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20 Insanely Great Radiohead Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know

Revisit key deep cuts, B-sides and live-only gems that could end up on group’s ninth LP

Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone Mar 15, 2016
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By Daniel Kreps, David Ehrlich and James Montgomery

Radiohead. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Radiohead. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Radiohead are up to something. It’s been five years since the band releasedThe King of Limbs, but with the arrival of headlining dates at summer festivals abroad such as Primavera and Lollapalooza Berlin, the unused Bond theme “Spectre” and reports that Radiohead established a new LLC ”” a likely precursor to a new LP ”” it’s clear that Thom Yorke and company could drop their much anticipated ninth album at any moment.

Before it arrives, however, Rolling Stone dove into the lesser-explored crevices of the band’s discography ”” deep album tracks, B-sides, compilation and soundtrack songs, and fan-favorite live cuts that have never seen official release ”” to compile a list of key obscurities. From “Follow Me Around” and “Fog” to “Worrywort” and “Lift,” here are 20 great Radiohead songs only hardcore fans know.

“Banana Co” (1993)

Perhaps the most overtly political song that Radiohead cut prior to their Bush-era LP, Hail to the Thief, this sarcastic early B-side finds the band taking a broad swipe at the colonialist superpowers that continue to mine and mutilate certain Latin American countries (or “banana republics”) for their exports. Yorke, who would go on to become one of the music world’s most outspoken critics of agricultural exploitation, has never topped the bald facetiousness of an opening line like “Oh, Banana Co, we really love you, and we need you.” And while the song sometimes sounds like a dry run for some of the group’s more sophisticated album tracks from the same era (“Bones”), it never gets old hearing Yorke allow his vocals to sound clean enough to sell at a supermarket. D.E.

“Blow Out” (1993)

The most forward-thinking track from Radiohead’s inconspicuous debut LP ”” the song is effectively a test-drive for “Knives Out,” which would appear four records later ”” “Blow Out” finds Yorke warping his issues with low self-esteem into an oblique emo jam. One of the only Pablo Honey cuts that the band hasn’t been too embarrassed to play live since the mid-Nineties, the song displays the Oxford quintet’s precision as well as their penchant for sonic chaos. As the gentle cascade of guitars gives way to a squall of noise, this barnstorming album closer begins to sound like the work of a band that’s clawing at the door of their own future. D.E.

“True Love Waits” (1995)

In many ways, it’s Radiohead’s greatest unreleased song ”” even if it eventually did show up on 2001’s I Might Be Wrong live album. A haunting, heartbreaking exploration of dependence and desperation, it’s been in the back catalog since at least 1995, and thanks to bootlegs, it became a fan favorite ”” just as the band shelved it for a solid five years. Due to demand, Radiohead have occasionally worked it into sets during the past decade, where it feels almost like something taken from a time capsule, a remnant of a simpler, sadder era. In the 20 years since he first wrote it, Yorke’s turned his attention towards global concerns, but every so often, it’s nice to go back to a time when he was still kind of a Creep, or at least a guy who would sing, “I’m not living/I’m just killing time” and mean it. J.M.

“Killer Cars” (1995)

One of Radiohead’s very first B-sides ”” a rough version of the song appeared in their live sets as far back as 1993 ”” the blistering iteration with which most fans are familiar wasn’t recorded until a few years later. A three-pronged guitar jam in which the music is as blunt and panicked as the lyrics, “Killer Cars” finds Yorke taking the same physical anxieties that weaseled their way into LP cuts like “My Iron Lung” and leveraging them into a full-fledged freakout over how we take our lives into our hands every time we get behind the wheel. “I’m going out for a little drive and it could be the last time you see me alive,” raves the singer, adding a grim twist of irony to the crash-test dummy that’s plastered on the front cover of The Bends. D.E.

“Lift” (1996)

A fan favorite among Radiohead diehards, the soaring, sparkling “Lift” was a mainstay on Bends-era set lists, one of the last vestiges of that album’s anthemic, Brit-Pop hooks before the band embarked on a darker path with OK Computer. However, “Lift” didn’t fit with the vibe of OKC or its B-sides, and Radiohead ditched the track for nearly seven years, only to resurrect it with a slower, more restrained version during their 2002 tour.

