Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A UK rock band, often touted as the new U2 but undoubtedly better than that, who became one of the cornerstone British rock acts of the 1990s. Combining searing emotion with accomplished musicianship, their albums are bold, timely statements of personal insecurity and millennial angst. Originally called On a Friday, the band was started by Colin Greenwood (b 26 June 1969, bass), his brother Jon Greenwood (b 5 November 1971, guitar/keyboards), Ed O'Brien (b 15 April 1968, guitar/vocals), Phil Selway (b 23 May 1967, drums) and Thom Yorke (b 7 October 1968, vocals/guitar) while they were all pupils at Abingdon public school, Oxford. They each went to different universities before reconvening and turning professional; signing to Parlophone in 1991 they immediately changed their name to Radiohead after a Talking Heads song from the album True Stories. They released EPs Drill and Creep '92, but there was no hint of any chart action until the single 'Anyone Can Play Guitar' '93, while the debut album Pablo Honey got a muted response. Meanwhile, 'Creep' started to get airplay on American college radio and was picked up by KROQ in L.A., perhaps the most influential alternative station in America. A deformed anthem of self-loathing ('I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo') that touched a chord with the grunge generation, it entered the US chart, peaking at no. 34 and propelled Pablo Honey to US platinum status (1m sales). At a time when better-known UK bands such as Suede and Blur couldn't get started in America, Radiohead were suddenly big news, and 'Creep' belatedly became a top ten hit in Britain.

Their second album The Bends '95 was ecstatically reviewed, a compelling collection turning the dysfunctional emotions of the '90s into something beautiful and uplifting: 'I wish I could be happy, I wish, I wish, I wish that something would happen,' Yorke sang on the title track. The album spun off five hit singles and went platinum in the UK (300,000). Preceded by the ambitious six-minute single 'Paranoid Android', Radiohead's third album OK Computer '97 again won critical acclaim across the board, a no. 1 UK album and short-listed for the Mercury Music Prize '97. The band marked their return to active duty with a headlining appearance at that year's Glastonbury Festival. An Against Demons world tour was filmed as Meeting People Is Easy '99. Other releases included a music video compilation called 7 Television Commercials, and two EPs: Airbag/How Am I Driving? and No Surprises/Running From Demons.

At the end of the century they suffered from uncertainty, tensions in the band and Yorke's writing block, but came together agreeing on redefinition of themselves and a new sound which, as usual with such things, was controversial, but they hadn't lost their honesty and most fans came around. The next two albums Kid A 2000 and Amnesiac 2001 came from the same sessions. The title of Hail To The Thief 2003 was suggested by something Yorke heard about the American president John Adams, who had supposedly stolen an election and was known as The Thief throughout his term (and connection with George Bush was of course up to the listener). An EP called COM LAG 2004 compiled some b sides. A War Child charity album Help: A Day In The Life included Radiohead's 'I Want None Of This', not released as a single but getting airplay and download action. 

In 2007 their seventh studio album, In Rainbows, allowed the fans to set their own price for a download, and the profits outstripped those from all their other work combined. Late that year a fancy conventional release included a CD, vinyl discs and a book of art work, issued through different label deals in the UK and the USA. In 2008 they took Internet interactivity a step further by allowing manipulatation of the video for the song 'House Of Cards'. The images were created digitally without conventional cameras, and fans could alter them on their computers. Radiohead: The Best Of in June 2008 from EMI did not include any of In Rainbows, because they had not released that through EMI.