Saturday, June 28, 1997

Radiohead hit #1 in the UK with OK Computer

OK Computer

Radiohead


Released: May 21, 1997


Charted: June 28, 1997


Peak: 21 US, 12 UK, 2 CN, 7 AU


Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, 1.58 UK, 7.99 world (includes US and UK)


Peak: 21 US, 12 UK, 2 CN, 7 AU


Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, 1.58 UK, 7.99 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: experimental rock/ Britpop


Spotify Podcast:
Check out the Dave’s Music Database podcast Radiohead’s OK Computer: The 25th Anniversary based on this list. Premiere: June 2, 2022, at 7pm CST. Tune in every Tuesday at 7pm for a new episode based on the lists at Dave’s Music Database.

Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)

  1. Airbag [4:44] (4/21/98, --)
  2. Paranoid Android [6:23] (5/26/97, #3 UK)
  3. Subterranean Homesick Alien [4:27]
  4. Exit Music (For a Film) [4:24]
  5. Let Down [4:59] (8/16/97 #29 MR)
  6. Karma Police [4:21] (8/6/97, #69 UK, #14 MR)
  7. Fitter Happier [1:57]
  8. Electioneering [3:50]
  9. Climbing Up the Walls [4:45]
  10. No Surprises [3:48] (1/24/98 #4 UK)
  11. Lucky [4:19] (11/4/95, --)
  12. The Tourist [5:24]

All songs written by Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Philip Selway, Ed O’Brien, and Colin Greenwood.


Total Running Time: 53:21


The Players:

  • Thom Yorke (vocals)
  • Jonny Greenwood (guitar, keyboards)
  • Ed O’Brien (guitar, effects)
  • Colin Greenwood (bass)
  • Phil Selway (drums)

Rating:

4.443 out of 5.00 (average of 24 ratings)


Quotable: “Art-rock at its most rewarding and contradictory” – Colin Helms, Barnes & Noble


Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

When Radiohead put out their magnum opus, OK Computer,” CR it “hit a lot of people by surprise…People paying attention knew the band were more than just the group that did ‘Creep,’ but few were prepared for the creative leap they had taken in the short time since The Bends came out just two years earlier.” RS’11 “The world just wasn’t ready for an album that exhibited every trait of human emotion in the form of a rock opera, ranging from loneliness, anxiety, conformity, individuality, rebellion, consumerism, and the like.” CR “As Britpop plunged from grace, Radiohead planted a revolutionary flag in the mountaintop. With OK Computer’s salvo, they shed the skin of insurgent oddballs, ditched grungy radio rock and electrified the popular imagination.” GN

This “is art-rock at its most rewarding and contradictory.” BN The album’s “astonishing emotional and compositional complexity…catapulted [Radiohead] into the realm of idolatry,” BN marking “these five Oxonians' departure from mainstream rock and their assumption of the title The Only Band That Matters.” TL

The album “vigorously defies fast analysis, flip judgment and easy interpretation” RS as it “takes countless schizophrenic twists and turns.” BN It is “subtly layered but startlingly bombastic, melancholic but beautifully serene, fractured and chaotic but completely sure of its own sonic ambition.” BN It “rejects speed and hooks in favor of languorous texture and morose details.” AZ Radiohead have “stripped away many of the obvious elements of guitar rock, creating music that is subtle and textured, yet still has the feeling of rock & roll.” AMG It is a “spooky, atmospheric, intense and paranoid rumination on modern life – the kind of thing that would be insufferable if it didn't float along on a procession of gorgeous melodies…punctuated by Thom Yorke’s elastic tenor.” TL

“It's not always easy to determine which instrument makes which noise. The melodies are unorthodox and tangentia” QM and “Thom Yorke's voice effortlessly shifts from a sweet falsetto to vicious snarls.” AMG “It’s a thoroughly astonishing demonstration of musical virtuosity, and becomes even more impressive with repeated listens, which reveal subtleties like electronica rhythms, eerie keyboards, odd time signatures, and complex syncopations.” AMG “Figure in waves of disorienting guitar effects, barely there rhythmic undercurrents, and eerie, ambient washes, and you've got one of the few rock masterpieces of the ‘90s.” BN

“A lot of prog rock fans will get off on the album's more planetarium-compatible noises.” QM The album “got compared to Pink Floyd a lot when it came out, and its slow drama and conceptual sweep certainly put it in that category.” AZ It “is a majestic recording of fear and despair with sweeping soundscapes, adding beauty to…dour themes” RV on “the debilitating clutter of modern life and the desire to escape from it.” BN It explores the idea that “the past is being perpetually deleted (with the future yet to be downloaded).” URB Musically, Radiohead matches such aims by crafting “an album about the way machines dehumanize people that’s almost entirely un-electronic.” AZ

OK Computer takes a few listens to appreciate, but its entirety means more than any one song.” AZ It “is the album that establishes Radiohead as one of the most inventive and rewarding guitar-rock bands of the ‘90s” AMG and “one of the greatest albums ever made.” AD

