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Radiohead is an alternative rock group from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. Their name comes from the Talking Heads' song, Radio Head. Since their inception, the band has consisted of Thom Yorke (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Jonny Greenwood (guitar, piano, cello, glockenspiel, electronics, Ondes Martenot), Ed O'Brien (guitar, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass, synths) and Phil Selway (drums, percussion).
Formed by school friends in 1986, Radiohead did not release their first single until 1992's "Drill EP". The cathartic Creep, from the debut album Pablo Honey (1993), became a worldwide hit as grunge music dominated radio airwaves. Radiohead were initially branded as a one-hit wonder abroad, but caught on at home in the United Kingdom with its second album, The Bends (1995), earning fans with their dense guitar atmospheres and front man Thom Yorke's expressive singing. The album featured the hits "High and Dry", "Just", and "Fake Plastic Trees". The band's third album, OK Computer (1997), propelled them to greater attention. Popular both for its expansive sound and themes of modern alienation, the album has been acclaimed by critics as a landmark record of the 1990s, some critics go as far to consider it one of the best of all time. The album featured the popular singles "Paranoid Android", "Karma Police", and "No Surprises".
Radiohead's original influences were cited as alternative rock and post-punk bands like The Smiths, Pixies, R.E.M. (Thom Yorke, singer of the band, refers to himself as an R.E.M. groupie), Magazine and Joy Division. With their albums Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), the band reached their peak global popularity even as their music became less conventional, turning toward influences in electronic music, experimental jazz and avant garde classical, ranging from Autechre and Can to Charles Mingus and Olivier Messiaen. Hail to the Thief, released in 2003, saw them create songs in both their older alternative rock and later electronic style. In 2007, Radiohead gained significant publicity for independently releasing their latest album, In Rainbows, as a pay-what-you-want digital download on their website.
Although the band's recent albums have polarised listeners and failed to spin off major radio hits, Radiohead continue to be seen as figureheads in the music industry, drawing adoring crowds to their live concerts, influencing artists in many genres and enjoying surprising commercial success for a band of "outsiders".
(1986-1991) Formation and first years
Radiohead were formed in the mid-Eighties at Abingdon School, a private boys-only school located just outside the city of Oxford, which guitarist/vocalist Thom Yorke, drummer Phil Selway, guitarist Ed O'Brien, bassist Colin Greenwood and Colin's multi-instrumentalist brother Jonny Greenwood all attended. They began practising in the school's music room, which led to the formation of their first band On a Friday, so named because of their customary rehearsal date every Friday night. The band played their first gig in September 1986, at Oxford's Jericho Tavern. Jonny was the youngest member, and played harmonica until he persuaded the others to allow him on guitar. He soon developed into the band's lead player.
When the five band members left Abingdon to attend university they temporarily paused activity in On a Friday, continuing to practice on holiday breaks, always planning to return to playing full time in the band. After four years of inactivity, On a Friday began releasing demos, among which the most famous was the Manic Hedgehog Demo, and performing live again in Oxford in 1991. Their popularity in the region reached the point of their appearing on the cover of Curfew, a local music magazine. Though Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley had an active independent music scene in the late 80s and early 90s, it centred around 'shoegazing' bands like Ride and Slowdive. Radiohead was not seen to fit into this trend, and commented that they had missed it when they returned from university.
(1992-1995) Pablo Honey and The Bends
As On a Friday's live bookings increased, various record labels began to show interest in them. Eventually the group signed a six-album recording contract with EMI. The band also changed their name to Radiohead at the behest of the label, the title of a song on Talking Heads' True Stories album. The band's debut EP was produced by their managers Chris Hufford and Bryce Edge, who both remain Radiohead's managers to this day. However, shortly after releasing Drill in March 1992, the band hired Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade, known for their work with the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr., to produce their first full-length studio album. Radiohead's first album was finished in three weeks in an Oxford studio.
With the release of Creep in 1992, the band began to receive interest from the British music press, not all of it favourable. One journalist called them "a lily livered excuse for a rock band", and the single was blacklisted from BBC Radio 1 for being too depressing. The band subsequently released its debut album Pablo Honey in 1993. They began touring America, issued the irreverent stand-alone single "Pop Is Dead" and nearly broke up over the pressure of sudden success when "Creep" unexpectedly became a smash hit. Although representing a style from which the band would later move, songs like Anyone Can Play Guitar, Stop Whispering, Thinking About You, and You also gained considerable popularity for their heart-on-sleeve lyrics, causing Radiohead to be seen as a "British Nirvana." The Pablo Honey supporting tour moved into its second year as the album continued to break internationally, fuelled by "Creep", which remains the band's largest worldwide hit. However, in a recent review by Q magazine, the track Anyone Can Play Guitar was seen as "incredibly unsubtle".
