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Radiohead (left to right): Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway
Background information Origin Genre(s) Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England Alternative rock Electronica Experimental rock 1985–present XL, TBD (2007–present) Parlophone, Capitol (1992–2005) www.radiohead.com
Years active Label(s)
Thom Yorke Jonny Greenwood Ed O’Brien Colin Greenwood Phil Selway
expansive sound and themes of modern alienation, OK Computer has often been acclaimed as a landmark record of the 1990s. Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001) marked an evolution in Radiohead’s musical style, as the group incorporated experimental electronic music, Krautrock, post-punk and jazz influences. Although critical opinion was divided, Radiohead remained popular. Hail to the Thief (2003), a mix of guitar-driven rock, electronics and lyrics inspired by headlines, was the band’s final album for their major record label, EMI. Radiohead independently released their seventh album, In Rainbows (2007), originally as a digital download for which each customer could set their own price, later in stores, to critical and chart success. Radiohead’s work has appeared in a large number of listener polls and critics’ lists. In 2005, Radiohead were ranked number 73 in Rolling Stone’s list of "the greatest artists of all time". While the band’s later albums brought them a wide audience, their earlier sound on The Bends and OK Computer remained influential on British rock music.
Formation and first years (1985–1991)
Radiohead are an English alternative rock band from Abingdon, Oxfordshire. The band is composed of Thom Yorke (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, piano, beats), Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar, keyboard, other instruments), Ed O’Brien (guitar, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass guitar, synthesizers) and Phil Selway (drums, percussion). Radiohead released their first single, "Creep", in 1992. The song was initially unsuccessful, but it became a worldwide hit several months after the release of their debut album, Pablo Honey (1993). Radiohead’s popularity rose in the United Kingdom with the release of their second album, The Bends (1995). The band’s textured guitar parts and Yorke’s falsetto singing were warmly received by critics and fans. Radiohead’s third album, OK Computer (1997), propelled them to greater international fame. Featuring an
Abingdon School, where the band formed The musicians who form Radiohead met while attending Abingdon School, a boys-only public school in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Thom Yorke and Colin Greenwood were in the same year, Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway were one year older and Jonny Greenwood two years younger than Yorke. In 1985 they formed the band, "On a Friday", the name referring to the band’s usual rehearsal day in
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the school’s music room. The group played their first gig in late 1986 at Oxford’s Jericho Tavern; Jonny Greenwood originally joined as a keyboard player but he soon became the lead guitarist. Although Yorke, O’Brien, Selway, and Colin Greenwood had left Abingdon by 1987 to attend university, the band continued to rehearse often on weekends and holidays. In 1991, when all the members except Jonny had completed their university degrees, On a Friday regrouped, began to record demos such as Manic Hedgehog, and performed live gigs around Oxford. Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley had an active indie scene in the late 1980s, but it centred around shoegazing bands such as Ride and Slowdive; On a Friday were never seen as fitting this trend, commenting that they had missed it by the time they returned from university. Nevertheless, as On a Friday’s number of live performances increased, record labels and producers became interested. Chris Hufford, Slowdive’s producer and the coowner of Oxford’s Courtyard Studios, attended an early On a Friday concert at the Jericho Tavern. Impressed by the band, he and his partner Bryce Edge produced a demo tape and became On a Friday’s managers; they remain the band’s managers to this day. Following a chance meeting between Colin Greenwood and EMI representative Keith Wozencroft at the record shop where Greenwood worked, the band signed a six-album recording contract with the label in late 1991. At the request of EMI, the band changed their name to Radiohead, inspired by the title of a song on Talking Heads’ True Stories album.