During the first month of recording “No Surprises,” “Subterranean Homesick Alen,” “The Tourist,” and “Electioneering,” they worked in a converted apple-storage shed. PS’04 However, they then relocated to Bath, England, “deep in the lush, green heart of the English countryside,” PS’04 hiring out a historic 10th century mansion, RG St. Catherine’s Court, owned by actress Jane Seymour. PS’04 She made the film Jamaica Inn there in 1982 and purchased the property by the end of the first day of filming. PS’04

Jonny Greenwood said, “Studios are generally very horrible places for recording. They’re pretty unmusical, so we just decided to turn a big empty house into a studio…[Jane] said to us, ‘come and stay,’ handed us the keys and told us to feed the cat.” PS’04 Recording took place all over the house, but primarily in the ballroom because of its size and acoustics. PS’04 New Order, Robbie Williams, and The Cure have also stayed there. PS’04

“Airbag”
This is “one of the best and most majestic opening tracks on any record ever made, hands down.” BZ It is the “agenda-setter for the album to follow: the voice, words, noise breaks, guitar solos, carefully positioned ‘motivic’ bass and drums.” DG-51 It is “clever how something which sounds vast and symphonic is actually…about the airbags that are fitted to cars as a safety device.” DG-48 The song “conveys the odd feeling of being saved by technology from technology, and it does so with awesome grandeur that few bands could hope to touch.” AS

“As if pulled from the wreckage having just watched life flash before his eyes, Yorke affirms in the confident chorus, ‘In an interstellar burst / I’m back to save the universe.’” EX “He blends the addled confusion of a car-crash survivor with the testifying fervor of someone who truly believes himself to be born again.” AS In fact, he walked away unharmed from a car accident in 1987 and said, “Every time you have a near accident, instead of just sighing and carrying on, you should pull over, get out of the car and run down the street screaming, ‘I’M BACK! I’M ALIVE! My life has started again today!” CS

His “voice creates the most remarkable sense of sweetness,” DG-50 “presid[ing] over the melee like a despairing god.” GN It “has its distinct ranges, highs and lows, but it’s clearly the high one which does the most damage.” DG-51

Overall, though, the song is “notably non-wordy, with the two instrumental breaks.” DG-49 “There’s a constant fear that all of the musical elements are going to end up colliding and drifting off into nothingness, and yet when it’s all over it feels effortlessly graceful.” UP It is “a quicksilver, heady mix of elements;” AS “first the brain-melting deluge, then ripples of funk, a sexy drum lurch and some Maxinquaye basslines.” GN It includes Jonny “Greenwood’s King Crimson-style guitar chords” QM and Selway’s “hissing, spitting drums” QM alongside Colin Greenwood’s “deeply sinister soundtrack of Mellotron…reggae-style bass” QM “communicating far more by what it leaves out than what it keeps.” AS “No drummer has ever come closer to capturing the cut-up aesthetic of sampled percussion without losing the advantages of playing live drums.” BZ

The ”unusual rhythm section allows room for some underwater guitar effects to enter, providing just the bright amount of psychedelic wash for these proceedings.” AS Producer Nigel Godrich pulls it all together, “turning distorted guitars and electronic drums into a combo,” CS creating “a mutant, DJ Shadow–like rock, warping Selway’s drums through guitar pedals, racing to build back to that opening riff.” RG

“Paranoid Android”
“If you had to play somebody one Radiohead song to convince them of the band's brilliance, it should probably be ‘Paranoid Android.’” RS’11 This is “their first truly original artistic statement” RB and “very possibly the best rock song of the millennium, the last few decades and maybe even ever.” PS’16 “They distilled everything that makes them great, the energy, the beauty, the experimentation, the abrasiveness, the gentleness, the fearlessness, the fears, the transcendence of those fears, the songwriting, the musicianship, the uniqueness, the utter, unadulterated brilliance, the whole ball of wax, into one crazy, untamable beast of a song.” AS “Nothing about ‘Paranoid Android’… makes sense: The chords don’t go together. The sections feel jumbled. There’s no clear narrative. The melodies are too strange. The choir sounds cut off. The song’s too long! But these are also reasons why it's one of Radiohead's best songs.” RB

This is “a towering pop mutation” RB “clocking in at a tortured, schizophrenic 6-and-a-half minutes.” BZ It is “as tricky and complex as anything found in ‘70s prog,” DF “a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the nineties.” AD It also “draws comparisons to The Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’” RV and its three stitched-together parts from other songs was inspired by the Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” RS’11 “tethered…by a pleading urgency in which Yorke lashes out at his unnamed opposition in between distorted guitar screeches and dead-eyed harmonies.” BB Guitarist Ed O’Brien described the song as “Queen meets the Pixes.” RG The initial version was “a 14-minute sprawler that included organ” CS which producer Nigel Godrich said delved into “Deep Purple territory” RG while Yorke jokingly described the song as a “Pink Floyd cover.” FT

