One of the few great bands to cross over from the 20th century to the 21st, Radiohead just can’t stop making great music, and that’s exactly what they’ve been doing since the mid nineties. Of course, a top ten list of any band’s songs must be subjective unless it’s based on something boringly concrete such as sales, downloads or covers. So here’s a countdown of what I think of as Radiohead’s top ten songs in terms of musicality.
10. High & Dry
From 1995, High & Dry is featured on The Bends album. Although it’s a song that writer Thom Yorke has criticised, it has such an expressive melody that it deserves to be in this top 10 list. The flowing acoustic guitar accompaniment provides the perfect backdrop for the vocals. No doubt, Yorke has personal reasons for not liking his creation so much, but there’s no denying it’s a song with strong musical qualities.
OK, it may not be the strongest melody that Radiohead have ever come up with, but the accompaniment is masterful and highly evocative. The choice of chords in Daydreaming is inspired, and the way that they’re softly played in a simple piano style makes for a really convincing ‘daydream’ atmosphere. The build up of the background accompaniment is so smooth that it’s almost unnoticeable until you suddenly realise you’re in a completely different vibe.
Idioteque from the Kid A album released in 2000 is one of the band’s most popular songs that almost always make it into their live gigs. Musically, it’s a highly innovative song with dark lyrics that everyone seems to interpret differently.
7. Pyramid Song
From the 2001 album, Amnesiac, Pyramid Song was a well-received single-release. The very classy string section in the song is outstanding and was arranged by Radiohead’s equally outstanding guitarist, Jonny Greenwood. The song has a great mystical quality about it with exotic influences of Ancient Egypt evident throughout.
6. Fake Plastic Trees
Fake Plastic Trees is a hauntingly dark but beautiful song from the 1995 album, The Bends. Its melancholic melody is deeply expressive and leaves a lasting impression. Not all of the music critics at the time considered it a great song, but time has shown it has real staying power in the minds of true Radiohead fans.
5. Paranoid Android
This a terrific song from the 1997 album OK Computer, and it would probably be number 1 in many people’s best Radiohead song list. It’s a combination of separate musical ideas edited together and influenced in format by the Beatles’ Abbey Road medley. It’s a big song with an equally big production and a maze of changing time signatures and key changes.
For a band’s debut single, this is a song to be proud of. Also featured on their first album, Pablo Honey in 1993, it has a great melody, strong harmony, amazing title and very meaningful and dark lyrics. It’s also a very unique song, musically. In fact, it’s a song that represents Radiohead at their most creative and inspired, it and paved the way for a long successful career of high quality music.
I love this song for its intensity and energy. The guitar playing is aggressive and uncompromising from start to finish. It’s raw and real and stands out from other Radiohead songs because of its simple, pure rock style. A definite crowd pleaser that deserves its place in this top 10 list.
2. Burn the Witch
From the 2016 album, this is one scary song – but it’s such a great song, musically, that it has to be high in this list. The pulsating rhythm of the strings doesn’t let up for ages. A short period of respite soon gives way to a desire for more of the pulsing rhythm – and sure enough, back it comes as menacing as ever.
1. Street Spirit (Fade Out)
This song that closes The Bends album from 1995 is strikingly beautiful. The melody is simple but very engaging, and the unrelentingly repeated keyboard chord arpeggio gives it an insistent drive that makes you, or at least me, want to hear more. That’s why it’s number 1 in this list.