livered excuse for a rock band", and the song was not played on BBC Radio 1 because it was deemed "too depressing". The band released their debut album, Pablo Honey, in February 1993. Its style was sometimes compared to the wave of grunge music popular in the early 1990s—to the extent of Radiohead being dubbed "Nirvana-lite"—yet Pablo Honey reached no higher than number 22, and singles "Stop Whispering" and "Anyone Can Play Guitar" failed to make much impact on the charts. "Pop Is Dead", a one-off single, sold equally poorly. However, "Creep" was building unexpected momentum around the world as it spread from popularity in Israel to a San Francisco college radio station. By the time Radiohead began their first United States tour in early 1993, the music video for "Creep" was in heavy rotation on MTV. The song rose to number two on the US modern rock chart and then to number seven in the UK singles chart when re-released there later that year. Radiohead nearly broke up due to the pressure of sudden success as the Pablo Honey supporting tour extended into its second year. Band members described the tour as difficult, saying that towards its end they were "still playing the same songs that [they had] recorded two years previously ... like being held in a time warp" when they were eager to work on new songs. After the American tour, Radiohead began work on their second album, hiring veteran Abbey Road studios producer John Leckie. Tensions were high, as the band felt smothered both by "Creep"’s success and the mounting expectations for a superior followup. The band sought a change of scenery, touring Australasia and the Far East in an attempt to reduce the pressure. However, confronted again by their popularity, Yorke became disenchanted at being "right at the sharp end of the sexy, sassy, MTV eye-candy lifestyle" he felt he was helping to sell to the world. The 1994 EP My Iron Lung, featuring the single of the same title, was Radiohead’s reaction, marking a transition towards the greater depth they aimed for on their second album. The single was promoted through underground radio stations; sales were better than expected, starting a loyal fan base for the band. Having developed more new songs on tour, Radiohead finished recording their second album in late 1994, and they released The Bends in March 1995.
Pablo Honey, The Bends and early success (1992–1995)
Drill, Radiohead’s debut EP, was recorded with Hufford and Edge at Courtyard Studios and released in March 1992. Its chart performance was poor, and consequently the band hired Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade—who had worked with American indie bands Pixies and Dinosaur Jr.—to produce their debut album, which was recorded quickly in an Oxford studio in 1992. With the release of the "Creep" single in late 1992, Radiohead began to receive attention in the British music press, although not all of it was favourable; NME described them as "a lily-
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While Radiohead were seen as outsiders to the Britpop scene that dominated the media’s attention at the time, they were finally successful in their home country with The Bends. The album was driven by dense riffs and ethereal atmospheres from the band’s three guitarists, with greater use of keyboards than their debut. Singles "Fake Plastic Trees", "High and Dry", "Just", and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" achieved chart success in the UK, "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" putting Radiohead in the top five for the first time. In mid-1995, Radiohead toured in support of R.E.M., one of their formative influences and at the time one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Introducing his opening act, Michael Stipe said, "Radiohead are so good, they scare me." The buzz generated by such famous fans, along with distinctive music videos for "Just" and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)", helped to expand Radiohead’s popularity outside the UK. Jonny Greenwood said, "I think the turning point for us came about nine or twelve months after The Bends was released and it started appearing in people’s [best of] polls for the end of the year. That’s when it started to feel like we made the right choice about being a band." But critical acclaim and a growing fan base weren’t sufficient for Radiohead to repeat the commercial popularity of "Creep" outside the UK. The album’s number 88 peak on the US charts remains Radiohead’s lowest there.