Radiohead set to work on their second album. The hiring of veteran producer John Leckie contributed to the sound of the album. "The best part about working with John Leckie," Jonny recalls, "was that he didn't dictate anything to us. He allowed us to figure out what we wanted to do ourselves." Nevertheless, tensions were high as the band felt smothered by "Creep's" success and the pressures of creating a superior follow-up mounted. Recalling these sessions, Leckie recounted: "It was either going to be Sulk, The Bends, (Nice Dream), or Just. We had to give those absolute attention, make them amazing, instant smash hits number 1 in America. Everyone was pulling their hair and saying, 'It's not good enough!' We were trying too hard!" The band responded by seeking a change of scenery, touring Australasia and the Far East in an attempt to relax the atmosphere.
Itch is an EP, released exclusively to Japan on June 1, 1994. The EP contained no new material, but these versions of "Killer Cars," "You," and "Vegetable" had only been previously available on the extremely rare "Creep" reissue 12" vinyl. It does contain the US version of "Stop Whispering," which features strings and has a slower tempo. "Creep (Acoustic)" would also close the My Iron Lung EP. The three live songs were recorded at the Metro in Chicago.
The EP My Iron Lung (1994), featuring the single of the same title, was released while the band were touring and marked a transitional stage between the pop-rock of Pablo Honey and the musical depth of their second album. Having developed the remainder of the songs on the road, they returned to Britain and completed the album in a fortnight in late 1994, mixing and releasing The Bends in May (1995). The band finally earned British success and won new fans with their dense guitar atmospheres and Yorke's expressive, falsetto, singing in the singles Fake Plastic Trees, Just, and High and Dry. Yet major success for the album did not come until the release of final single Street Spirit (Fade Out), which hit the Top 5 in the UK.
In summer 1995, Radiohead toured with R.E.M. - one of their strongest influences and then one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Introducing his opening act, Michael Stipe said, "Radiohead are so good, they're scary". The buzz generated by such famous fans, along with a series of distinctive music videos such as "Just" helped to expand Radiohead's name outside the UK.
According to Phil Selway, "When The Bends came out everyone went on about how uncommercial that was. Twelve months later it was being hailed as a pop classic. The record company were worried there wasn't a single on it- and we ended up with five top 30 hits from it!" However, while critically acclaimed, in the rest of the world the album failed to match the commercial success of "Creep."
(1996-1998) OK Computer
Thom Yorke said that The Bends succeeded because "we had to put ourselves into an environment where we felt free to work. And that's why we want to produce the next one ourselves, because the times we most got off on making the last record were when we were just completely communicating with ourselves, and John Leckie wasn't really saying much, and it was just all happening".
One new song was already recorded for the album: Lucky, which was recorded in September 1995 for the War Child charity's The Help Album. Radiohead also contributed two songs to Baz Luhrmann's 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, Talk Show Host and Exit Music (For a Film). The former was a remix of one of the b-sides to "Street Spirit (Fade Out)", a single from The Bends. The latter was a new song, to be included eventually on the band's next album.
With the assistance of their engineer Nigel Godrich, Radiohead produced their next album themselves, beginning work in early 1996. By July they had recorded four songs with producer Godrich at their rehearsal studio, Canned Applause, a converted shed, near Didcot, Oxfordshire. They had hoped to stay away from traditional recording studios, fearing the bad vibes they'd previously set off in the band. Having learnt from The Bends, they decided to perfect the songs live, touring as an opening act for Alanis Morissette, before completing the record. The rest was recorded in actress Jane Seymour's 15th-century mansion in St. Catherine's Court near Bath. The recording sessions were relaxed, with the band playing at all hours of the day, recording songs in different rooms, and blasting DJ Shadow, Ennio Morricone and the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" through the house for inspiration. By the end of 1996 the album was finished and by February and March it was mixed and mastered
Radiohead released OK Computer in the summer of 1997, to great critical acclaim. A melodic rock album, OK Computer found Radiohead introducing uncommon musical elements, experimenting with ambience and noise to create a set of songs that many consider a high point of twentieth-century rock music. It included the singles Paranoid Android, Karma Police, and No Surprises (as well as "Let Down", a fan favourite whose planned single release was cancelled). In 1998, OK Computer received a Grammy for Best Alternative Album, and a nomination for Album of the Year.
