Radiohead was one of the few alternative bands of the early '90s to draw heavily from the grandiose arena rock. But the band internalized that epic sweep, turning it inside out to tell tortured, twisted tales of angst and alienation.
Radiohead are an English rock band from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, formed in 1985. The band consists of Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano, beats), Jonny Greenwood (guitars, keyboards, other instruments), Ed O'Brien (guitars, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass, 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). Radiohead's third album, OK Computer (1997), propelled them to greater international fame. Featuring an 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. Hail to the Thief (2003), a mix of guitar-driven rock, electronics and lyrics inspired by war, was the band's final album for their major record label, EMI. The band's first six albums, released via EMI, had sold more than twenty-five million copies by 2007. Radiohead independently released their seventh album, In Rainbows (2007), originally as a digital download for which customers could set their own price, and later in physical form 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 earlier albums were influential on British rock and pop music, musicians in a wide variety of genres have been influenced by their later work.
Formation and first years (1985–1991)
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 his brother, Colin. In 1985 they formed the band "On a Friday", the name referring to the band's usual rehearsal day in 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 harmonica and then 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 co-owner 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.
Pablo Honey, The Bends and early success (1992–1995)
Radiohead recorded their debut release, the Drill EP, with Chris Hufford and Bryce Edge at Courtyard Studios. Released in March 1992, its chart performance was very poor. Subsequently, the band enlisted Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade—who had worked with US indie bands Pixies and Dinosaur Jr.—to produce their debut album, recorded quickly in an Oxford studio in 1992. With the release of the "Creep" single late in the year, Radiohead began to receive attention in the British music press, not all of it favourable. NME described them as "a lily-livered excuse for a rock band", and "Creep" was blacklisted by BBC Radio 1 because it was deemed "too depressing".
The band released their debut album, Pablo Honey, in February 1993. It stalled at number 22 in the UK charts, as "Creep" and its anthemic follow-up singles "Anyone Can Play Guitar" and "Stop Whispering" failed to become radio or video hits. "Pop Is Dead", a non-album single later disavowed by the band, sold equally poorly. Some critics compared the band's early style to the wave of grunge music popular in the early 1990s—to the extent of Radiohead being dubbed "Nirvana-lite"—yet Pablo Honey failed to make either a critical or a commercial splash upon its initial release. Despite shared influences with popular guitar-heavy acts, and some notice for Yorke's falsetto voice, the band toured only British universities and clubs.
In the first few months of 1993, Radiohead began to attract listeners elsewhere. "Creep" had been played very frequently on Israeli radio by an influential DJ, and in March, after the song became a hit in that country's charts, Radiohead were invited to Tel Aviv for their first live gig overseas. Around the same time, the San Francisco alternative radio station KITS added the song to its playlist. Soon other radio stations along the west coast of the United States followed suit. By the time Radiohead began their first North American tour in June 1993, the music video for "Creep" was in heavy rotation on MTV. The song rose to number two on the US modern rock chart, entered the lower reaches of the top 40 pop chart, and finally hit number seven in the UK singles chart when EMI re-released it in Britain late in the year. Unexpected attention to the single in America caused the label to improvise new promotional plans, and the band shuttled back and forth between continents, playing over 150 concerts in 1993. 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 to adjust to, 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. The band began work on their second album in 1994, hiring veteran Abbey Road studios producer John Leckie. Tensions were high, with mounting expectations on the band to deliver a superior follow-up to match or exceed the success of "Creep". Recording felt unnatural in the studio, band members having over-rehearsed their material. They sought a change of scenery, touring the Far East, Australasia and Mexico in an attempt to reduce the pressure. The band found greater confidence performing their new music live. However, confronted again by the fame he had achieved, Yorke became disillusioned 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. My Iron Lung, an EP and single released late in 1994, was Radiohead's reaction, marking a transition towards the greater depth they aimed for on their second album. Promoted through alternative radio stations, the hard-edged single's sales were better than expected, and suggested for the first time that the band had found a loyal fan base beyond one hit. Having introduced more new songs on tour, Radiohead finished recording their second album by year's end, and they released The Bends in March 1995. The album was driven by dense riffs and ethereal atmospheres from the band's three guitarists, with greater use of keyboards than their debut. It also received stronger reviews for both songwriting and performances.