again outside a traditional music studio, settling instead at a 15th-century mansion, St. Catherine’s Court, near Bath. The recording sessions were relaxed, with the band playing at all hours of the day, recording songs in different rooms, and listening to The Beatles, DJ Shadow, Ennio Morricone and Miles Davis for inspiration. Radiohead contributed their new song "Talk Show Host" to Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo + Juliet late in the year. Most of the album was complete by the end of 1996, and by March 1997, the record was mixed and mastered. Radiohead released their third album, OK Computer, in June 1997. Largely composed of melodic rock songs, the new record also found the band experimenting with song structures and incorporating some ambient, avant garde and electronic influences. OK Computer was the band’s first number one UK chart debut, propelling Radiohead to commercial success around the world. Despite peaking at number 21 in the US charts, the album eventually met with mainstream recognition there, receiving a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album and a nomination for Album of the Year. "Paranoid Android", "Karma Police" and "No Surprises" were released as singles from the album, of which "Karma Police" was most successful internationally. OK Computer met with great critical acclaim, and Yorke admitted that he was "amazed it got the reaction it did. None of us fucking knew any more whether it was good or bad. What really blew my head off was the fact that people got all the things, all the textures and the sounds and the atmospheres we were trying to create." The release of OK Computer was followed by the "Against Demons" world tour. Grant Gee, the director of the "No Surprises" video, accompanied and filmed the band, releasing the footage in the 1999 documentary Meeting People Is Easy. The film portrays the band’s disaffection with the music industry and press, showing their burnout as they progressed from their first tour dates in mid-1997 to mid-1998, nearly a year later. During this time the band also released a music video compilation, 7 Television Commercials, as well as two EPs, Airbag/How Am I Driving? and No Surprises/Running from Demons, that compiled their B-sides from OK Computer singles.
OK Computer, fame and critical acclaim (1996–1998)
In late 1995, Radiohead had already recorded one song that would make their next record. "Lucky", released as a single to promote the War Child charity’s The Help Album, had come out of a brief session with Nigel Godrich, a young audio engineer who had assisted on The Bends and also produced a 1996 B-side, "Talk Show Host". The band decided to produce their next album with Godrich’s assistance, and they began work in early 1996. By July they had recorded four songs at their rehearsal studio, Canned Applause, a converted apple shed in the countryside near Didcot, Oxfordshire. In August 1996 Radiohead toured as the opening act for Alanis Morissette, seeking to perfect their new songs live before completing the record. They then resumed recording,
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variously to marketing, to the album’s leak on the file-sharing network Napster a few months before its release, and to advance anticipation. Although Radiohead did not release any singles from Kid A, promos of "Optimistic" and "Idioteque" received radio play, and a series of "blips", or short videos set to portions of tracks, were played on music channels and released freely on the Internet. The band had read Naomi Klein’s anti-globalization book No Logo during the recording, and they decided to continue a summer 2000 tour of Europe later in the year in a custom-built tent free of advertising; they also promoted Kid A with three sold-out North American theatre concerts. Kid A received a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album and a nomination for Album of the Year in early 2001. Yet it won both praise and criticism in independent music circles for appropriating underground styles of music, while some mainstream British critics saw Kid A as a "commercial suicide note", labelling it "intentionally difficult" and longing for a return to the band’s earlier style. Radiohead’s fans were similarly divided; along with those who were appalled or mystified, there were many who saw the album as the band’s best work. Yorke, however, denied that Radiohead had set out to eschew commercial expectations, saying, "I was really, really amazed at how badly [Kid A] was being viewed ... because the music’s not that hard to grasp. We’re not trying to be difficult ... We’re actually trying to communicate but somewhere along the line, we just seemed to piss off a lot of people ... What we’re doing isn’t that