OK Computer was followed by a world tour, nicknamed "Against Demons", the band's biggest yet. Grant Gee, the director of the "No Surprises" video, accompanied the band on their tour and filmed it, which resulted in the 'fly on the wall' documentary Meeting People Is Easy (released in 1999). Rather than stereotypical rock n' roll behaviour, the film depicted the band's disaffection from the music industry and showed their burnout as they progressed from their first concert dates in mid-1997 to mid-1998, nearly a year later. The band also released a compilation of their music videos (7 Television Commercials), and two EPs No Surprises / Running From Demons (1997) and Airbag / How Am I Driving? (1998) during this time. The latter EP, however, has songs that bridge the progressive alternative rock of OK Computer and their subsequent atmospheric, electronic work.
(1999-2001) Kid A and Amnesiac
Exhausted by fame and on the verge of burning out following their 1997-1998 world tour, the band spent the next year in relative quiet. Thom Yorke later admitted that during that period the band were close to splitting up, and that he himself had developed mild depression. Radiohead's only appearance later that year was at an Amnesty International concert in Paris (10 December, 1998). In 1999 Thom and Jonny performed alone at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Amsterdam, debuting a new work, "Egyptian Song" (later known as Pyramid Song). The band's only public performance was in a webcast to their fans, introducing the song Knives Out.
In early 1999 Radiohead began work on a follow-up to OK Computer, but in a less organised fashion than with their previous albums. Although there was no longer any pressure or even a deadline from their record label, tensions during this period were high. The members all had different visions for the band's future, and Yorke, in his songwriting role, was experiencing writer's block. Eventually all the members agreed with a new musical direction, redefining their roles in the band.
For the first time the band recorded without considering live performance, secluding themselves with producer Nigel Godrich in a series of different studios from Paris to Copenhagen to their own studio, newly complete in Oxford. In the process, they pared their 40 new songs down to the 30 which ultimately made their subsequent two records and accompanying b-sides.
Radiohead refused to create a stylistic sequel to OK Computer, opting for a minimalist and textured style featuring less overt guitar and more diverse instrumentation, such as the ondes martenot, electronic beats, strings, and jazz horns, but retaining some of the lyrical and musical hooks of their earlier records. "The trick is to try and carry on doing things that interest you, but not turn into some art-rock nonsense just for its own sake," Colin Greenwood said of the recording sessions, which were completed in late spring of 2000, after nearly 18 months.
Kid A, released on October 2, 2000, was the first of two albums taken from these recording sessions. Synthesised, claustrophobic, alternately lush and abrasive, with ever more cryptic lyrics, the album stunned both the music industry and Radiohead's fan base for its departures from their past work and from pop conventions. The band declined to release any singles from Kid A, apparently suggesting the album should be listened to as a whole (however, a promo of Optimistic received some radio play). Instead, a series of 'video blips' or 'antivideos' were created by video directors Chris Bran and Shynola; these 30-second largely animated videos were seen to tie in with the album's anti-consumerist themes.
Yet the 'difficult' Kid A achieved Radiohead's highest worldwide chart placement to date, debuting at number 1 in many countries, including the United States. Its position on the Billboard album chart (where OK Computer had reached a peak of #22) marked a first for the band, identifying them as one of the few modern British pop artists to penetrate the American market though the album fell off soon after. Kid A's success has been attributed both to massive hype and to the early availability of all the songs on the Internet file-sharing network Napster, accustoming fans to the new musical style, but it was also a clear result of anticipation after OK Computer.
Like its predecessor, Kid A ultimately received a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album and a nomination for Album of the Year, and also appeared on many best-of-year lists. But while the press continued to brand Radiohead one of the world's most 'important' rock bands, Kid A did not inspire universal praise. "I think a lot of writers expected us to come back with a combination of OK Computer and The Bends. The fact that we didn't do that means people who got their guitars out have had to put them back into the wardrobe," said Jonny Greenwood. However, the record also cemented Radiohead's enigmatic image, gaining them plaudits for courage and innovation. While some fans were mystified or appalled, many others now see it as the band's best work.
