Radiohead are a band that need little to no introduction. They are 25 year veterans of the industry and have the most acclaimed discography of all time, releasing some of the most essential and progressive albums ever (you know which ones I’m talking about). This is a list to celebrate the magnificence of their catalogue, here are my top 50 Radiohead songs. And before you ask, no Creep is not on here for fuck sake.
50. My Iron Lung – The Bends
One of the smartest lyrical concepts you’ll find, My Iron Lung is an alt-rock anthem all about the band’s breakout hit Creep and how it can be described as the band’s iron lung. This is because while it is keeping them afloat financially as a group, it has a negative effect on the band’s perception and their want to try different sounds; all people seem to want is more of what they hear on Creep for some reason.
49. The National Anthem – Kid A
Riddled in short lyrical ambiguity, the third track from experimental masterpiece Kid A was probably one of the most difficult songs to nail in the band’s career. Thom Yorke had the bass line laid down from the age of 16 and Radiohead as a band tried recording it both in 1994 and 1997 but didn’t want to waste it as a B side. Thank god they didn’t.
48. The Bends – The Bends
The title track from the band’s sophomore album probably has one of the most recognisable guitar riffs of the entire Radiohead discography, leading with a crashing sound in the intro and chorus. The main premise of The Bends is to ask who your real friends are, but Yorke uses an witty sense of humour to paint grander pictures of society, calling the world a “gunboat in a sea of fear”.
47. There, There – Hail To the Thief
Working as Hail To the Thief’s lead single, what made There, There stand out was the murky sounding guitars building to one of Radiohead’s most impressive loud crescendos ever. It discusses the evils of temptation and the danger it can cause, using strong metaphors that include shipwrecks and being aggressively pursued.
46. Faust Arp – In Rainbows
A song about being trapped in a real life situation with no real sign of escape, Faust Arp is blessed by subtlety and poignancy in the instrumentals and songwriting schemes. The title is a combination of Faust (a man who sold his soul for happiness and power) and French sculptor Jean/Hans Arp, linking the two together seems somewhat odd but also polarising; something which can be said for most of what Radiohead endeavoured towards their whole career.
45. Lucky – OK Computer
Being terrified of long distance travel and plane crashes is fairly common, what isn’t fairly common is being able to write it into a song as beautiful as Lucky; but Thom Yorke has never been one for normality. The song’s graphic detail and vulnerable style became the model concept for what would eventually become the OK Computer album, so we have plenty to thank this track for.
44. Life In A Glasshouse – Amnesiac
Initially written during the OK Computer sessions but never actually recorded, the final track from Amnesiac is as serene as it is harrowing. Life In A Glasshouse sees trumpet player Humphrey Lyttelton work with Radiohead on an almost film noir based soundtrack anthem that gives the track a melancholy flavour while also remaining sweet and sublime.
43. Separator – The King Of Limbs
Another album finale, this time from the band’s short 2011 album The King Of Limbs. The overwhelming feeling I take from Separator is that it doesn’t intend to mean anything major in particular, instead just to be a piece of art that everyone can take their own interpretation of; a tactic that not many bands other than Radiohead could adopt effectively. Those gorgeous guitar licks are enough for anyone to listen to this, let alone Yorke’s chilling vocals.
42. Black Star – The Bends
A song that truly feels ahead of it’s time on reflection, the fact that this came out in 1995 is eye-opening. Black Star looks at the stresses and difficulties of being in a passionate relationship with a sufferer of mental illness, mainly seeing how the person on the other side of the illness has to tiptoe around topics to avoid toxicity and emotional turmoil for another day. The song comes to an enlightening finale as the protagonist eventually leaves the relationship but finds themselves suffering in similar ways to their ex-partner.
41. Ripcord – Pablo Honey
Radiohead’s debut album Pablo Honey was full of angst, just see Creep as a reference of this. Despite the aforementioned hit being the mainstream king of moods, you’ll do well to find a more teenage angst fuelled anthem than Ripcord, a song that focuses on the idea of growing up and how with age your soul and lust for life starts to disintegrate. Thom Yorke even compares it to jumping out of a plane without a parachute.
40. Ful Stop – A Moon Shaped Pool
This track sounds like the birth child of two separate Radiohead era bangers in Idioteque and Weird Fishes / Arpeggi with the instrumental build being both harrowingly electronic and chillingly orchestral. The lyrics are repetitive in an almost chanted style as Thom tells us “truth will mess you up” with such grit and attitude; it stands as one of the band’s most telling example of being in a state of alert.