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Following the 2002 performances, “Lift” was again abandoned by the band, destined to linger among the other unsorted Radiohead songs in fans’ iTunes libraries … until last fall, when Jonny Greenwood revealed that Radiohead had worked on “Lift” again in the studio for possible inclusion on their next LP.

“It’s a ‘management-favorite,'” Greenwood said. “What people don’t know is that there’s a very old song on each album, like ‘Nude’ on In Rainbows. We never found the right arrangement for that, until then. ‘Lift’ is just like that. When the idea is right, it stays right. It doesn’t really matter in which form.” D.K.

“Pearly*” (1997)

We’re not sure who Thom Yorke is singing about on OK Computer outtake “Pearly,” but with each small signifier he reveals  (“Dew-drop dentures,” “Vanilla milkshakes from Hard Rock Cafes” that lead to a “sweet tooth for white boys”), we can assume she’s a vain, cloistered monster ”” a kicking, squealing Gucci little piggy all grown up. That she now possesses power probably explains the song’s discordant din, a blur of wide-mawed guitars and pounding, doomy drums that eventually bursts open in an oozing final stanza. Scathing bit of social commentary, or just a slag-off to a celebrity, the point is still the same: Everything is rotten on the inside. J.M.

“Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2)” (1997)

 A reminder that one of Radiohead’s great strengths has always been their ability to make the clinical feel visceral, this OK Computercontender is one step removed from Thom Yorke just reading names out of a phone book (instead, it’s lines like “Decaffeinate, unleaded, keep all surfaces clean,”), and yet it still packs a punch. Opening with a gently strummed aside, we get an abrupt stop, a live-room count off, a whirring organ and then twin booster rockets of guitar and drums that send this one skyward. It keeps twisting the higher it climbs, all gnashing chords and spiky leads and propulsive bass, before finally combusting somewhere in the upper atmosphere. The resulting cloud is probably still up there ”” more proof that it pays to shoot for the stars. J.M.

“Palo Alto” (1997)

Given that it’s from the OK Computer era ”” and named after the Silicon Valley enclave that incubated Facebook and Google ”” “Palo Alto” is very much about the oppressive emptiness of the wide-open tomorrow. When Thom Yorke sings, “In a city of the future/It is difficult to find a space,” he’s not talking about parking. But since it’s the closing track on the Airbag/How Am I Driving? EP ”” the bridge to the claustrophobic Kid A phase ”” it may also foreshadow Yorke’s realization that those expanses were more cluttered than he imagined. When he sings, “In a city of the future/It is difficult to concentrate,” he might be talking about Snapchat. Either way, he knew we were doomed; it’s a good thing this one’s a stomper. J.M.

“Follow Me Around” (1998)

It first showed up in Meeting People Is Easy­, Radiohead’s queasy film about the OK Computer world tour, where it played over a montage of monotonous interviews that included a weary Thom Yorke telling a journalist, “You will become a hypocrite … that’s what being an adult is. And then you have babies and that’s it.” Needless to say, he was grappling with some heavy stuff ”” the march of time, the crush of responsibility, the weight of expectation ”” all of which is evident in the dazzling, dour “Follow Me Around.” From mentions of shadowy figures lurking in corners to the aching acquiescence of the chorus, it’s one of his darkest songs, if only because he’s admitting he knows what’s coming, but has no other choice than to carry on. No wonder they never recorded this one proper; some things are better left as is. J.M.

“Fog” (2001)

It may not share the vaunted reputation of “True Love Waits” or “Talk Show Host,” but this fuzzy, slow-building Amnesiac castoff is one of Radiohead’s greatest B-sides. It begins with some heavily garbled synth notes that rumble like the sound waves of an old radio transmission returning to Earth. When Yorke’s voice eventually pierces through, it arrives with such a sudden clarify and closeness that it feels like he’s singing directly into your ear. It’s pretty much one big crescendo from there: The drums start to chug, Colin Greenwood begins mashing a tambourine, and a full-blown jam blooms around the fittingly opaque lyrics about NYC folklore and an unspecified child going bad. Rolled out in concerts on the rare occasions when the mood strikes, “Fog” is an emotionally unresolved crash course in what this band does best. D.E.

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