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, as singles "Fake Plastic Trees", "High and Dry", "Just", and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" made their way to UK chart success; the latter song placed Radiohead in the top five for the first time. In 1995, Radiohead again toured North America and Europe, this time in support of R.E.M., one of their formative influences and at the time one of the biggest rock bands in the world. The buzz generated by such famous fans as Michael Stipe, along with distinctive music videos for "Just" and "Street Spirit", helped to sustain Radiohead's popularity outside the UK. However, Radiohead's growing fan base was insufficient for them to repeat the commercial popularity of "Creep" worldwide. "High and Dry" became a modest hit, but The Bends peaked at 88 on the US album charts, which remains Radiohead's lowest showing there. Radiohead were satisfied with the album's reception. 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". 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, 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 "Talk Show Host", as well as a newly-recorded song called "Exit Music (For a Film)", to Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of Romeo + Juliet late in the year. Most of the rest 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. The album's lyrics took a more observational, less personal tone than The Bends, expressing what one magazine called "end-of-the-millennium blues". 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." Radiohead - Karma PoliceUploaded by EMI_Music. - See the latest featured music videos. 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 the first Grammy Awards recognition of the band's career, a win for Best Alternative 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. 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 debuted 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 variously to marketing, to the album's leak on the file-sharing network Napster a few months before its release, and to advance anticipation based, in part, on the success of OK Computer. 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-globalisation 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." Kid A went on to top the list of "Rolling Stone's 100 Best Album of the decade (for the years 2000-2009)" placing #1. 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, it topped the UK Albums Chart and reached number two in the US, 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 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". 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 one in the UK and 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 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. In Rainbows and independent work (2005–2009) 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 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 deemed appropriate, including paying nothing at all; 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 2007 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; it sold more than three million copies within one year of release. 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. From mid-2008 to early 2009, Radiohead toured North America, Europe, Japan, Mexico and South America to promote In Rainbows. The band headlined the Reading and Leeds Festivals in August 2009. In May 2009, the band began new recording sessions with producer Nigel Godrich. A few months later, in August Radiohead released two singles from these sessions on their website. First, "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)", was recorded in tribute to the recently deceased Harry Patch, the last surviving British soldier to have fought in World War I. The song was sold for £1, with proceeds donated to the British Legion. The song featured Thom Yorke singing lyrics based on Patch's own statements about his war experience, over a string orchestra backdrop arranged by Jonny Greenwood. Later that month, a new song "These Are My Twisted Words", was made available as a free download or a torrent; a digital set of pictures was included. Jonny Greenwood explained that the song had been one of the first products of the band's recent studio sessions, and it was likely to be played during their August festival appearances, the final dates of the In Rainbows tour. In a mid-2009 NME interview, Yorke suggested that Radiohead would turn their focus from full length albums to releasing EPs, including the possibility of an EP of orchestral music. In mid-December 2009, O'Brien posted on the band's website that the band would begin work on its next album in January. He stated, "The vibe in the camp is fantastic at present, and we head off into the studio in January to continue on from the work we started last summer...10 years ago we were all collectively (that’s the band) in the land of Kid A... and although hugely proud of that record, it wasn’t a fun place to be...What's reassuring now, is that we are most definitely a different band, which should therefore mean that the music is different too and that is the aim of the game." In an interview with BBC 6 Music in June 2010, O'Brien made similar comments, stating: "We're in the heart of [recording] now... I think this is the best record we've ever made, it's very different to the type of music we were making last time, and it just feels so good to be making music again with the band that are as good as they ever were." O'Brien also said the band hoped to be able to release the record by the end of 2010. On 13 September 2010, in an essay written for Index on Censorship, Colin Greenwood mentioned that they had just finished a new set of songs "...we have just finished another group of songs, and have begun to wonder about how to release them in a digital landscape that has changed again." Discography
1993: Pablo Honey 1995: The Bends 1997: OK Computer 2000: Kid A 2001: Amnesiac 2003: Hail to the Thief 2007: In Rainbows