“The comparisons to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ were inevitable, but whereas Queen’s song suite bursts with melodic joy, the moody “Paranoid Android” is full of anxiety and lacks any obvious hooks.” BB “There’s absolutely no interest in coddling listeners or adhering to trends” SA and when Radiohead released it as the album’s first single, they refused to cut it down for radio. RS’11 It is “a lumbering Frankenstein’s monster of sludgy prog-rock and stuttery electronica” SA which “incorporates several different styles into a single bombastic symphony of dread.” RV

The epic is packed with “alternating time signatures, wild dynamic shifts, drama and adrenaline to spare.” VH1 “This dizzying suite begins as a creepy lullaby” EX and then “combusts with speaker-blown alt-rock,” EX “morphing and rocketing around like a firework with a broken fuse.” CS“Just when you think you’ve had enough, it slows back down” SP to “the Gregorian-chant pace working subtle magic on our defenses that have already been battered by the first two parts,” AS “before finally being sucked down into hell with a squalling guitar freakout.” EX “Greenwood gives you every reason to practice your air guitar, where everything sounds as if it’s burning down.” CS

It is long enough that one of its “three sections…even has its own sub-section. There’s a terrific, jazzy 7/8 part with electric piano and deep-grooving bass; there’s a hefty dose of blistering rock (with two guitar solos); and there’s a truly awesome vocal harmony sequence reminiscent of a load of monks chanting a particularly intense extract from David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World.’” QM

“Yorke delivers some of his best singing here, pleading for redemption from on high only to be rebuffed by another version of himself snapping him back to reality.” AS Listening to the song is about spending time “with either a manic-depressive or a brief thunderstorm.” SP Yorke wrote it after encountering a woman at a bar who turned violent when someone spilled a drink on her. BZ He said it was about “the fall of the Roman Empire, but good luck finding anything in the lyrics that seem related to that topic in any way.” RS’11 The title refers to Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, CS but that also seems to have nothing to do with the song. “As unhinged as the lyrics…may seem, there is a consistent thread of dread running through them, the feeling that all of these seemingly unreal acts of tyranny and fascism are committed on a smaller scale every single day.” AS

The video “interestingly seems to reflect the sound as heard.” DG-54 “The adventures of the cartoon protagonists seem to match the music.” DG-54

“Subterreanean Homesick Alien”
This “brilliantly titled” AD song is a play on Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and uses electric keyboards in Yorke’s effort to emulate “the magic he heard on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.” RG It features “wonderful, tingling, golden guitars and ‘Riders on the Storm’-style electric piano” QM supported by “evocative lyrics, spooky sounds and wonderful atmospheres.” AD “Some of those guitar parts sound like parts of a Beethoven string quartet.” DG-56 “The spacey and warm sound of the track, its slow place, complements the scale and frantic exactitutde of the previous track.” DG-55 This “shimmering” AMG song “drips each of its notes like a spoonful of honey, letting guitar lines and keys backstroke through an ocean of reverb.” CS

Thematically, it delves into “the terror of alienation.” RV “and the ever-present feelings of nostalgia and longing.” CS “Yorke observes a fleet of aliens surveying humanity. What, the interlopers wonder, is up with these oddballs? In fact, it’s all an excuse for Yorke’s alienated narrator to ask himself: am I the problem or is society? Radiohead exist to petition for the second option; here, however, was sweet ambiguity.” GN

“While Yorke is busy fantasizing about extraterrestrials abducting him, the others try to emulate the expansiveness of space and its shared qualities with missing home.” CS “Capturing homesickness is relatively easy to do, but capturing the ways it moves inside you – lurches and sedatives alike — isn’t.” CS

“Exit Music (For a Film)”
“If Radiohead had a blueprint for the kind of unique musical architecture they’ve built over the years, it might be best displayed here. The fragility at the beginning in both Yorke’s vocal and the eerily omnipotent musicality cast upon the listener sets the tone for quite a track. The pain and want and anxiety builds over the duration of the song until it climaxes in a seething soup of instrumental immediacy fronted by the frontman’s epic lyrical and vocal delivery.” PS’16

This is a “foreboding acoustic number” CS which was made for Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo and Juliet movie. While featured in the movie’s end credits, it was withheld from the soundtrack in favor of it appearing on Radiohead’s OK Computer album. Radiohead offered up a remix of “Talk Show Host” for the soundtrack instead. RG The “darkly theatrical masterpiece” FT “concerns two young lovers leaving home and going on the run.” QM “Yorke tried to write the lyrics using only lines from Shakespeare, but settled for something amounting to a summary of the play instead.” BZ “Nothing has ever come as close to matching the spirit and emotion of Shakespeare’s original play.” AS

