Radiohead. Oh man, where do we begin? Along with The Beatles and Pink Floyd, they are among the most influential bands to ever emerge from the United Kingdom. But they are also one of the most influential bands, period.
In the cutthroat music industry where competing bands are sometimes out for blood, other artists have had some remarkable things to say about this band:
"Coldplay and Radiohead are the illest groups to me. That's music. Norah Jones is music. I love real music that I can play and never get tired of. The stuff I don't get tired of is the stuff that's musical.''—Timbaland
(arguably one of the greatest music producers of our time)
On the other hand, there's also been a lot of mudslinging, especially from artists who are constantly compared to Radiohead, like Noel Gallagher from Oasis for example:
"The biggest criticism that the music press have against us is that we're not Radiohead. But, correct me if I'm wrong, they've been making the same record since Kid A, have they not? I like them. Every time I see them live they blow me away, but you know, it's kind of, we make very accessible rock and roll music, you know, and they constantly make difficult electronic records. It's not a criticism of them, and it shouldn't be a criticism of us."—Noel Gallagher
Interesting though, that even when he's criticizing Radiohead, Gallagher still manages to compliment them. Sounds a bit more like bitterness or jealousy than actual dislike. But can you blame him? Radiohead is a tough act to follow. Coldplay has often been likened to Radiohead, but just because Thom Yorke and Chris Martin are both blonde and British does not
make them the same person.
Even Kanye West and Miley Cyrus have something to say about Radiohead. At the 2009 Grammy awards, both artists desperately wanted to meet Radiohead but the band refused. After this snub, Miley later told a talk show that she would "ruin them," and Kanye said, "So when he performed at the Grammys, I sat the f--- down." Later, the band released a statement saying, "When Miley grows up, she'll learn not to have such a sense of entitlement." Also, Yorke wrote a blog post that included this quote: "Wish us all a safe journey if you still like us and you're not one of those people I have managed to offend by doing nothing." Quite the feud, but it seems like Miley and Kanye are much more riled up about things than Radiohead, who appear to be looking on with bemused satisfaction.
While most bands like to ride the wave of success from their first single and record similar-sounding tracks, Radiohead did just the opposite with "Creep": they tried to make that radio-friendly hit disappear. When Radiohead recorded The Bends
the transition from guitar-driven alternative rock to a more eclectic blend of electronic and other genre influences starts to be noticed. Although "Fake Plastic Trees" starts out on acoustic guitar, it eventually blends cello and violin and various synthesized sounds, which enriches the melody and sounds more like the Radiohead we know today. By the time they got to OK Computer
, the transformation was more or less complete, and the albums that followed (Kid A
, Hail to the Thief
, and In Rainbows
) have honed this new sound. When you hear any of the songs from any of those albums, you know immediately even if you've never heard it before: This is Radiohead
In his 2001 New Yorker
article on the band, "The Searchers: Radiohead's Unquiet Revolution," Alex Ross wrote:
"On the one hand, the Top Forty chart is overrun with dancers, models, actors, and the like; on the other hand, there are signs that pop music is once again becoming a safe place for creative musicians. The world fame of Radiohead is a case in point. Having established themselves with tuneful guitar rock in the nineties, the members of this band took the risk of doing as they liked, and they discovered things about the marketplace that others had missed. Last year, they released an album titled 'Kid A,' an eerily comforting blend of rock riffs, jazz chords, classical textures, and electronic noise, which, in a demolition of conventional wisdom, went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart. 'Amnesiac,' its like-minded successor, came out in June and is doing just as well. Radiohead's selling point is not their identification with any one genre but their way of ranging over music as a whole. They have intensity, intelligence, a personality in sound."
So that's their calling card. A distinct blend of rock, electronic, classical, house, and experimental which keep them pushing the envelope and wowing the listeners with syncopated rhythms, synthesizers, thought-provoking lyrics, powerful chords, layering instruments, and Thom's unique voice.
In 2007, Radiohead became the first band ever to release an album exclusively online (In Rainbows
was first available on their website) and to ask listeners to decide whatever price they wanted to pay for it. A brilliant concept and also a great marketing strategy in the increasingly internet-driven recording industry. Essentially, they embraced piracy in the sense that the album was free, but in so doing, the band got even more support from their followers and newbies alike. Some broke kids paid £0, while others, like Jay-Z, paid £200. Clearly, if a band is successful enough to release a virtually free record, they've pretty much got it made in the shade.