39. Videotape – In Rainbows
This absolutely stunning closer to the In Rainbows experience looks at the tale of a man who records a Videotape for his loved one before he dies. The drum patterns on this song are done to mimic the sound of a reel of film or tape reaching the end of it’s length; which begs the question of just how it sounds this good? It’s a poignant metaphor for the finale of the album, the finale of the tape and the finale of this protagonist’s troubled life.
38. A Wolf At The Door – Hail To the Thief
Another album finale, this time from 2003’s Hail To the Thief in the form of A Wolf At The Door. It’s a track littered in dissonance with Thom Yorke’s bleak lyrical and vocal performance to Johnny Greenwood’s icy cold instrumental arrangements. The fairytale villain of the ‘Wolf’ has been painted as capitalism in society in an ingenious display of personification from a band who were and still are so far ahead of the competition.
37. Kid A – Kid A
You’ll do really well to find many songs in Radiohead’s back catalogue weirder than this one. The title track from the infamous turn of the millennium groundbreaker Kid A is a huge neglect of live instruments and instead takes the deep plunge into the future, using mystical electronica and an Ondes Martenot to blend Yorke’s distorted voice into the beat. Lyrically it is puzzling but open for interpretation, instead relying on personal reaction rather than obvious narrative.
36. Last Flowers – In Rainbows Disk 2
Featuring a song this good on a bonus B-sides project shows just how incredible Radiohead are, shitting out masterful songwriting displays like it’s going out of fashion. Last Flowers refers to a sign towards a hospital in Thom Yorke’s hometown of Oxford as the lyrics look from the perspective of a patient who is clearly in a critical condition; pouring out his soul to whoever can listen.
35. Subterranean Homesick Alien – OK Computer
A fairly obvious nod to the Bob Dylan song title Subterranean Homesick Blues, this OK Computer cut discusses the idea of feeling isolated and different to the rest of society. His wishes of being taken away by an alien group to see if he could be a better fit there seems somewhat far-fetched, but the overwhelming concept of quarantine is something everyone can get on board with.
34. Packt Like Sardines In A Crushed Tin Box – Amnesiac
A masterstroke of innovative thinking, the first track from Amnesiac is as wild and trippy an experience as the title would have you suggest. Calling a song Packt Like Sardines In A Crushed Tin Box is weird, but not as weird as some of the kettle drum sound effects and whirring laptop loops in the instrumentals of this song; while the lyrics focus on the realisation that despite being a good person, society treats us all as one (not in a good way).
33. Reckoner – In Rainbows
This song is home to some of the most beautiful Thom Yorke harmonies of his career, leaving you feeling like you’re floating through space with just the sound of his voice. Reckoner is also the song that gave the band the working title of In Rainbows for the album, using the term as an all-encompassing theme of obsession and “thinking beyond where you are at the time” in the words of Thom Yorke. A big shout-out is also required for some stellar drumming courtesy of Philip Selway.
32. Sail To The Moon – Hail To the Thief
A lullaby for his then toddler son Noah, Thom Yorke wrote Sail To The Moon in five minutes. With a second verse as good as that, it proves just how talented Yorke is to be able to craft that together in such a short amount of time. The band added a glorious flavour of peace and tranquillity to the backing track and made it one of the most beautiful cuts on Hail To the Thief.
31. Desert Island Disk – A Moon Shaped Pool
No, it isn’t a song about the BBC Radio 4 talk show, but it’s that bloody good I wouldn’t be surprised if it made an appearance on someone’s list somewhere along the line. Desert Island Disk is a song that has been written and ready for years, but has been held back from release for the perfect moment. It just so happened that the content and general atmosphere made it an ideal fit for 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool album; thank god we got to hear it properly released.
30. High And Dry – The Bends
Now I’m not one to call Thom Yorke a liar, but in a 2007 interview he had this to say about High And Dry: “It’s not bad… It’s very bad.” Well I’ll have you know it absolutely isn’t. The lead single from the band’s sophomore record The Bends is blessed with such a beautiful lead acoustic riff and some inspired lyricism from Yorke as he sings whimsically about love and suffering, a duo that Radiohead are the masters of intertwining.
29. In Limbo – Kid A
Dreamy to the core and dripping (pun intended) with imagery of the ocean and sea. In Limbo is a song title that can be taken truly at face value when looking at the context of the lyrics, leaning heavily towards the feelings of isolation and feeling lost or cast astray; with the main inspiration and thematic sequencing coming from Dante’s Inferno, obviously.