radical." Amnesiac, released in June 2001, comprised additional tracks from the Kid A recording sessions. Radiohead’s musical style on these songs was similar to that of Kid A in their fusion of electronic music and jazz influences, though more reliant on the use of guitars. The record was a critical and commercial success worldwide, reaching number two in the US and being nominated for a Grammy Award and the Mercury Music Prize. After Amnesiac’s release, the band embarked on a world tour, visiting North America, Europe and Japan. Meanwhile, "Pyramid Song" and "Knives Out", Radiohead’s first issued singles since 1998, were modestly successful, and "I Might Be Wrong", initially planned as a third single, expanded into Radiohead’s thus far only live record. I Might
Kid A, Amnesiac and a change in sound (1999–2001)
Jonny Greenwood has used a variety of instruments, such as this glockenspiel, in live concerts and recordings. Radiohead were largely inactive following their 1997–1998 tour; after its end, their only public performance in 1998 was at an Amnesty International concert in Paris. Yorke later admitted that during that period the band came close to splitting up, and that he had developed severe depression. In early 1999, Radiohead began work on a follow-up to OK Computer. Although there was no longer any pressure or even a deadline from their record label, tension during this period was high. Band members all had different visions for Radiohead’s future, and Yorke was experiencing writer’s block, influencing him toward a more abstract, fragmented form of songwriting. Radiohead secluded themselves with producer Nigel Godrich in studios in Paris, Copenhagen, and Gloucester, and in their newly completed studio in Oxford. Eventually, all the members agreed on a new musical direction, redefining their instrumental roles in the band. After nearly 18 months, Radiohead’s recording sessions were completed in April 2000. In October 2000 Radiohead released their fourth album, Kid A, the first of two albums from these recording sessions. Rather than being a stylistic sequel to OK Computer, Kid A featured a minimalist and textured style with less overt guitar parts and more diverse instrumentation including the ondes Martenot, programmed electronic beats, strings, and jazz horns. It was Radiohead’s greatest commercial success to date, debuting at number one in many countries, including the US, where its debut atop the Billboard chart marked a first for the band and a rare success in the US by UK musicians. This success was attributed
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Be Wrong: Live Recordings, released in November 2001, featured performances of seven songs from Kid A and Amnesiac along with the acoustic, previously unreleased "True Love Waits".
Glastonbury Festival. The tour finished in May 2004 with a performance at the Coachella Festival. During their tour, the band released COM LAG, an EP compiling most of their b-sides from the time. Following their tour, the band began writing and rehearsing in their Oxford studio but soon went on hiatus. Free of their label contract, Radiohead spent the remainder of 2004 resting with their families and working on solo projects.
Hail to the Thief and a hiatus (2002–2004)
During July and August 2002 Radiohead toured Portugal and Spain, playing a number of newly written songs. They then recorded the new material in two weeks in a Los Angeles studio with Nigel Godrich, adding several tracks later in Oxford, where the band continued their work into the next year. Radiohead members described the recording process as relaxed, in contrast to the tense sessions for Kid A and Amnesiac. The band’s sixth album, Hail to the Thief, was released in June 2003. Mixing sounds from throughout their career, Hail to the Thief combined guitar-based rock with electronic influences and topical lyrics by Yorke. Although the album was critically praised, many critics felt that Radiohead were treading water creatively rather than continuing the "genre-redefining" trend that OK Computer had begun. Nevertheless, Hail to the Thief enjoyed commercial success, debuting at number three on the Billboard chart and eventually being certified platinum in the UK and gold in the US. The album’s singles, "There There", "Go to Sleep" and "2+2=5", achieved a level of play on modern rock radio. At the 2003 Grammy Awards, Radiohead were again nominated for Best Alternative Album, while producer Godrich and engineer Darrell Thorp received the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album. Yorke denied that Hail to the Thief’s title was a comment on the controversial 2000 US presidential election, explaining that he first heard the words in a BBC Radio 4 discussion of 19th century American politics. Yorke said his lyrics had been affected by news reports of war in 2001 to 2002 and "the feeling that we are entering an age of intolerance and fear where the power to express ourselves in a democracy and have our voices heard is being denied us" but said, "[Radiohead] didn’t write a protest record, we didn’t write a political record." After the release of Hail to the Thief, Radiohead embarked in May 2003 on a world tour, including a headlining performance at the
