The 10 Best Radiohead Songs Ever
Want to start a heated debate among die-hard music fanatics? Ask them to parse the Radiohead catalog down to their ten best songs. You’re almost certainly going to get very different lists depending on who you ask…and the resulting turmoil might even lead to some light fisticuffs (just kidding, have you ever even heard of a fight breaking out at a Radiohead show?). But hey, with the recent Coachella headlining announcement and all, we’ve got to at least try to do the impossible, so…
1) “Idioteque” (Kid A, 2000)
Thom Yorke and company seriously flipped the script with their fourth LP, ditching the guitars and conventional trappings of your average 90’s alt-rock band in favor of a more experimentally electronic sound. There’s no better example of that direction than “Idioteque,” which pairs Yorke’s haunting vocals with a sterile-sounding drum machine and some sampled synth chords. Like most Radiohead songs, it’s difficult to say for sure what the lyrics are about, but many signs point to climate change, a topic that Yorke has been a vocal advocate about in the past and since.
2) “Reckoning” (In Rainbows, 2007)
The fourth and final single from the band’s In Rainbows record, this beautiful song features a clanging cacophony of percussion paired with Yorke’s emotional vocals and a simple rhythm guitar. As the sweeping strings set in, it’s very difficult to not get engulfed into the musical moment.
3) “Karma Police” (OK Computer, 1997)
Radiohead’s third album cemented them as “important,” thanks in no small part to grand singles like “Karma Police.” A strummy acoustic ballad paired with somber piano and big, heavy drums, the song finds Yorke admonishing those who may be treating others poorly, warning that it won’t be long before the “karma police” come after them (though the band has admitted that the entire sentiment is a bit tongue-in-cheek). The song comes to a rather abrupt end as guitarist Ed O’Brien’s delay-saturated guitar gradually envelopes the entire track – yet another cool example of a band unafraid to try new things in the studio.
4) “Exit Music (For A Film)” (OK Computer, 1997)
There’s an undeniable power in restraint. That’s the motif that drives this ominous OK Computer album track that starts quiet and eventually builds into a sonic explosion, and also has made it the ideal song for a variety of pieces of television and film, from its original inclusion in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet to last year’s episodes of Westworld and Black Mirror. When the song hits its inevitable climax, your hair will be standing up on your arm.
5) “Fog” (Knives Out single, 2001)
Anyone willing to delve into Radiohead’s collection of b-sides and non-album cuts will be treated to some of the best songs in the band’s catalog. Amnesiac-era b-side “Fog” is a great example, featuring a partially electronic/live band arrangement that builds upon Yorke’s tender ballad that may or may not be about alligators living in the sewers of New York City.
6) “(Nice Dream)” (The Bends, 1995)
It’s almost easy to look back at Radiohead’s earlier, more conventional sounding 90’s rock days with a bit of a condescending smile, but the truth is that the band was creating great songs even back then that would go on to give other bands a blueprint to take the ball and run with (hi, Coldplay!). “(Nice Dream)” is one such example, a dream-like imagining of a world where Yorke is accepted and embraced by loving, caring citizens…and the abrupt shift in tone as he realizes that this utopia is, in fact, just a dream.
7) “You And Whose Army?” (Amnesiac, 2001)
2001’s Amnesiac is the sister record of their previous effort Kid A. Unlike that album, the songs on Amnesiac are a bit more organic and reminiscent of the band’s earlier sound. There’s nothing more band-like than “You And Whose Army?”, a song that starts quiet and builds into a resoundingly triumphant vamp. Many have speculated that this song paints the picture of the end of Western Civilization in a manner similar to the fall of the Roman Empire.
8) “There, There (The Boney King of Nowhere)” (Hail to the Thief, 2003)
From the moment that you first hear those tribal drums, you know it’s on. “There, There” may have a title that sounds comforting, but the song’s lyrics and menacing tone are anything but. Like many of the great songs in the Radiohead catalog, this one is all about pacing and pushing the tension of a track to the point where it feels like it’s going to explode…and the resulting catharsis when it does actually break loose.
9) “True Love Waits” (A Moon Shaped Pool, 2016)
No one was expecting longtime live fan favorite “True Love Waits” to appear on the band’s most recent album A Moon Shaped Pool, let alone in a completely different arrangement than the one bootlegs had showcased since as far back as 1995. In both incarnations, this is a ballad of love (and perhaps love lost?) that is at once beautiful and emotionally heartbreaking – which is pretty much quintessential Radiohead, isn’t it?
10) “All I Need” (In Rainbows, 2007)
Who says that all Radiohead songs are bleak and depressing? “All I Need” is a straight-up ode to true love, with a clearer, more decipherable lyrical approach than Yorke is typically known for. The grooving drum break and thick, enriching synth bassline help push this out of weaker ballad territory and into something that would make a worthy addition to any mixtape.
If you’re reading this, your Radiohead collection probably belongs in a museum. For the rest of you, check out the Trebel Music Downloader app where you can score free downloads of the band’s hits