OH, YOUNG LIONS

notes from Corey Beasley. find more of my writing at PopMatters and Cokemachineglow.
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Top 20 Radiohead Tracks, #20-#16

PopMatters had me do a new “List This” feature, ranking Radiohead’s top 15 songs. Never one to shy away from an opportunity to make the entire internet hate me, I went ahead and wrote a top 20. Here are the 5 that didn’t make the feature. I’ll share the link for the other 15 once the list goes live!

20. “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” The Bends

The Bends’ closer blends that album’s soaring, cinematic tone with hints of what would come next for the band. Dark almost to pitch, the track sees Thom Yorke exploring the paranoia of modern urban life in the surrealistic, claustrophobic manner (“Rows of houses all bearing down on me / I can feel their blue hands touching me”) he’d perfect on OK Computer and Kid A. Musically, the group opts out of the more traditional verse-chorus-verse structure of much of The Bends and Pablo Honey for a tensely coiled build-and-release. It’s the sound of Radiohead pushing themselves toward the band they’d become soon enough.

19. “I Might Be Wrong,” Amnesiac

On an album full of Radiohead’s most challenging, least conventional material, “I Might Be Wrong” might feel like an oasis to some listeners. Jonny Greenwood’s bluesy riff manages to evoke both classic rock in its rhythmic fuzz and the electronic influences of Kid A and Amnesiac in the way its insistent repetition makes it sound almost looped or sampled. The final minute-long coda surprises by scaling things back, leaving us with one of the most beautiful moments on Amnesiac, an album bursting with them.

18. “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box,” Amnesiac 

“Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box” sets the template for Amnesiac, placing a premium on atmosphere over bombast, rhythm-centric grooves over straightforward hooks. Yorke’s mantra, “I’m a reasonable man, / Get off my case, / Get off my case,” comes off less convincing than frightening, the kind of thing the guy twitching next to you on the subway might mutter under his breath. How’s that for a soundtrack on your way to work?

17. “True Love Waits,” I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings 

It’s the rawness of “True Love Waits” that makes it stand out in Radiohead’s discography, a simple acoustic ballad performed by a band better known for their restless experimentation and groundbreaking ingenuity. Yorke sings his lovelorn heart out, and it’s refreshing to hear a guy so often sidled with accusations of inscrutability lay things bare with just an acoustic guitar and a microphone.

16. “Talk Show Host,” “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” Single

Is “Talk Show Host” a love song or a fight song? Visions of Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes aside, it’s probably both. Thom Yorke dares his target—of romance, of violence—to come and find him, to break down the door, where he’ll be “waiting with a gun and a pack of sandwiches.” Meanwhile, his band creates a stuttering, sultry backdrop, a perfect concoction of sex and danger.

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