Radiohead offer “a piercing scream of youthful independence, proof that, even in death, love is stronger than any opposing force of negativity. Thom Yorke…contrasts the lovers talk, all gentle and sighing, with the abrasive sneer the protagonist shows to the naysaying elders. It’s like two different songs, but the music brings them together effortlessly to make them one complete statement…There is no real line of separation between the opening part when the two lovers are plotting their escape and the closing parts, when, from the line about ‘everlasting peace,’ we can infer that they’re already dead…[It isn’t] too far to leap then to say that the earlier section is written from the perspective of Romeo as he lays dying next to Juliet. That would explain the admonition to her to ‘keep breathing’ and the final line before the music gets heavy: ‘There’s such a chill, such a chill.’ That’s when the fuzz bass and drums enter the picture, shattering the reverie with a blast of aggression that matches Yorke’s shift to uncontained hatred. It builds to that explosive climax” AS “Then, during a murderous surge of drums and fuzz bass, the picture goes fuzzy. The fog clears just in time to hear Yorke” QM “singing with every ounce of power he has as the music swirls and crashes all around him.” AS His last moan,“the vengeful taunt…‘we hope that you choke’ suggests that our heroes might have escaped, a rare happy ending in Radiohead-world.” UP

“Radiohead’s music does seem occasionally rather filmic, or visual;” DG-57 in this case, even evoking an “Ennio Morricone flavour.” DG-57 The “low rumble of Yorke’s acoustic guitar at the start, which sounds like a Johnny Cash prison ballad being beamed from Mars,” UP reflecting Yorke’s then-obsession with the live At Folsom Prison album. RG

“If you want to show someone how versatile Yorke’s voice is, look no further than” RB “the searing balladry” BB of “‘Exit Music (For a Film).’ The song…moves from Yorke’s rumbling baritone to a bridge section that sees his voice slowly moving up the scale until the song’s riveting climax, the distorted bass, pummeling drums, synth pads and guitar complementing his astounding vocal performance. It ends in musical catharsis, fitting for a tragedy.” RB “Yorke has never sounded gloomier, with poisonous murmurs rising to a bloodcurdling fever pitch.” GN

“The gothic crawl” AMG and “bleak, langorous despair” BN of the song are marked by “an unearthly choir of basses and sopranos” QM created by Jonny Greenwood’s Mellotron.

“Let Down”
“The most beloved Radiohead music is painfully earnest and emotional, almost embarrassingly so…The greatest Radiohead tunes are emotionally risky…‘Let Down’ is precisely this kind of song.” UP It is “one of the album’s warmest melodies and performances.” DF This is a “cathartic song which evokes ‘the emptiness of feeling’ which comes after all the feelings and emotions – after a loss of a close person, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, the school bullying, every tragedy or life’s failure. Instruments playing in different time signatures, beautiful Thom Yorke’s voice, moving lyrics…This song breaks and heals, gives hope and crushes it, inspires and learns the noble art of reconciliation with fate.” RR

With its “haunting beauty,” RS’11 “Let Down” is “Radiohead's best-kept secret…It is truly a beautiful work of art” SP and “this album’s bell-toned, chimey, melodic heartcenter. It’s got classic Radiohead casual depression…and defeatism…an early-Radiohead catchy chorus, and a soaring coda.” SA “The hopeful melody and burning emotion could instantly move any audience.” SP “There is not a moment of “Let Down” that could ever be improved upon…For the nearly 5 minutes of its existence, “Let Down” glides by so smoothly, so unerringly, that it hardly seems like any time has passed.” AS “By the end of the song, you feel like you’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster and all you want to do is get back in line.” SP

“Radiohead have often waded through gloom…But the Oxford crew were always capable of sweet, subtle moments of life-affirming sunlight too. ‘Let Down’ is one of those moments, and one of their best songs all round. Lyrically, it explores the same space as the rest of OK Computer, Thom wandering an oppressive metropolis full of ‘motorways and tramlines.’ But on ‘Let Down,’ he seems to rise above it, in part the effect of a twinkling bed” FT of “the guitar interplay between Johnny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien.” BB The song “builds to a crowd-pleasing catharsis.” BB It doesn’t seem to matter that the world is often ‘so, so disappointing’ and capable of leaving you ‘crushed like a bug in the ground.’ Instead, he clings to a belief that ‘one day I’m going to grow wings,’” FT “giving us one of the most encouraging and uplifting moments in the band’s history.” CS

“Let Down” explores “the speed at which our life passes us by…whether it’s by keeping you constantly on the go so you fail to appreciate the time you have, or by putting so much pressure on you that you desensitize yourself, by ‘clinging on to bottles’ perhaps. And at the heart of all of that is disappointment, the ‘Is this all there is?’ feeling that creeps inside all of us at one point.” AS “Yorke’s lyrics posit that society frowns upon those who ask for more.” AS

“Andy Warhol once said that he could enjoy his own boredom, multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood said, ‘‘Let Down’ is about that. It’s the transit-zone feeling. You’re in a space, you are collecting all these impressions, but it all seems so vacant. You don’t have control over the earth anymore. You feel very distant from all these thousands of people that are also walking there.’” RS’11