In Rainbows and independent work (2005–present)
Yorke in concert with Radiohead in 2006 Radiohead began work on their seventh album in February 2005. In September 2005, the band recorded a piano-based song, "I Want None of This", for the War Child charity album Help: A Day in the Life. The album was sold online, with "I Want None of This" being the most downloaded track, although it was not released as a single. Radiohead had already begun recording their next album on their own and then with producer Mark Stent. However, in late 2006, after touring Europe and North America and
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debuting 13 new songs there, the band resumed work with Nigel Godrich in London, Oxford and several rural locations in Somerset, England. Work was finished in June 2007 and the recordings were mastered the following month. Radiohead’s seventh album, In Rainbows, was released through the band’s own website on 10 October 2007 as a digital download for which customers could make whatever payment that they wanted, including nothing; the site only advised, "it’s up to you". Following the band’s sudden announcement 10 days beforehand, Radiohead’s unusual strategy received much notice within the music industry and beyond. 1.2 million downloads were reportedly sold by the day of release, but the band’s management did not release official sales figures, claiming that the Internet-only distribution was intended to boost later retail sales. A "discbox", including a second disc from the recording sessions, vinyl and CD editions of the album, and a hardcover book of artwork, was sold and shipped in late 2007. In Rainbows was physically released in the UK in late December on XL Recordings and in North America in January 2008 on TBD Records, charting at number one both in the UK and in the US. The album’s success in the US marked Radiohead’s highest chart success in that country since Kid A, while it was their fifth UK number one album. "Jigsaw Falling into Place", the first single from the album, was released in the UK in January 2008. The second single, "Nude", debuted at number 37 in the Billboard Hot 100, Radiohead’s first song to make that chart since 1995’s "High and Dry" and their first top 40 hit in the US since "Creep". A greatest hits album, titled Radiohead: The Best Of, was released by EMI in June 2008. The compilation was made without the input of the band and also did not contain any songs from In Rainbows, as the band had already left their label. Radiohead continued to put out tracks from In Rainbows as singles and videos; in July a digitally-shot video for "House of Cards" was made available. "House of Cards", along with "Bodysnatchers", also received a single release on radio. In September the band announced a fourth single, "Reckoner", and a remix competition similar to one organised for "Nude".
In Rainbows received overwhelmingly positive reviews, among the best of Radiohead’s career. Critics praised the album for having a more accessible sound and personal style of lyrics than their past work. In July 2008, In Rainbows was nominated for the short list of the Mercury Music Prize. At the 2009 Grammy Awards, the band won Best Alternative Music Album. Their production team also won the grammy for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package. The band received their third nomination for Album of the Year, along with three other nominations for the band, plus nominations for Godrich’s production work and for the "House of Cards" video. Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood performed the song 15 Step backed by the USC Marching Band at the award ceremony. On 24 March 2009, EMI released special 2 and 3 disc editions of Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer. From mid-2008 to early 2009, Radiohead toured North America, Europe, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Chile (the band’s first ever tour in South America) - to promote In Rainbows. The band will headline the Reading and Leeds Festivals in August 2009.. They also discussed recording new songs once the tour was finished. In May 2009, Colin Greenwood revealed that the band have entered the studio, with producer Nigel Goldrich, to begin work on their eighth studio album.
