Study Guide

Fake Plastic Trees Introduction

Fake Plastic Trees Introduction

In a Nutshell

Years after their inception, Radiohead is often hailed as the greatest band of its generation, its genre-redefining albums OK Computer and Kid A lauded as commercially successful pop that nonetheless represented true art. 

But the band didn't always get such positive press.

Its more conventional-sounding first album, Pablo Honey (1993), was dismissed by critics as "corporate-funded Nirvana-lite" (source). Even this song, "Fake Plastic Trees" (1995), got ripped in the movie Clueless as "the maudlin music of the university station, wah wah wah" (source).

Maudlin though it may be, "Fake Plastic Trees" remains especially interesting today because we now know it marked the turning point in the band's evolution from generic alterna-rockers to pathbreaking musical innovators. 

Plus—harsh Clueless verdict notwithstanding—it's just a great song.

About the Song

ArtistRadiohead
Year1995
LabelCapitol Records
Writer(s)Thom Yorke
Producer(s)John Leckie
Musician(s)Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar), Johnny Greenwood (guitar, organ), Phil Selway (drums), Colin Greenwood (bass), John Matthias (violin, viola), Carolyn Lavelle (cello)
Learn to playGuitar
AlbumThe Bends

Music Video

Influences on Radiohead

Elvis Costello
The Beatles
Talking Heads
Tom Waits

However, it seems to us that his inspiration mainly comes from his own head: his paranoia, anxiety, guilt, fascination, and passion all mix together to form his own unique brand of musical genius. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1995 (the year "Fake Plastic Trees" and The Bends were released), Yorke said, "I'm obsessed with the idea that I'm completely losing touch with who I am, and I've come to the conclusion that there isn't anything to Thom Yorke other than the guy that makes those painful songs." (Source)

Influenced by Radiohead

Muse
Coldplay
Nine Inch Nails

Fake Plastic Trees Resources

Books

Stanley Donwood and Dr. Tchock, Dead Children Playing (2007)
Interesting collection of artwork previously featured on Radiohead album covers and liner notes.

Tim Footman, Radiohead: Welcome to the Machine: OK Computer and the Death of the Classic Album (2007)
Footman suggests that Radiohead's critically acclaimed 1997 album OK Computer will be the last true rock concept album ever released, now that à la carte digital song downloads have come to dominate the music industry. This loving and laborious breakdown of the story behind every song on OK Computer, and the story of how they were put together to form a brilliantly cohesive album, will thrill any Radiohead fan.

Brandon W. Forbes and George A. Reisch, Radiohead and Philosophy (Popular Culture and Philosophy) (2009)
Radiohead is a pretty intellectual band, and this is a pretty intellectual take on their work. How does Radiohead engage with the philosophical musings of Camus, Sartre, Heidegger, or Marx?

Movies & TV

Radiohead: Meeting People Is Easy (1999)
This documentary focuses on the mania that surrounded the release of Radiohead's album, OK Computer, and the tours that followed. The filmmaker follows the band around with his little camera, exposing the everyday life of a British rockstar.

Radiohead: Homework (2003)
This DVD covers the making of the legendary band and delves into the various cultural and artistic influences that make them who they are today. Doesn't sound like homework to us.

Radiohead: The Astoria London Live (2005)
This DVD offers live footage from a concert the band played in London in 1994, featuring a mix of tracks from Pablo Honey and The Bends.

The Best of Radiohead (2008)
This DVD is a collection of the band's 21 most famous music videos to date, including "Fake Plastic Trees."

Radiohead: Logical Emotions (2011)
This DVD traces the entire history of the band, their live shows, studio time, and immense influence on pop culture worldwide.

Websites

Official Website
The band's official webpage, updated often. You know the drill.

Green Plastic
Here's a very thorough fansite dedicated to all things Radiohead.

Cockney Online
A website dedicated to all things Cockney. From the lifestyle to the food to the accent, it's your one-stop spot for East London Pride.

Sound and Fury
Even though Radiohead is notoriously elusive, Thom Yorke spills (some of) the tea in this interview.

Alex Ross, "The Searchers: Radiohead's Unquiet Revolution," The New Yorker
Writer Alex Ross published this very thorough and cool article in The New Yorker.

How to Cope with Stress
In case learning all about "Fake Plastic Trees" made you worry about your own everyday stress levels, this article provides some good calm-down techniques.

Video & Audio

"Fake Plastic Trees" Music Video
Directed by Jake Scott and filmed in an airport hangar in Los Angeles, the video follows the band around a weird, futuristic supermarket where all the items are large jars full of colored stuff. Maybe a nod to what society will eventually be like if we keep living such plastic lives? Apparently not. "The film is actually an allegory for death and reincarnation but if you can read that into it you must be as weird as the people who made it," says director Jake Scott. (Source)

"Creep" Music Video
"Creep" is almost indistinguishable from many other early-'90s alternative rock hits. Sounding a little like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the music gets louder and softer throughout the song. Nirvana was launched into superstardom by "Smells like Teen Spirit" just as "Creep" launched Radiohead's career, and both bands spent the rest of their careers trying to distance themselves from these songs and to live them down.

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