I’m pretty sure everyone’s first exposure to Radiohead was their overplayed radio hit, “Creep” back in ‘93. Pretty and delicate enough for the softies, it had that big distorted chug chug, chug chug right before the chorus that was loud enough for the meatheads, and most importantly it was catchy enough for the masses. Couldn’t really understand what he was saying though. I’m a wino? I’m a wide-o? Sure as hell didn’t phonetically sound like weirdo but that’s what the lyric sheet claims. Either way it had all the makings of one hit wonder status that every other song from that half of the decade had going for them; destined to be played during nothing but nineties weekends on the Fourth of July and perhaps get poked fun at on those “I Love the 90’s” shows on VH1. Never in a million years would I have thought this band would transcend music in ways never even imagined at the time. Sure enough though, that’s exactly what they did.
It doesn’t matter where they’re from (Oxford, England) or what they’re into or how they formed or anything like that; they’re not tied down to any specific demographic or even a specific genre anymore—their music speaks to most diverse crowd of people any band could ever hope to claim. Go to a Radiohead concert and you’re just as likely to see gutter punk junkies as you are to see Birkenstock-wearing hippies or corporate lawyers in three piece suits.
What sets Radiohead apart from any other band to be labeled “the next U2” is that, even though they’ve been around for over fifteen years now, the quality of their musical output has never waned. In fact, this is the one band aside from Pink Floyd whose albums have gotten progressively better. And barring a “Final Cut” or “Division Bell” type of comeback attempt after they’ve seemingly reached an end to their career, they should avoid any diminishing blemishes to their discography as a whole. And that’s rare. Most bands’ first album is usually the best thing they’ll ever come out with; sophomore slumps are rarely overcome and after that it’s pretty much over with. A singer OD’s or blows his head off, leaving us to wonder just how good they could’ve been. And the ones that do survive their addictions or social insecurities more often than not prove to us that what they would’ve put out pretty much sucks (we’re looking at you, Red Hot Chili Peppers).
Radiohead, however, has been the one band to put out an album that makes you think, wow, that’s it. They won’t be able to top this one (like OK Computer) only to have them turn around and come out with something even better (In Rainbows). They’re not afraid to try something different either. When Kid A came out in 2000 I thought to myself, what the f*@k is this s#&t. It was just such a departure from the traditional guitar/drums/bass configuration that everyone was used to that it felt alienating to listeners. But in actuality, they were just ahead of the curb. It took a few years to realize it but in hind sight Kid A is an excellent album.
And to watch them recreate these songs live is a truly amazing thing. Most bands require pre-recorded loops, or you might catch their singer lip syncing because they had hellafied effects and production added to their vocals in the studio to create that sound. Everything from Radiohead is authentic. Thom Yorke’s voice is an angelic instrument like no other. Hypnotizing, soothing, ethereal, so delicate it might break if you touch it. They can sell out any venue in the world and are the primary reason that festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo do so well when Radiohead is in their lineup.
If you haven’t listened to Radiohead enough to claim them as the best band in the world, I suggest you start with The Bends. This is their traditional guitar rock album that will help you get adjusted to their style and Yorke’s vocals. From that, you can pretty much just go on down the line (eschewing Pablo Honey, their major label debut) If you get tripped up along the way by the blips and beeps of Amnesiac or something, feel free to jump right ahead to In Rainbows. But that’d be the equivalent of eating your dessert before you’ve finished your meal. Impulsively gratifying, but gratifying nonetheless.