Style and songwriting
Among Radiohead members’ earliest influences were Queen and Elvis Costello; postpunk acts such as Joy Division and Magazine; and significantly 1980s alternative rock bands such as R.E.M., the Pixies, The Smiths and Sonic Youth. By the mid-1990s, Radiohead began to mention an interest in electronic music, especially that of Massive Attack and the instrumental hip hop of DJ Shadow, which Radiohead claimed as an influence on parts of OK Computer. Other influences on the album were Miles Davis and Ennio Morricone, along with 1960s rock groups, such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Jonny Greenwood also cited composer Krzysztof Penderecki as an inspiration on the sound of OK Computer. The electronic style of Kid A and Amnesiac was the result of Thom Yorke’s admiration for glitch,
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ambient techno and IDM as exemplified by Warp Records artists such as Autechre and Aphex Twin. The jazz of Charles Mingus, Alice Coltrane, and Miles Davis, and 1970s Krautrock bands such as Can and Neu!, were other major influences during this period. Jonny Greenwood’s interest in 20th century classical music also had a role, as the influence of both Penderecki and composer Olivier Messiaen was apparent; for several songs on Kid A and later albums, Greenwood has played the Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument popularised by Messiaen. While working on Hail to the Thief, Radiohead put renewed emphasis on guitar rock. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and particularly Neil Young were reported sources of inspiration to the band during this period. Since beginning to record In Rainbows, Radiohead members have mentioned a variety of rock, electronic, hip hop and experimental musicians as influences, including Björk, Liars, Modeselektor, Spank Rock and M.I.A. Band members have also been inspired by reggae and dub music. Since their formation Radiohead have, lyrically and musically, been spearheaded by Yorke. An exception to this dynamic is songwriting. Although Yorke is responsible for writing nearly all the lyrics, songwriting is a collaborative effort, and it has been noted in interviews that all the band members have roles in the process. As a result, all the band’s songs are officially credited to "Radiohead". The Kid A/Amnesiac sessions brought about a change in Radiohead’s musical style, and an even more radical change in the band’s working method. Since the band’s shift from standard rock music instrumentation toward an emphasis on electronic sound, band members have had greater flexibility and now regularly switch instruments depending on the particular song requirements. On Kid A and Amnesiac, Yorke played keyboard and bass, while Jonny Greenwood often played Ondes Martenot rather than guitar, bassist Colin Greenwood worked on sampling, and O’Brien and Selway branched out to drum machines and digital manipulations, also finding ways to incorporate their primary instruments, guitar and percussion, respectively, into the new sound. The relaxed 2003 recording sessions for Hail to the Thief led to a different dynamic in Radiohead, with Yorke admitting
in interviews that "[his] power within the band was absolutely unbalanced and [he] would subvert everybody else’s power at all costs. But ... it’s actually a lot more healthy now, democracy wise, than it used to be."
"Modified bear" logo for Kid A by Stanley Donwood and Tchock (Thom Yorke) The band maintains a close relationship with their producers and engineers, in particular Nigel Godrich, as well as with graphic artist Stanley Donwood. Godrich made his name with Radiohead, working with the band since The Bends, and as co-producer since OK Computer. He has, at times, been dubbed the "sixth member" of the band in an allusion to George Martin’s work with the Beatles. Donwood, another longtime associate of the band, has produced all of Radiohead’s album covers and visual artwork since 1994. Together with Yorke, Donwood won a Grammy in 2002 for a special edition of Amnesiac packaged as a library book. Other collaborators include Graeme Stewart, Dilly Gent, and Peter Clemens. Stewart has been Radiohead’s sound engineer since their Kid A/Amnesiac sessions. Gent has been responsible for commissioning all Radiohead music videos since OK Computer, working with the band to find a director suitable for each project. The band’s live technician, Peter Clemens, or "Plank", has worked with the band since before The Bends, setting up their
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instruments for both studio recordings and live performances.
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• • • • • • • Pablo Honey (1993) The Bends (1995) OK Computer (1997) Kid A (2000) Amnesiac (2001) Hail to the Thief (2003) In Rainbows (2007)
Awards and nominations References
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• Griffiths, Dai. Radiohead’s OK Computer (33⅓ series). 2004. ISBN 1-56025-398-3 • Johnstone, Nick. Radiohead: An Illustrated Biography. 1997. ISBN 0-7119-6581-1 • Paytress, Mark. Radiohead: The Complete Guide to their Music. 2005. ISBN 1-84449-507-8 • Tate, Joseph (ed). The Music and Art of Radiohead. 2005. ISBN 0-7546-3979-7.
• Randall, Mac. Exit Music: The Radiohead Story. 2000. ISBN 0-385-33393-5 • Clarke, Martin. Radiohead: Hysterical and Useless. 2000. ISBN 0-85965-332-3
• Doheny, James. Radiohead: Back to Save the Universe. 2002. ISBN 0-82641-663-2 • Footman, Tim. Welcome to the Machine: OK Computer and the Death of the Classic Album. 2007. ISBN 1-8424-03885
• Official website • Radiohead at MySpace