Radiohead are an English rock band formed in Abingdon, Oxfordshire in 1985. The band consists of Thom Yorke, brothers Jonny Greenwood and Colin Greenwood, Ed OBrien and Philip Selway. They have worked with producer Nigel Godrich and cover artist Stanley Donwood since 1994.
After signing to EMI in 1991, Radiohead released their debut single "Creep" in 1992. It became a worldwide hit after the release of their debut album, Pablo Honey 1993. Their popularity and critical standing rose in the United Kingdom with the release of their second album, The Bends 1995. Radioheads third album, OK Computer 1997, brought them international fame; noted for its complex production and themes of modern alienation, it is often acclaimed as a landmark record of the 1990s and one of the best albums in popular music. Kid A 2000 and Amnesiac 2001, recorded simultaneously, marked a dramatic change in style, incorporating influences from experimental electronic music, 20th-century classical music, krautrock, and jazz. Kid A divided listeners but was named the best album of the decade by Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and The Times.
Hail to the Thief 2003 mixed rock and electronic music with lyrics inspired by the War on Terror, and was Radioheads final album for EMI. Their subsequent releases have pioneered alternative release platforms such as pay-what-you-want and BitTorrent; Radiohead self-released their seventh album, In Rainbows 2007, as a download for which customers could set their own price, to critical and chart success. Their eighth album, The King of Limbs 2011, an exploration of rhythm, was developed using extensive looping and sampling. A Moon Shaped Pool 2016 prominently featured Jonny Greenwoods orchestral arrangements. Jonny Greenwood, Yorke, Selway, and OBrien have released solo works.
Radiohead had sold more than 30 million albums worldwide by 2011. Their work places highly in both listener polls and critics lists of the best music of the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.
1.1. History 1985–1992: Formation and first years
The members of Radiohead met while attending Abingdon School, an independent school for boys in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Guitarist and singer Thom Yorke and bassist Colin Greenwood were in the same year, guitarist Ed OBrien and drummer Philip Selway the year above, and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, brother of Colin, two years below. In 1985, they formed On a Friday, the name referring to their usual rehearsal day in the schools music room. Jonny was the last to join, first on harmonica and then keyboards, but soon became lead guitarist; he had previously been in another band, Illiterate Hands, with musician Nigel Powell and Yorkes brother Andy Yorke. According to Colin, the band members picked their instruments because they wanted to play together, rather than through an interest in the particular instrument: "It was more of a collective angle, and if you could contribute by having someone else play your instrument, then that was really cool." At one point, On a Friday featured a saxophone section.
The band disliked the schools strict atmosphere - the headmaster once charged them for using a rehearsal room on a Sunday - and found solace in the schools music department. They credited their music teacher for introducing them to jazz, film scores, postwar avant-garde music, and 20th-century classical music. Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley had an active independent music scene in the late 1980s, but it centred on shoegazing bands such as Ride and Slowdive. On the strength of an early demo, On a Friday were offered a record deal by Island Records, but the members decided they were not ready and wanted to go to university first.
Although all but Jonny had left Abingdon by 1987 to attend university, On a Friday continued to rehearse on weekends and holidays. At the University of Exeter, Yorke played with the band Headless Chickens, performing songs including future Radiohead material. He also met artist Stanley Donwood, who later created artwork for Radiohead. In 1991, On a Friday regrouped, sharing a house on the corner of Magdalen Road and Ridgefield Road, Oxford.
As On a Friday continued to perform in Oxford, record labels and producers became interested. Chris Hufford, Slowdives producer and co-owner of Oxfords Courtyard Studios, attended an early On a Friday concert at the Jericho Tavern. Impressed, he and his partner Bryce Edge produced a demo tape and became On a Fridays managers; they remain Radioheads managers today. In late 1991, after a chance meeting between Colin and A&R representative Keith Wozencroft at Our Price, the record shop where Colin worked, On a Friday signed a six-album recording contract with EMI. At EMIs request, the band changed their name; "Radiohead" was taken from the song "Radio Head" on the Talking Heads album True Stories 1986.
1.2. History 1992–1994: "Creep", Pablo Honey and early success
Radiohead recorded their debut release, the Drill EP, with Chris Hufford and Bryce Edge at Courtyard Studios. Released in May 1992, its chart performance was poor. The band enlisted Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade, who had worked with US indie bands Pixies and Dinosaur Jr., to produce their debut album, recorded quickly in an Oxford studio in 1992. With the release of the "Creep" single later that year, Radiohead began to receive attention in the British music press, not all of it favourable; NME described them as "a lily-livered excuse for a rock band", and "Creep" was blacklisted by BBC Radio 1 because it was deemed "too depressing".
Radiohead released their debut album, Pablo Honey, in February 1993. It stalled at number 22 in the UK charts, as "Creep" and its follow-up singles "Anyone Can Play Guitar" and "Stop Whispering" failed to become hits. "Pop Is Dead", a non-album single, also sold poorly; OBrien later called the track "a hideous mistake". Some critics compared the bands early style to the wave of grunge music popular in the early 1990s, dubbing them "Nirvana-lite", and Pablo Honey failed to make a critical or a commercial impact upon its initial release.
