20. The best songs from Amnesiac and HttT are better than the best of IR, although IR is more consistent than both.
So anyway, the fact that this list came out before IR means no harm done.

5:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

from 100 to 21 are all of radiohead's a-sides while the top 20 are their b-sides

6:26 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank god im not the only one whos favorite is fake plastic trees

7:28 AM


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