28. Let Down – OK Computer
Focusing on the concept of being sentimental just because you feel like it, despite the negative consequences it has on your mental health, Let Down is a sucker punch ballad that could be described as a quintessential Radiohead topic song. The lyrics are impassioned and when put to production as fine tuned as this wall of sound, the results are breathtaking.
27. You – Pablo Honey
The blind leading the blind. You is an almost direct address at the kind of people who seem terrified to do things their own way and by their own accord. The song has a raw grunge sound to it that is scattered throughout the band’s debut album Pablo Honey and the main reason it ranks this high? Thom’s falsetto vocal delivery at around 1 minute 45 seconds. Holy shit.
26. Nude – In Rainbows
This slow jam is a well known one to Radiohead hardcore faithfuls, mainly because it was written during the OK Computer sessions and was performed live in bit parts throughout the years before it’s official release onto In Rainbows. It initially arose under the working title “Failure to Receive Repayment Will Put Your House at Risk” which, when you hear it like that, seems a better song title than Nude but perhaps doesn’t fit the angelic beauty of the performance.
25. Planet Telex – The Bends
This was one of the first songs I heard when starting to get into Radiohead and from the moment those shimmering arpeggiated guitars started playing, I knew I was in for something pretty damn special. Rumour has it that Thom Yorke wrote this song pissed up after a night out and recorded his vocals laying down on the studio floor, as you do; but that just adds to the mystical wonder of Planet Telex. Major shoutout to Jonny Greenwood too because his riff in this song is majestic.
24. No Surprises – OK Computer
Come on, it was only a matter of time wasn’t it? No Surprises is one of the band’s most commercially successful songs ever, serving as a true soundtrack anthem of the 90s but not in the same way of an Oasis or Blur; instead opting to be the tune for the unorthodox generation. Thom Yorke sings about pain and suffering in his life as he constantly questions his existence and importance, but does so in a way that can only be described as beautiful; especially when put alongside the spaced out, dreamy instrumental.
23. Sit Down, Stand Up – Hail To the Thief
Minimalistic in every sense, Sit Down, Stand Up is one of those Hail To the Thief classic moments that make it perhaps the most underrated album of the band’s discography. It takes heavy jazz influence and mixes that with elements of the futuristic electronics you heard on Kid A, the sluggish sounding vocals you heard on OK Computer and the dramatic builds you heard on The Bends. Consider this track a mash-up of Radiohead’s greatest assets, and a bloody good one at that.
22. Street Spirit (Fade Out) – The Bends
Thom Yorke loves this song, but not in the way you’d think. He has been quoted saying that he plays this song live towards the end of concerts rather than the beginning because it’s gritty and powerful emotion saps the life out of him. He also said that it is Radiohead’s “purest” song to date and one that he didn’t need to write because it wrote itself. Simply put, Street Spirit (Fade Out) is a jaw-droppingly candid track and a sublime way to close out an album like The Bends.
21. Jigsaw Falling Into Place – In Rainbows
What I love about Jigsaw Falling Into Place is that it is one of the clearest examples of Radiohead doing whatever the fuck they want. Releasing a song about a doomed relationship that rears it’s ugly head as a result of “comatose” from a night out is one thing, doing it as a single is something else. There’s senses of elation, flirting, love and loss here and that third verse. THAT. THIRD. VERSE. That’s how you sum up a story in a song right there.
20. Blow Out – Pablo Honey
Perhaps a surprising entry this high on the list, but hear me out. As a finale to an album much maligned by Radiohead fans in Pablo Honey, I think Blow Out does an absolutely exceptional job in gripping you until the last moment. The lyrics focus on Thom’s consistent battles with low self-esteem as he cracks some brilliantly raw vocal harmonies, but this song really comes into it’s own instrumentally. The guitar solo in the breakdown from Jonny Greenwood are absolutely sensational and the build up to that very moment is so absorbing. A true titan of the long list of underrated Radiohead tracks.
19. Optimistic – Kid A
I will be 100% honest with you. The first time I heard this song was on Frank Ocean’s nostalgia,ULTRA mixtape (he plays it in a skit song called Bitches Talkin’ (Metal Gear Solid)) and it absolutely took my breath away. Just hearing that slick riff and Thom’y high-pitched harmonies meant I had to hear this in full. Optimistic focuses on a consumerist marketplace, using intelligent imagery to describe power-hungry people who crave exploitation; it’s a really impactful concept on an album full of this kind of thing.