“’Let down and hanging around / Crushed like a bug in the ground.’ The chorus of ‘Let Down’ is all about defeat, but the music here is…majestic, cathartic, full to the tipping point with yearning, ‘Let Down’ leaves its listeners as breathless as Thom Yorke must have been after the song’s breathtaking final crescendo. Simply but ingeniously mixed, those final moments have Yorke singing call-and-response harmonies and counterpoints on separate left and right channels. More plainly put, he and his band floor it in that final minute-and-a-half. The effect is as euphoric as a shot of pure dopamine.” PM

The “themes of detachment and being trapped in a never-ending cycle” CR is juxtaposed “with the almost lullaby-like music” CR built on “a euphoric meadow of guitar harmonies cascading upon an electric piano.” CR The music “finds it hard to bear the weight of all the band’s sweaty effort and production, although there are some cheery sound effects towards the end, as though it’s 1974 and Rick Wakeman has just popped in, fresh from one of his solo records.” DG-60 “Radiohead travels through the euphoria of hopelessness” RV with “double-tracked vocals and rhythmic throb.” VH1 The song “begins like a delicately chiming appendix to [U2’s] The Joshua Tree, but then crazy synthesizers start to fly in from all directions, like a laser show.” QM “Jonny Greenwood’s precision strokes…get you rolling on the conveyor belt. Brother Colin delivers some of his most melodic bass, underpinning the song with bittersweet notes. Phil Selway is more the aggressor here, trying to beat his way through the doldrums…In the bridge, Ed O’Brien keeps things cool and collected with his flawless guitar lines, only to have Jonny Greenwood bring some chaos to the order with a solo that seems beamed in from another song. Shortly after, arcade-like computer noises enter the fray, all the better to symbolize our lives as human pinballs. When the bass and drum come crashing back in with gusto, you just know we’re set up for a classic Radiohead finish, and, boy, is this one a doozy. Yorke is singing at this point with barely-contained ferocity.” AS As “one of very few singers whose voice can appear to convey genuine grief (as opposed to pain) and despair (as opposed to frustration) [he] delivers a remarkable vocal: falsetto, glorious harmonies, total and utter desolation. His voice has the terrible shiver of a toddler who can't for the life of him stop crying.” QM

“Karma Police”
“’Karma Police’ was a classic in itself, a work of art, a stunning success.” SP “Part literary dystopia, part John Lennon in a Pixies T-shirt, Karma Police is an enduringly odd superhit: at once relatable, inscrutable and chilling.” GN It became “one of the band’s biggest alternative radio hits” BB with a “verse-chorus structure and abundant vocal hooks [that] certainly make it more accessible than most of the band’s singles.” BB It is “one of the reasons the critically lauded OK Computer was able to cross over to mainstream rock fans.” BB “The album would have been missing its gateway to the masses if ‘Karma Police’ wasn’t positioned as its centerpiece.” BB It is “the only Radiohead song to appear on a Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation in the U.S.” BB

It “captures the unsettling suspicions that some authority is examining every detail, and those details are worthy of punishment.” RG The title comes from an inside joke that came about while the band toured with Alanis Morissette in the summer of 1996. RS’11 An early version was premiered during that tour and finished after the tour’s conclusion. RS’11 When someone in the band was being a jerk, the others informed him that the Karma Police were coming. “It becomes an absurdist sci-fi dystopia populated by larger-than-life authority figures who are probably fat, loud, blustery, and pompous…It could be Radiohead’s version of The Wall if there were more songs surrounding it.” CS “What started as a joke feels increasingly prescient today.” RG

Musically, this “is what might have resulted musically had The Bogus Man-period Roxy Music ever tried to play ‘Sexy Sadie’ by The Beatles.” QM The song is “a story of two sections: the first is a bit lumpy, mock-scary, and maybe even plodding.” DG-61 “Masterfully paced, the track takes its time to fully unfold.” PM “At the beginning of the song, it’s showing the narrator’s intolerance towards other people and how they believe karma will come back to smite the people that they do not like.” SA “The chord sequence is strange, and does’t quite settle. All is progressing smoothly in a familiar…rock-music way…big drums and a good ‘here comes the noise’ moment.” DG-61 “But then it changes. After the second chorus…the track lifts, in various ways. Harmonically, there really is a key change of sorts.” DG-61 “Then vocally or melodically, the key change takes Thom Yorke to his angelic register. Textually, that’s a big shift, with all the instruments doing lighter things.” DG-62 “At the end when the key signature changes it seems to be a realization that it’s extremely easy to get caught up in criticizing others.” SA “O’Brien finishes the song with a delayed guitar that sounds like a dissolving siren.” RG

This is also “one of the greatest Radiohead videos of all-time, directed by future Under the Skin helmer Jonathan Glazer, [who]…also directed the visually stunning clip for ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out).’ Yorke later expressed his affinity for the “Karma Police” video, saying he loved making it because he was drunk during the shoot.” UP

