"I've never believed that pop music is escapist trash. There's always a darkness in it, even amidst great pop music." - Thom Yorke
When four men from Oxfordshire, England, came together at university in 1985 no one, including themselves, could have predicted the musical legacy that would later be calved out and held in such high esteem. The group would become one of the most pioneering and influential groups of all time. It took Radiohead a good few years to get firing on all cylinders but when the band released Ok Computer in 1997, the musical waves that were sent rippling across the stratosphere profoundly changed the musical landscape forever. Like all art, music is a very personal and subjective thing, but ever so occasionally something comes along and transcends the genre and becomes part of the fabric of society without many even knowing. The influence this record has had on musical acts across the globe is truly astonishing. In 2013, former Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney revealed that Thom Yorke, the band's chief singer-songwriter, would be his dream collaborator. Enough said!
OK Computer. (n.d.). [Illustration]. OK Computer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OK_Computer
OK Computer is like a book full of melancholic and bitter-sweet emotions, that if tapped into correctly, produce an out-of-body experience that both uplifts and soothes the soul. Every track has something interesting to say. If introducing one to this album, the go-to song that seems to explain the whole record in one go is 'Paranoid Android'. The song is said to be about a character called Marvin the Paranoid Android in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Marvin is a robot who is always depressed because the infinite possibilities within his mind are wasted on repetitive, trivial activities. The robot's brilliant observation: “Here I am with a brain the size of a planet and they ask me to pick up a piece of paper.” The song has many parts. It opens with a beautiful acoustic guitar segment and Yorke's falsetto vocal, 'Please could you stop the noise I’m trying to get some rest from all the unborn chicken voices in my head' The song then leads the listener into a dreamy state with luscious keyboards and warm lead-guitaring layering the sound. There is a chaotic and frenzied piece that ensues with a heavy thrashing of drums and symbols and noisy guitaring before a heavenly orchestral segment kicks in that elevates the listener to a different space entirely. It is hymn-like in essence and the vocal ends with 'God loves his children'
'No Surprises' is another stand-out track that begins with a childlike glockenspiel which perfectly offsets the guitars and drums. It has a dark morbid sentiment that is against the backdrop of a sweet lullaby. Beautifully written and on first hearing, stops one in their tracks. 'Let Down', a personal favorite is an outstanding piece of music that brings a tear to the eye on every listen, especially after the bridge when the final verses come in. The opening lines are banal observations but seem to have a profound effect, Transport, motorways, and tramlines Starting and then stopping. Taking off and landing. The emptiest of feelings. Disappointed people, clinging on to bottles. When it comes it's so, so, disappointing. An existential theme that runs throughout the record which, like a fine wine, gets better with age. The album has many more brilliantly written and produced tunes including, Karma Police, Airbag, Subterranean Homesick Alien, Lucky, and many more.
Crack. (n.d.). [Photograph]. Crack. https://crackmagazine.net/tag/radiohead/
Radiohead is a complex bunch of people. The band hated being in the recording studio. Like all good artists, the band agonizes over the production and overall sound. Radiohead is renowned for falling out and had a stressful time recording the first two albums, Pablo Honey and The Bends. OK Computer was recorded with friend and collaborator, Nigel Godrich. Godrich had produced the group's second album, The Bends. Like Radiohead, Godrich shared their antipathy towards studios. "The idea of going somewhere where you can know 200 million people have done the same thing - it's like using a public toilet. You don't feel like it's your space." Radiohead's trust in Godrich was such that they ended up giving him $140,000 of EMI's money in order to buy them a state-of-the-art mobile studio. The idea was that the band would not have to deal with the hangers-on and businessmen from the record company. A cunning move as the band ended up making one of the greatest records of all time.
OK Computer will be twenty-five years old next year. Radiohead have left a huge legacy in making this masterpiece and many bands have bled the influences from this record and several others into their work. The only problem for Radiohead was how to follow such a seminal piece of work. Needless to say that they did.
Baker, T. (n.d.). Thom Yorke Radiohead & Trading Solo. Independent Music Press.
Giardi, D. (n.d.). Paranoid Android: the true meaning of Radiohead song. Https://Auralcrave.Com. Retrieved 7 October 2021, from https://auralcrave.com/en/2018/07/26/radioheads-paranoid-android-fight-this-world-through-your-imagination/
Michaels, S. (2013, October 3). Paul McCartney reveals Thom Yorke is his dream collaborator.