In early 1993, Radiohead began to attract listeners elsewhere. "Creep" had been played frequently on Israeli radio by influential DJ Yoav Kutner, and in March, after the song became a hit in that country, Radiohead were invited to Tel Aviv for their first gig overseas. Around the same time, the San Francisco alternative radio station KITS added "Creep" to its playlist. Soon other radio stations along the west coast of the United States followed suit. By the time Radiohead began their first North American tour in June 1993, the music video for "Creep" was in heavy rotation on MTV. The song rose to number two on the US modern rock chart, entered the lower reaches of the top 40 pop chart, and hit number seven in the UK Singles Chart when EMI rereleased it in the UK in September.
1.3. History 1994–1995: The Bends, critical recognition and growing fanbase
Radiohead began work on their second album in 1994 with veteran Abbey Road Studios producer John Leckie. Tensions were high, with mounting expectations to match the success of "Creep". Recording felt unnatural in the studio, with the band having over-rehearsed the material. Seeking a change of scenery, they toured the Far East, Australasia and Mexico and found greater confidence performing their new music live. However, troubled by his new fame, Yorke became disillusioned with being "at the sharp end of the sexy, sassy, MTV eye-candy lifestyle" he felt he was helping to sell to the world. The My Iron Lung EP and single, released in 1994, was Radioheads reaction, marking a transition towards the greater depth they aimed for on their second album. It was their first time working with their future producer Nigel Godrich, then working under Leckie as an audio engineer. It was also Radioheads first collaboration with artist Stanley Donwood, who has produced all of their artwork since. Promoted through alternative radio stations, My Iron Lung s sales were better than expected, and suggested that the band had found a loyal fanbase and were not one-hit wonders.
Having introduced more new songs on tour, Radiohead finished recording their second album by the end of 1994, and released The Bends in March 1995. The album was driven by dense riffs and ethereal atmospheres from the three guitarists, with greater use of keyboards than their debut. It received stronger reviews for its songwriting and performances. While Radiohead were seen as outsiders to the Britpop scene that dominated music media at the time, they were finally successful in their home country with The Bends, as singles "Fake Plastic Trees", "High and Dry", "Just", and "Street Spirit Fade Out" made their way to chart success; "Street Spirit" placed Radiohead in the top five for the first time. "High and Dry" became a modest hit, but Radioheads growing fanbase was insufficient to repeat the worldwide success of "Creep". The Bends peaked at No. 88 on the US album charts, which remains Radioheads lowest showing there. Nonetheless, Radiohead were satisfied with the albums reception. Jonny Greenwood said: "I think the turning point for us came about nine or twelve months after The Bends was released and it started appearing in peoples, with all proceeds to the environmentalist group Extinction Rebellion. In December, Radiohead made their discography available free to stream on YouTube. On 19 January 2020, they launched the Radiohead Public Library, an online archive of their work, including music videos, television performances, artwork, newsletters, old versions of their website, and the 1998 documentary Meeting People Is Easy.
2. Style and songwriting
Among Radioheads earliest influences were Queen, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd and Elvis Costello, post-punk acts such as Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Magazine, and significantly 1980s alternative rock bands such as R.E.M., U2, the Pixies, the Smiths and Sonic Youth.
By the mid-1990s, Radiohead began to adopt recording methods from hip hop, inspired by the sampling work of DJ Shadow, and became interested in using computers to generate sounds. Other influences include the jazz of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Alice Coltrane, the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone, 1960s rock groups such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and Phil Spectors "wall of sound" production.
The electronic music of Kid A and Amnesiac was inspired by Yorkes admiration for Warp Records artists such as Aphex Twin; in 2013, Yorke named Aphex Twin as his biggest influence. Kid A also samples early computer music. The jazz of Charles Mingus, Alice Coltrane and Miles Davis, and 1970s krautrock bands such as Can and Neu!, were other major influences during this period. Jonny Greenwoods interest in 20th-century classical music also had a role, as the influence of composers Krzysztof Penderecki and Olivier Messiaen was apparent. Since the recording of Kid A, Greenwood has played the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument popularised by Messiaen.
Recording In Rainbows, Radiohead mentioned rock, electronic, hip hop and experimental musicians as influences, including Bjork, M.I.A, Liars, Modeselektor and Spank Rock. In 2011, Yorke denied that Radiohead had set out to make "experimental music", saying they were "constantly absorbing music" and that a variety of musicians are always influencing their work. Drummer Clive Deamer, who has recorded and performed with Radiohead since 2011, said that Radiohead did not see themselves as a rock band and felt their methodology had closer parallels with jazz: "They deliberately try to avoid cliche and standard forms for the sake of the song. Rock bands dont do that. Its far more like a jazz mentality."