“Fitter Happier”
“The bizarre…Fitter Happier freaks you out” AD and has often been cited as “the most-hated song on OK Computer.” BZ It “is at first a skippable break…However, ‘Fitter Happier’ isn’t just an interlude.” RG It “serves an important role on the album as a clear statement of the record’s primary theme…‘We are all just so unbelievably alienated by technology.’” BZ

It is “a great example of what acdemics call electro-acoustic music.” DG-64 It is “an aural nightmare with no precedent in Radiohead’s work, it’s a poem of doom” QM and “a manic checklist of emotions to background piano and workplace noise.” RG

Thom Yorke generated the robot voice which sounds like Stephen Hawking via an Apple Mac voicebox “in a drunken late night at the computer…if the legend is to be believed.” BZ Yorke said it “the most upsetting thing [he had] ever written,” RG but “the words…are terrific, showing…Yorke’s knack of picking up phrases from real life and simply placing them in this arty context.” DG-64 “The sample loop in the background says ‘This is the Panic Office, section nine-seventeen may have been hit. Activate the following procedure.’” BZ

“The lyrics are made of phrases from lists he wrote to himself and lines from self-help books (‘A pig in a cage on antibiotics’ appears in Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up!).” RG “It sums up society’s crippling anxiety, fractured systematic rules, and what it feels like to be concerned but powerless.” CS

“Electioneering”
“The breakneck (and somehow unsatisfying) ‘Electioneering,’” QM complete with its “bleak, R.E.M.-ish clatter,” RS “was an early U.S. Radiohead record label favourite, ‘a potential hit’, before it finally reached OK Computer and was turned into a delightful yet impassioned guitar mess.” AD It’s “the loudest and most crushingly aggressive [song] on the album” CR and leaves “the listener speechless.” DG-70

“On an album full of scratchy guitar and splintering solos, ‘Electioneering’ stretches those strings until they’re made of putty. It’s rock whipping you back and forth until the cymbals crashing in the chorus keep everything contained.” CS Drummer Phil Selway should get a “Best Actor Award as the heavy-metal Beethoven of the seventh symphony’s finale.” DG-70-1 Parts of the song sound “as though a silent film has someone about to throw themselves off a skyscraper.” DG-70

The song and its declaration that “politicians, by and large, suck” DG-70 “perfectly demonstrates an angry middle finger to the political decay and mass media control of systemic propaganda and biases. Thom said he was also inspired by the ‘Poll Tax Riots’ that occurred in London.” CR

“Climbing Up the Walls”
This “collaps[es] into the uneasy trip-hop of ‘Climbing Up the Walls.’” QM It “is, plainly, terrifying,” PM “a good shock-horror genre piece after ‘Electioneering.’” DG-70 “Yorke puts us squarely in the mind of a stalker, who promises, ‘Anywhere you turn / I’ll be there / Open up your skull / I’ll be there.’ His primal scream at the song’s climax could peel the paint from his victim’s bedroom walls.” PM

This is “another dystopian howl backed by that slinking, distorted bass” CS that “returns to the ‘gothic’ sense of parts of ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘Exit Music’ – slow, creepy and less song than the sum of its sound effects.” DG-71 “The words are a fine evocation of paranoia and surveillance” DG-71 and deal with “the degradation of obsession.” RV

“No Surprises”
“The bleary-eyed beauty of ‘No Surprises’” BB is “Radiohead’s prettiest moment to date” QM and “the most beautiful song ever written about depression.” BZ It features “turbulent lyrics that are fit together with an uptempo melody.” CH It “practically sounds like a lullaby” SA “with an easygoing, nursery rhyme vibe that was captured on the very first take.” UP It “is infused with the nostalgia of childhood and plays to our weaknesses as human beings.” FT

It uses a glockenspiel, dulcimer, “gently strummed acoustic guitar,” SA “and Christmassy synth textures to decorate Ed O’Brien’s exquisite guitar refrain” QM as it “reflects the stripped-bare emotional state of the song’s narrator.” PM “Within the Greenwoods’ minimal guitar work, Selway’s easy drumbeat, and a tinkling of childlike keys, Radiohead captures existential exhaustion all under four minutes.” CS The song’s fragility and understated instrumentation belie the despair at its core.” PM

Lyrically, this is “the band’s most insightful condemnation of western living.” SA “Radiohead’s most misunderstood protagonist has it made: the house, the garden, the heart full up ‘like a landfill,’ the ‘job that slowly kills you’… and how lovely it all sounds.” GN “It’s a fairly sympathetic look at how a person can passively contribute to the horrors of the world around them simply by living a mundane life.” SA “O’Brien and Yorke compared it to Louis Armstong’s ‘What a Wonderful World.’ Armstrong’s jazz ballad is sentimental. ‘No Surprises’ captures a more disturbing world, where people do their best to keep up appearances while crumbling inside.” RG “Yorke glares…cynically and…disgustedly at life” QM in what has been interpreted as the narrator’s suicide note: “I’ll take a quiet life, a handshake of carbon monoxide and no alarms and no surprises, please.”