Inspired by Naomi Klein's anti-globalization manifesto No Logo, the band mounted a tour of Europe during this period in a big top tent free of corporate logos, but performed only three small theatre dates in North America. These concerts sold out instantly and attracted many celebrities. Along with songs from Kid A (which had been reworked for live performance after the album was finished) the band performed songs that had been recorded, but not yet released. Having rejected the possibility of a double album before Kid A, they now considered a series of EPs or singles, before settling on another album to contain the remaining material. In the meantime, a "special edition" version of Kid A was released, packaged as a children's book and featuring additional art by Stanley Donwood and Tchock (Yorke's pseudonym).
Radiohead's fifth album, Amnesiac, was released in June 2001, and comprised further tracks from the same recording sessions. Conceived as complementary but distinct sequences of songs, the two albums are similar in style and influence, a connection made explicit with different versions of the song Morning Bell appearing on both records. Amnesiac saw the band's sound coalesce into a hybrid of electronic music, avant garde jazz and art rock, though in contrast to Kid A, it did feature slightly more accessible songs, notably the piano ballad Pyramid Song (Radiohead's first single since 1997), and the guitar single Knives Out.
I Might Be Wrong, initially planned as a third single, expanded into the band's first and thus far only live record. Released in fall 2001, I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings featured performances of Kid A and Amnesiac songs from various international concerts. The live versions of "The National Anthem", "I Might Be Wrong", and "Like Spinning Plates" are notably different from the studio recordings. Also included on the album is a previously unreleased song, the fan favourite True Love Waits.
Critics who viewed Amnesiac as less accomplished than Kid A often cited a lack of cohesion. However, without quite matching its predecessor's sales, Amnesiac was critically acclaimed and a commercial success.
After Amnesiac's release, the band embarked on a world tour, concentrating on large outdoor venues and visiting North America, Europe and Japan. They also staged a summer mini-festival in Oxford's South Park, featuring Beck, Sigur Rós, Supergrass, and Humphrey Lyttelton (who played trumpet on Amnesiac's closing track, "Life in a Glasshouse").
(2002-2004) Hail to the Thief
On the heels of the Amnesiac tour the band took new material on the road in Portugal and Spain during July and August 2002. Using this opportunity to test and finalise the songs before an audience of their fans, the band completed the album in only two weeks in a Los Angeles studio with Nigel Godrich, with a few additional recordings done later in Oxford. According to interviews, the band was seeking to lessen their perfectionist tendencies and find more of a 'swaggering' live sound in the studio.
The band released their sixth album Hail to the Thief in June 2003. The record is considered as an attempt to distill the more electronic and experimental influences of the previous two albums, and fuse them with the guitar-based rock music of Radiohead's early albums. At 14 tracks and nearly an hour long, the album is the band's longest. Hail to the Thief garnered mainly positive reviews, yet some critics opined that the band were treading water rather than continuing the 'genre-redefining' trend that OK Computer had begun. It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album, the band's fifth straight nomination in that category.
Hail to the Thief's title was widely assumed in the media to be a comment on the controversial U.S. presidential election of 2000, but Thom Yorke denied this, saying the title had a wider meaning: "If the motivation for naming our album had been based solely on the U.S. election, I'd find that to be pretty shallow." The band has commented that they feared a backlash in America for the title and politics of the lyrics, as had recently befallen the Dixie Chicks when they spoke against President George W. Bush, and were pleasantly surprised when this did not occur.
However, Hail to the Thief did not have as large a commercial profile, debuting at number 3 on the US Billboard chart, though it was Radiohead's fourth consecutive UK number 1 album. The lead single There There peaked at number 4 in the British charts, with subsequent singles Go to Sleep and 2+2=5 charting at #12 and #15 respectively. But "There There" was a #1 hit in Canada, and returned the band to U.S. modern rock radio favour, after several years without a song on playlists.
After the release of Hail to the Thief, Radiohead embarked on an extensive international tour, which lasted about a year but was punctuated by long breaks; by this time, most members of Radiohead had families and children at home. To many the band appeared more relaxed than on earlier tours, laughing at meetings with the press, and dancing on stage. In June 2003 Radiohead again headlined the main (Pyramid) stage on the Saturday of the Glastonbury Festival.
In late 2003 Radiohead contributed original music to Split Sides, a project of Merce Cunningham's dance company which also involved their former touring partners Sigur Rós. The band finished the Hail to the Thief tour in mid-2004 with a performance at the Coachella Festival.
After the tour, the band began writing and rehearsing for a new album in their Oxford based studio, then went on hiatus as Ed had had a son, Salvador, born in January 2004, and Colin was awaiting the birth of his firstborn Jesse. Free of any contractual obligations, Radiohead spent the remainder of 2004 resting and devoting themselves to solo projects, only recording together sporadically. They released the DVD version of their webcast television show, The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth Of All Time, in December 2004. Jonny and Thom collaborated with many other artists for the Band Aid 20 project, playing guitar and piano, respectively.