18. Burn The Witch – A Moon Shaped Pool
Whether it is Wicker Man references or nods to their Hail To the Thief album cover, Burn The Witch has a polarising trait to it unlike very few of modern times. The lead single from 2016 album A Moon Shaped Pool, it is so orchestral in delivery, with the band seemingly working as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Thom Yorke is the chief conductor using his voice. It would appear the song is about today’s internet age and toxic media fuelling, something that works pretty well alongside the band’s promotion for this album as they wiped all their Internet pages of content.
17. Myxomatosis – Hail To the Thief
An absolutely phenomenal word with a pretty dark meaning, Myxomatosis is the viral infection suffered by rabbits and is used in this song to describe media critics and their adamant nature of trying to shoot down Radiohead’s work. The lyrics are filled with anguish and frustration which works well alongside the distorted heavy instrumental, something that feels so powerful and all-conquering. Mind control is the hot topic for the general theme of the song, and after listening to this song you could be excused for believing it had in fact given you that power.
16. Everything In Its Right Place – Kid A
Oh boy when this song right here comes on you know I’ve been going through some stuff. It’s the result of a huge breakthrough after a severe case of writer’s block for Thom Yorke and the fact that this was his first real moment after OK Computer tells you all you need to know about how utterly insane that man is. The song is dominant both in your ears and your mind as these layered vocals suck you in and the electronic production shatters perception. What even is real anymore after listening to Everything In Its Right Place? Answer: absolutely nothing.
15. Airbag – OK Computer
Ignore the fact the bells in the start of this song make it sound kind of like an evil Christmas Carol, this song truly rips. I suppose the greatest compliment I can give Airbag is that it is the first song on arguably the most acclaimed British rock album of all time, that enough reasoning for you? The song itself looks at Thom Yorke’s car crash he had around a decade before this song and how he feels so much more confident and powerful after surviving that, and thank god he did.
14. Bodysnatchers – In Rainbows
A song all about the numbing facts of living a fake life and pretending to be something you’re not, Bodysnatchers takes on a very interesting stance of this motive by using metaphors to portray these feelings of being trapped. The instrumental is frantic and raw with reverbed guitars and big bass riffs to offer up a feeling of desperation and willing to escape the reality of this very real subject matter in the lyrical content.
13. Karma Police – OK Computer
Describing this song as one designed on a “velvety bed of uneasy comfort” is as accurate as it gets really. Karma Police is one of the absolute best singles of Radiohead’s career as they interpolate The Beatles’ hit Sexy Sadie and turn it into something bone-chillingly unconventional and dreamy. Thom Yorke’s vocals are enchanting, never more so than on that now iconic bridge where he apologises for ‘losing himself’ when discussing the fact that the Karma Police will soon get the person in question.
12. House Of Cards – In Rainbows
We’ve all been there; falling for someone who is in a relationship can sting quite badly. But fear not as Thom Yorke offers a relatable respite for this very dilemma on House Of Cards; a song titled as such to imply that her current marriage/relationship is destined to fail and he is there to help. When taken as literally as reading the lyrics, this song could be seen as pretty toxic and troubling, but it is evident from the concepts and the way it is performed that deep down the girl in question knows he is right. It is a beautiful stripped back song with such intense romantic undertones.
11. Pyramid Song – Amnesiac
More Dante’s Inferno references? Sure, why not. Pyramid Song is a colossus of the Radiohead catalogue for it’s emotive piano chords and the striking string sections, as well as the spookily sensitive vocal performance of Thom Yorke. One theory suggests that the title of the song has something to do with the rhythm of the song as you can see below. Yes it is a reach, but if any mad geniuses could do this sort of thing it is Radiohead, let’s be honest.
10. How To Disappear Completely – Kid A
Perhaps the most rapturously heartbreaking song ever to exist (and I mean ever), words often fail me when it comes to describing How To Disappear Completely. It is, for me, the absolute essence of everything Kid A was intended to be and then some, using eclectic instrumentation and abstract contextual themes to piece together a masterpiece. This particular song was based on a dream Thom Yorke had where he was a ghost hovering round the city, hence the “I’m not here, this isn’t happening” line. Thom himself has said it is also about how isolated and empty he felt during the OK Computer aftermath, with extra influence also coming from a phone conversation with R.E.M frontman Michael Stipe.
9. Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi – In Rainbows
A love song that takes a bleak turn in one particularly harrowing crescendo, the puzzlingly titled Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi uses ocean imagery to discuss being saved from your lowest ebb by someone special. The song’s gradual build, with instruments continually being added as the song goes, adds anticipation for how the song will climax as we see Thom’s hopes gain momentum in his pacing and tones; before crashing back to reality and the music all but stopping. This is the musical equivalent of crashing back down to earth, and good god is it genius.
8. Exit Music (For A Film) – OK Computer
Aptly titled, this song was originally created for the soundtrack of Romeo + Juliet after the band were approached by director Baz Luhrmann. The song was inspired by the last 30 minutes of the film but was too good to not include on an album, so it became a staple part of the OK Computer track listing; and ultimately one of the best songs Radiohead have ever done. The chillingly subtle song with crescendos and instrumental layer cakes galore is a gut-puncher to say the least with how haunting it sounds.
7. Daydreaming – A Moon Shaped Pool
With Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in mind, Radiohead set about releasing Daydreaming, a six minute cinematic masterpiece that feels more like conceptual art than it does music. The dainty but symbolic piano keys are met with chilling vocals from Thom Yorke and a stunning orchestral arrangement from Jonny Greenwood. While the lyrics remain simplistic and short, they cut through unlike many songs you’ll hear, especially the “dreamers, they never learn” line which was the main premise of the song.
6. 2+2=5 – Hail To the Thief
From dreamy and angelic to cut-throat and devilishly savage. 2+2=5 is one of Radiohead’s most quintessential rock anthems and one that has stood the test of time with it’s wondrous build and ferocious instrumental breakdown. The song title is taken from George Orwell’s 1984 and basically focuses on the fact that nobody knows why we were put here on this earth but who cares? We just let it happen as we see fit. The guitar riff is outrageous and Thom’s vocals are at their angsty, grungy best.
5. Fake Plastic Trees – The Bends
A hallowed tale of the recording of this song is that once he had finished recording his vocals, Thom Yorke simply collapsed in a heap on the floor and began to cry. Fake Plastic Trees does very strange emotional things to people, not least the writer of it. It’s a song aimed at consumerist capitalism and the idea that people are spending money for the sake of it; describing society as a “fake plastic earth”. It’s just goddamn beautiful and never won’t be, match that with some ingenious lyrical content and you’ve got yourself a hit.
4. 15 Step – In Rainbows
Beginning this song and thus the album with an explosion of electronic beat making before blending into a smooth, warm band number; 15 Step is the undisputed king of album openers in the Radiohead catalogue. Death’s ticking clock and the stresses of not doing enough with your life are the main themes here alongside love and betrayal, it’s that element of mystery and edge in the lyrics that weaves the whole song together into a fully fledged phenomenon.
3. Lotus Flower – The King Of Limbs
On an album that divides opinion, there is to be one song that stands tall above the rest. Lotus Flower is an example of a very rare case in Radiohead’s thematic palette as they actually write a song about positivity and the feeling of having it all; but in their own special way. Thom Yorke is under the spell of this love interest and lists what he will do in whimsical and majestic ways, serving up the best vocal display we’ve heard from him this decade. The drums on this song are breathtaking as well, setting the pace to perfection.
2. Idioteque – Kid A
The crazy thing about this song is that it was released in 2000. Sonically it is as forward thinking as it gets, swerving the band-like norms and instead opting for a futuristic electronic sound that still kind of sounds ahead of today’s times. Lyrically it warns us of nuclear war and a fully fledged global warming disaster, topics that are starting to really heat up again in modern times. It’s a fucking genius song from an equally genius band, and Thom Yorke told us this in 2000 so don’t say we’ve not had enough prior warning about the shitstorm heading our way. Honestly it is so unlucky to not be 1st as it would be atop literally every other band’s list ever, but it just so happens one other masterpiece was released on the album before this one…
1. Paranoid Android – OK Computer
If you want to take this song at face value then you can call it a six and a half minute song about an upset computer. When you sit and hear it though, you start to unravel so much more. Paranoid Android looks at insanity, capitalism, political aggression, profiling, the digital age and so much more; all while featuring the lyrics “kicking squealing Gucci little piggy” to describe an angry woman at a bar that the band met once. The guitar solos are hilariously good, the acoustic moments in the verses are sublime and the bridges are layered impeccably. Quite frankly, I think this is the best song ever written.