The song also functions as a nod to the Talking Heads, who Radiohead hae long regarded as role models, starting with taking their name from a cut off the True Stories. UP “The child-like lyrical perspective of David Byrne directly informs the gorgeous ‘No Surprises,’ which resembles two of the greatest Talking Heads ballads, ‘Heaven’ and ‘This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).’ Like those songs, ‘No Surprises’ glorifies a banal, boring life in the face of all the scourges of the world. While Yorke offhandedly calls for revolution (‘Bring down the government’) he’s ultimately held in thrall of a pretty house with a pretty garden.” UP

“Lucky”
The “spooky-and-marvellous” QM Lucky first emerged in September 1995 on the The Help Album, a War Child compilation “released to support the humanitarian effort in Bosnia.” FT It is “the best Bends-era song not on The BendsRG while also offering “a tantalising indication of what their third album might contain:” QM “creeping riffs, melodic blasts and shameless melodrama.” GN

Marked by “the languid dive of Yorke's croon,” RS this “gripping plea for rescue” QM is “absolutely storming and awe-inspiring.” AD It is “all the things Radiohead are: technically complex but beautiful, soaring and disappointed, furious and sad and ‘standing on the edge.’” BZ It “goes straight for the jugular…dragged along by a winding, downbeat guitar melody that threatens to collapse under the weight of its own sluggishness, but the surge of emotion through its soaring chorus and Jonny’s enormous guitar solo lift us up towards optimism: we may have turned a blind eye, but it’s not too late to help.” FT

This is “a really good idea – surviving a plane crash and feeling elatedly happy,” DG-75 even as the narrator is surrounded by death and carnage. It’s Radiohead’s best song “addressing Thom Yorke’s longstanding dread of transit accidents. For those familiar with Radiohead’s oeuvre, that’s an impressive feat.” SA

“Plane crashes aside, Yorke considers ‘Lucky’ to be a happy song. Pay close attention, and you’ll agree…once you discover that the descending mellotron and unresolved chords represent not finality, but open-ended hope. Yes, this man or superhero or whatever he is has been in an accident. But he’s survived the accident and still has enough people who care about him to make salvation a very real possibility. We should all be so lucky.” CS

This is “the greatest love song in the Radiohead canon” UP and “one of the great love songs by anybody during the alt-rock era, imbued with the melodramatic romanticism that’s an essential part of so many Radiohead classics, no matter how much critics (or even the band members themselves) might want to pretend that this band is too cerebral for their own good. Not only does Yorke sell lines like ‘Kill me again with love / It’s gonna be a glorious day,’ he has enough conviction to make you feel as though you’re standing on the edge of the cliff with him.” UP

“The Tourist”
“Leaving the anxiety, sci-fi metaphors, and general paranoia found on the rest of OKC behind, the album’s final track serves as a simple request for the listener to slow down.” CS This “gorgeous track” RB “is an unexpectedly bluesy waltz. It’s not easy to play a waltz with anxiety, let alone the panic felt by Yorke’s hyperventilating traveller, but they do.” QM “The music is nicely airy and lambent and glassy” DG-74 and its “slow-motion musicality matches Yorke’s plead for ‘idiot’ tourists to ‘slow down.’ It’s a slightly humorous poetic gesture in the face of an increasingly hyperactive, sped-up world.” RB

“Whether you’re sitting in a public square in France (as Jonny Greenwood was when he wrote it) [or] floating through the cosmos (as you are when you listen to it)…the beauty should always be taken in gradually, naturally, easily.” CS “As it reaches its final bars, the three guitars fall out, leaving just Phil Selway’s brushed cymbals, a couple of plucks of Colin Greenwood’s bass and – finally – the ‘ding’ of a tiny bell. And that is that.” QM


Notes:

A 2017 20th anniversary reissue (referred to as OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997-2017) added eight B-sides (“Lull” and “Meeting in the Aisle” from “Karma Police;” “Melatonin,” “A Reminder,” “Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2),” and “Pearly” from “Paranoid Android;” and “Palo Alto” and “How I Made My Millions” from “No Surprises”) and three previously unreleased tracks (“I Promise,” “Man of War,” and “Lift”).

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First posted 6/28/2013; last updated 6/9/2022.