(2005-Present) In Rainbows
Radiohead began work again in early 2005. As a result of the band's work, Thom and Jonny debuted a new song, "Arpeggi", in March 2005, playing it at London's Ether Festival; Greenwood also debuted two of his own classical pieces, one written for the Ondes Martenot. Later that summer, Thom performed an acoustic set for the Trade Justice Rally, playing never-recorded fan favourite "Nude" (aka "Big Ideas"), debuting the new song "House of Cards," reviving the unreleased "Reckoner," and introducing "Last Flowers ," a remnant of the OK Computer period. Radiohead did not perform live in 2005, but would perform some of these songs later by the full band.
Radiohead returned to regular recording sessions by late summer 2005, posting intermittently in their Dead Air Space blog on their progress. Recording continued into early 2006. On the initial sessions, the band chose to work with Mark 'Spike' Stent instead of their longtime co-producer Nigel Godrich. As revealed by Ed O'Brien in December 2005, the switch was made amiably because the band felt too comfortable with Godrich and wanted to challenge themselves. However, Godrich closely followed their recording sessions and will work with the band in the future. The band also said that having "no contract or release deadline to fulfill – it's both liberating and terrifying."
In early September 2005 the band recorded a new song, "I Want None of This" - a haunting piano-piece - for the War Child charity album Help: A Day in the Life - a sequel to the 1995 compilation to which the band had contributed "Lucky". The album was sold on the Internet, and Radiohead's contribution became the most downloaded track, though in contrast with "Lucky" it was not released as a single.
In May and June 2006, Radiohead toured England and major cities in Europe and North America, returning to Europe for several concerts in late August. The tour drew sold out crowds to smaller venues, such as clubs and theatres. 2006 also marked the first time the band had played the Bonnaroo and V music festivals; they played a massive 28-song set at Bonnaroo, and headlined both lineups of V.
In addition to playing old songs and re-arranged versions of "Arpeggi", "Nude" and "House of Cards," Radiohead premiered 10 new songs on their 2006 tour: "Bangers 'n' Mash", "Open Pick", "15 Step", "4 Minute Warning", "Spooks", "Bodysnatchers", "Go Slowly", "Videotape", "Down Is The New Up" and "All I Need". According to interviews, these represent only a portion of the newly written material. Radiohead returned to studio in September, rumoured to have recruited longtime co-producer Nigel Godrich. This was confirmed in mid October with a photo of Nigel posted by Jonny on DeadAirSpace. Thom also commented "We've started the record properly now. Starting to get somewhere, I think. Finally."
Radiohead released their seventh album, In Rainbows, on October 10th 2007. The album has been released as a digital download through their website (www.radiohead.com), and the price paid for it is up to the buyer, though if you decide to pay anything over 0, a 0.45GBP credit card service charge is incurred. There is also a limited edition made-to-order box set that includes vinyl copies of the album, a second disc and original Stanley Donwood art. This package is priced at GB£40/US$81 (shipping included). The double album contains many of the songs debuted live in their 2006 tour, as well as several older unreleased tracks (Last Flowers, Reckoner) and previously unheard material. Part of the album was recorded in Tottenham House in the Savernake Forest, Wiltshire; previously a youth rehab centre, and the location for an East 17 video. The band claimed on their Radio 1 show with Steve Lamacq, that despite all the recording there, they returned with mostly just ambience for the record, and particularly the song 'Bodysnatchers'.
It is suspected that Radiohead could, with this unconventional last release, promote the vinyl buying medium beyond recent measure, as many younger fans are set to be looking for a record player to hear In Rainbows in its finest. It is likely to encourage these new vinyl lovers to buy more of their music rather than download leaked copies, as the trends have suggested.
This release format works in the artists favour and is inspiring others to follow their lead. Major bands such as: Oasis, Jamiroquai, Nine Inch Nails and Madonna have already suggested they are considering releasing their music in this manner - Saul Williams released his newest album online, allowing fans a choice between paying $5 or nothing; fans paying for the album are given a choice of formats and bitrates.
In January 2008, "In Rainbows" was also released as a traditional CD. At the same time a free 52 minute music video was made available by the band via YouTube featuring all the songs from the album ("Scotch Mist - a film with Radiohead in it").
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