Yorke is Radioheads principal songwriter and lyricist. Songs usually begin with a sketch by Yorke, which is harmonically developed by Jonny Greenwood before the rest of the band develop their parts. Arrangement is a collaborative effort, with all members having roles in the process. The band often try several approaches to songs, and may develop them over years; for example, Radiohead first performed "True Love Waits" in 1995 before releasing it in a different arrangement on A Moon Shaped Pool in 2016. Jonny Greenwood said he saw Radiohead as "just a kind of an arrangement to form songs using whatever technology suits the song. And that technology can be a cello or it can be a laptop. Its all sort of machinery when looked at in the right way."
The Kid A and Amnesiac sessions brought a change in Radioheads music and working methods. Since their shift from conventional rock music instrumentation toward an emphasis on electronic sound, the members have gained flexibility and now regularly switch instruments depending on the particular song requirements. On Kid A and Amnesiac, Yorke played keyboard and bass, while Jonny Greenwood often played ondes Martenot, bassist Colin Greenwood worked on sampling, and OBrien and Selway branched out to drum machines and digital manipulation, also finding ways to incorporate their primary instruments – guitar and percussion, respectively – into the new sound. The relaxed 2003 sessions for Hail to the Thief led to a different dynamic, with Yorke saying his power in the band had been "absolutely unbalanced" and that he would "subvert everybody elses power at all costs. But. its actually a lot more healthy now, democracy-wise."
Radiohead had sold more than 30 million albums worldwide by 2011. Their work places highly in both listener polls and critics lists of the best music of the 1990s and 2000s. In 2005, they were ranked 73rd in Rolling Stone s list of "The Greatest Artists of All Time"; Jonny Greenwood and OBrien were both included in Rolling Stone s list of the best guitarists, and Yorke in their list of the best singers. In 2009, Rolling Stone readers voted Radiohead the second-best artist of the 2000s, behind Green Day. Five Radiohead albums have been nominated for the Mercury Prize, making Radiohead the most nominated act in the prizes history. They have been listed among the greatest bands of all time by Spin 15th and WatchMojo.com 10th, and among the greatest artists by VH1 29th. They were also ranked as the third best British band in history by Harry Fletcher of the Evening Standard.
Radiohead were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. David Byrne of Talking Heads, one of Radioheads formative influences, spoke at the induction ceremony; he praised Radioheads music and their release innovations, which had "affected the entire music business". The pay-what-you-want release for In Rainbows is credited as a major step for music distribution. Forbes wrote that Radiohead had "helped forge the template for unconventional album releases in the internet age", ahead of artists such as Beyonce and Drake. Kid A is credited for pioneering the use of internet to stream and promote music. Gavin Haynes of NME described Radiohead in 2014 as "our generations Beatles".
Nigel Godrich first worked with Radiohead as an audio engineer on their second album, The Bends. He has produced all their studio albums since their third album, OK Computer. He has been dubbed the bands "sixth member", an allusion to George Martin being called the "Fifth Beatle". In 2016, Godrich said: "I can only ever have one band like Radiohead who Ive worked with for this many years. Thats a very deep and profound relationship. The Beatles could only have ever had one George Martin; they couldnt have switched producers halfway through their career. All that work, trust, and knowledge of each other would have been thrown out of the window and theyd have to start again."
Graphic artist Stanley Donwood met Yorke when they were art students. Together, they have produced all of Radioheads album covers and visual artwork since 1994. Donwood works in the studio with the band as they record, allowing the music to influence the artwork. He and Yorke won a Grammy in 2002 for the special edition of Amnesiac packaged as a library book.
Dilly Gent has commissioned all Radiohead music videos since OK Computer, working with the band to find directors. Since Radioheads formation, Andi Watson has been their lighting and stage director, designing the visuals of live concerts, such as the carbon-neutral "LED forest" of the In Rainbows tour. Technician Peter "Plank" Clements has worked with Radiohead since before The Bends, overseeing the setup of their instruments for studio recordings and live performances. Jim Warren has been Radioheads live sound engineer since their first tour in 1992, and recorded early demos and studio tracks including "High and Dry" and "Pop Is Dead". Drummer Clive Deamer was enlisted in 2011 to help perform the complex rhythms of The King of Limbs, and has performed and recorded with Radiohead since. Paul Thomas Anderson has directed several music videos for Yorke and Radiohead, and has collaborated with Jonny Greenwood on several film scores and the 2015 documentary Junun.
5. Band members
- Thom Yorke – vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards
- Philip Selway – drums, percussion
- Jonny Greenwood – guitar, keyboards, ondes Martenot, orchestral arrangements
- Ed OBrien – guitar, effects, backing vocals
- Colin Greenwood – bass guitar
Additional live members
- Clive Deamer – drums, percussion 2011–present
- Amnesiac 2001
- In Rainbows 2007
- The King of Limbs 2011
- OK Computer 1997
- Hail to the Thief 2003
- The Bends 1995
- Kid A 2000
- Pablo Honey 1993
- A Moon Shaped Pool 2016