Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Take Two: Radiohead

A while ago I was wondering what it would be like to boil down the albums of an entire career into just a few songs. Beyond that, what it would be like to only be able to choose a few songs off each album, making a different kind of "greatest hits" collection. Most of the time you like some albums in a discography more than others and would choose more tracks from there, but that's not the case with these posts.

I'm going to go back into some of my favorite artists who have released four or more albums, and pick two favorite tracks from each album to list. I'm not looking for "greatest" song or big hits, I'm just picking the songs I like the most off of each record. It's especially hard to do because you end up with songs that would be on the list if you weren't limiting yourself to only two songs per album.

Pablo Honey
"Creep" - Just because they hated the touring after their one mainstream hit doesn't mean it isn't a great song. Hell, it's an iconic guitar entrance at the chorus.

"Anyone Can Play Guitar" - Their debut is certainly their weakest album (there aren't too many worthwhile modern bands you can say that about...), but I still find myself coming back to this song when I'm in a Radiohead groove.

The Bends
"Fake Plastic Trees" - I'm a sucker for Thom Yorke beginning a song with just his voice and acoustic guitar.

"My Iron Lung" - One of my favorite opening riffs of any song, ever. People say that this album is what Radiohead would sound like if they didn't go down the creative rabbit hole of Ok Computer, but I'd disagree a little bit. This is a huge step forward from Pablo Honey and was probably just as much of a departure as any of their other albums. They hated the late recognition "Creep" got them and just completely turned away from that attitude.

Ok Computer
"Paranoid Android" - The epic, operatic centerpiece of the album to me. The legend goes that the band stayed up an entire night orchestrating all the instrumentation for the song, and then Thom Yorke heard it and laid down the vocals in one take. The lyrics in the breakdown (especially "kicking, screaming, Gucci little piggy") are some of the best I've ever heard.

"Exit Music (For A Film)" - Originally composed for the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack in the mid 90s (I can hear the play's influence a little bit in the verses), it shows off one of my favorite aspects of Radiohead in the shift from just acoustic guitar and airy noises to a bellowing bass shift that thunders through the track.

Kid A
"Kid A" - I keep picking some soft songs off these records, but damn if Radiohead doesn't do both extremes fantastically and blend them together too. This is probably my 2nd favorite record, and I love the masked vocals so much. Deciphering the words coming out of Yorke's mouth surrounded by the lush sonic landscape is simply beautiful.

"The National Anthem" - How can this cacophany immediately follow the title track on Kid A. What balls, Radiohead! My favorite softer song is followed immediately by their most destructive rocking, but then the horn section comes in. It's like rock mixed with experimental jazz, and then everything cuts out to let Yorke say his piece.

"Like Spinning Plates" - There's no hiding that this is my least favorite Radiohead album after Pablo Honey, and there are songs off Ok Computer and Hail to the Thief that would bump these two songs off, but they're still great tracks. This track debuts the opening effect that went on to open another great track on Hail to The Thief ("The Gloaming"), and to my mind it kind of represents the sound of spinning plates pretty well. It's a hyper-realistic experience to listen to Radiohead, espeically in a dark setting and a contemplative mood. These are records that make me want to bring back the days of just putting on some music and sitting down with friends, or alone, to listen through it.

"I Might Be Wrong" - This is definitely one of the tracks that separates Amnesiac as something more than a b-sides album to the Kid A sessions. Its got a great backing beat and guitar riff, and the style just feels all its own. That's one thing that always amazes me about the band: their ability to write songs and keep them gestating over multiple sessions, but still have a stylistically cohesive album that sounds as though it was all written at the same time.

Hail to the Thief
"2+2=5" - This is still probably my favorite Radiohead song of all time. I love the guitar being plugged in at the start, the incidental dialogue, the opening riff, the frenetic, gasping-for-breath ending, the otherworldly post-apocalyptic 1984 feeling it instills right from the get-go. This song convinced me to buy into Radiohead as a band, and for that it remains my favorite.

"There There" - Again I choose contrasting songs, this with a much more mellow track, but there's still a feeling of claustraphobia, trapped anger, some emotion waiting just beneath the surface. This whole album feels very alive to me, like its a time capsule for that time in 2003. It's one of those records I can throw on and feel transported to the past.

In Rainbows
"All I Need" - The bass and piano make this song for me. This entire song feels effortless to me, but it's so well crafted and executed. It may have taken four years between albums for the band, but man was In Rainbows worth the wait.

"Reckoner" - I haven't really mentioned Johnny Greenwood a lot and have been mostly praising Thom Yorke, but good lord do I love the little guitar bits here. The things that impress me most about the guitars in Radiohead's work is how subtle it can be, and the many uses they've found for a guitar. They don't use the traditional rock instruments in the same way that all other bands do; they're able to use a guitar to fill gaps instead of set the tone.

So there you have it, my inagural Take Two post. I'll be putting up another one of these later in the week for another artist, I've just got to choose from among the four album plus contenders.


Michael said...

Gah! You picked 2 of my least favorite songs from OK Computer, and left off my favorite Radiohead song of all time - Idioteque! This is mania! ;) Cool idea, I look forward to more in this series.

esreverniuoy said...

idioteque is a close third on my list for kid a, and i'd gladly put it above any song on pablo honey or amnesiac, but my hands are tied by my purposely restricting format.

and two least favorites? as far as ok computer goes i don't like fitter happier (i'd pretty much consider it the worst radiohead "song" ever, but that's just me), but other than that i have a hard time picking a bad song.

Michael said...

I get that a lot from people, regarding OK Computer... I actually have very mixed feelings regarding that album. I hated it for a long time, it was my least favorite Radiohead album, and even now, in my old age ;) when I've seriously come to appreciate it, it probably doesn't get higher than 4th best Radiohead album for me... It's weird, I know, and it's not something that's easily explained, but suffice it to say that Airbag is, in fact, my least favorite Radiohead song of all time, and I've slowly realized that that one song is responsible for a lot of the animosity I feel toward the album as a whole.

Whoah. That turned into more than just a short comment. Love the new entry, BTW, copping to all the listening that happens after seeing a band live. It happens to me, too. :)