Saturday, June 21, 1997

Buena Vista Social Club released

Buena Vista Social Club

various artists


Released: June 21, 1997


Charted: March 14, 1998


Peak: 80 US, 44 UK, -- CN, 6 AU


Sales (in millions): 1.93 US, 0.53 UK, 8.0 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: world music > Cuban


Tracks:

Song Title [ARTIST]

  1. Chan Chan [with ELIADES OCHOA]
  2. De Camino a la Vereda [with IBRAHIM FERRER]
  3. El Cuarto de Tula [with RY COODER]
  4. Pueblo Nuevo [with RUBÉN GONZÁLEZ]
  5. Dos Gardenias [with IBRAHIM FERRER]
  6. Y Tú Qué Has Hecho? [with COMPAY SEGUNDO]
  7. Veinte Años [with OMARA PORTUONDO]
  8. El Carretero [with ELIADES OCHOA]
  9. Candela [with IBRAHIM FERRER]
  10. Amor de Loca Juventud [with COMPAY SEGUNDO]
  11. Orgullecida [with COMPAY SEGUNDO]
  12. Murmullo [with IBRAHIM FERRER]
  13. Buena Vista Social Club [with RY COODER]
  14. La Bayamesa [with LICEA, MANUEL “PUNTILLITA”]


Total Running Time: 60:00

Rating:

4.319 out of 5.00 (average of 16 ratings)


Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

This album takes its name from “a members-only club that was opened in Havana in pre-Castro times, a period of unbelievable musical activity in Cuba. While bandleader Desi Arnaz became a huge hit in the States, several equally talented musicians never saw success outside their native country, and have had nothing but their music to sustain them during the Castro reign.” AMG

“Ry Cooder went to Cuba to record a musical documentary of these performers.” AMG His “name has helped bring attention to this session, but it’s the veteran Cuban…musicians who make this album really special.” AZ “Many of the musicians on this album have been playing for more than a half century, and they sing and play with an obvious love for the material. Cooder could have recorded these songs without paying the musicians a cent; one can imagine them jumping up and grabbing for their instruments at the slightest opportunity, just to play.” AMG

“Reminiscent of Ellington in its scope and sense of hushed romanticism, Buena Vista Social Club is that rare meld of quietude and intensity; while the players sound laid-back, they’re putting forth very alive music.” AZ “Most of the songs are a real treasure, traversing a lot of ground in Cuba’s musical history. There’s the opening tune, Chan Chan, a composition by 89-year-old Compay Segundo, who was a bandleader in the ‘50s; the cover of the early-‘50s tune De Camino a la Verada, sung by the 72-year-old composer Ibrahim Ferrer, who interrupted his daily walk through Havana just long enough to record; or the amazing piano playing on Pablo Nuevo by 77-year-old Rubén González, who has a unique style that blends jazz, mambo, and a certain amount of playfulness.” AMG

“Barbarito Torres’ laoud solo on El Cuarto de Tula is both more blinding and more tasteful than any guitar showcase on any recent rock album; a quote from ‘Stormy Weather’ and some very distinct parallels to Hawaiian styles remind us of why it’s called "world music.’” AZ

“All of these songs were recorded live – some of them in the musicians’ small apartments – and the sound is incredibly deep and rich, something that would have been lost in digital recording and overdubbing. Cooder brought just the right amount of reverence to this material, and it shows in his production, playing, and detailed liner notes. If you get one album of Cuban music, this should be the one.” AMG

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First posted 10/7/2008; last updated 4/18/2022.

Monday, June 16, 1997

The Verve released “Bitter Sweet Symphony”

Bitter Sweet Symphony

The Verve

Writer(s): Richard Ashcroft (see lyrics here)


Released: June 16, 1997


First Charted: June 28, 1997


Peak: 12 US, 22 RR, 8 A40, 3 AA, 22 AR, 4 MR, 2 UK, 5 CN, 11 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, 1.28 UK, 2.24 world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 642.8 video, 636.45 streaming

Awards:

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“Bitter Sweet Symphony” was the lead single from Urban Hymns, the third album from the British alternative rock group The Verve. With its “Phil Spector-ish density,” AMG it became “one of the defining songs of the Britpop era.” WK While the group had other hits in the UK, this was their only song reach the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the U.S. It might not have charted at all if it weren’t for its use in a Nike commercial which prompted radio statios and MTV to add the song. SF

Lyrically, it takes “a somber look at the ennui of everyday life.” SF Lead singer Richard Ashcroft said the song is a reflection on how money and happiness were not synonymous. Rolling Stone and NME each named it the Single of the Year. It was nominated for a Brit Award for Best British Single and a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.

It also garnered MTV Video Music Award nominations for Video of the Year, Best Group Video, and Best Alternative Video. The Verve’s lead singer Richard Ashcroft is shown walking down a London sidewalk in one continuous motion, an homage to the “docu-fiction music video” for Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy.” WK The Guardian’s Francesca Perry called it one of the best music videos about city life. WK

The song created legal controversy because the opening strings, which are sampled from a 1965 orchestral recording by Andrew Loog Oldham of the Rolling Stones’ song “The Last Time.” Although the Verve got permission from Decca Records, which owned the Oldham recording, they didn’t know they also needed permission from ABKCO, which owned the original publishing for the song. The company’s owner, Allen Klein, was a former manager with the Rolling Stones and forced them into a very lopsided contract which gave him publishing rights to all the songs the band had recorded through 1969. He employed similarly cruel tactics in paying Ashcroft a flat fee of $1000 and forcing the band to sign over 100% of the publishing. SF


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First posted 2/2/2021; last updated 11/7/2021.