Saturday, June 28, 1997

Radiohead hit #1 in the UK with OK Computer

OK Computer


Released: June 16, 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)

Genre: experimental rock/ Britpop

Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)

  1. Airbag [4:44]
  2. Paranoid Android [6:23] (6/7/97, #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)


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:

OK Computer “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 -

This 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 “Thom Yorke’s voice creates the most remarkable sense of sweetness.” DG-50 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 marked by “the layering of” DG-49 “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

“Paranoid Android”
This “complex, multi-segmented” AMG song was packed with “alternating time signatures, wild dynamic shifts, drama and adrenaline to spare.” VH1 “It incorporates several different styles into a single bombastic symphony of dread;” RV 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

It is “a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the nineties” AD and also “easily draws comparisons to The Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life.’” RV “Few will forget the thrill of observing a seven-minute Radiohead track at number three in the British pop charts.” DG-53

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

“Subterranean Homesick Alien”
This “brilliantly titled” AD song is a play on Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” It delves into “the terror of alienation.” RV “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 “has 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

“Exit Music (for a Film)”
Made for Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet movie, this is “a gem of a song…[which] concerns two young lovers leaving home and going on the run.” QM “Radiohead’s music does seem occasionally rather filmic, or visual;” in this case, even evoking an “Ennio Morricone flavour.” DG-57 “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.

Lyrically, at one point in the song we hear “one of the runaways implore the other, ‘Breathe, keep breathing, I can't do this alone.’ Then, during a murderous surge of drums and fuzz bass, the picture goes fuzzy. The fog clears just in time to hear Yorke moan the last, startling line: ‘We hope that you choke.’” QM

“Let Down”
Here “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…As [its[ guitar arpeggios drip-drip-drip into the brain, Yorke – one of very few singers whose voice can appear to convey genuine grief (as opposed to pain) and despair (as opposed to frustration) – 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

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

“Karma Police”
The “sighing” AMG and “superb Karma Police, written about a party full of scary people, is what might have resulted musically had The Bogus Man-period Roxy Music ever tried to play ‘Sexy Sadie’ by The Beatles.” QM The title comes from an in-joke from the band about calling the karma police if someone did something bad. Yorke and Jonny Greenwood have both said in interviews that the song – despite themes of insanity and capitalism – is meant to be humorous.

This is “a story of two sections: the first is a bit lumpy, mock-scary, and maybe even plodding.” DG-61 “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 chours…the track lists, 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 “The track ends with a load of noise, however, serious-sounding stuff, and an immediate transition to the studio world of ‘Fitter Happier.’” DG-62

“Fitter Happier”
“The bizarre…Fitter Happier freaks you out.” AD It is “a great example of what acdemics call electro-acoustic music.” DG-64 “An aural nightmare with no precedent in Radiohead's work, it's a poem of doom, centred in the workplace and recited by a pre-programmed Apple Mac that sounds like Stephen Hawking’s electronic voice.” QM “The words…are terrific, showing at its best Thom Yorke’s knack of picking up phrases from real life and simply placing them in this arty context.” DG-64

“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 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 leaves “the listener speechless.” DG-70

“Climbing Up the Walls”
This “collaps[es] into the uneasy trip-hop of Climbing Up the Walls.” QM It “is a good shock-horror genre piece after ‘Electioneering.’” DG-70 It “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 final three-song sequence has more control, more room to breathe (and arguably more beauty) than any other part of the record.” QM “The slow and emotionally draining closing five minute long epic” AD is a “track that’s characteristic of the album as a whole” DG-73 and “Radiohead's prettiest moment to date, using dulcimer and Christmassy synth textures to decorate Ed O’Brien's exquisite guitar refrain.” QM “Yorke glares…cynically and…disgustedly at life…‘I'll take a quiet life, a handshake of carbon monoxide and no alarms and no surprises, please.’” QM

The “spooky-and-marvellous” QM Lucky “released in September 1995 on the War Child compilation album Help, gave a tantalising indication of what their third album might contain.” QM Marked by “the languid dive of Yorke's croon,” RS this “gripping plea for rescue” QM is “absolutely storming and awe-inspiring.” AD 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.

“The Tourist”
The Tourist…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 but “could have done with some more detail or events or just something to keep [the listener] from falling asleep.” DG-74 “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


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”).

Review Sources:

  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Radiohead
  • AMG All Music Guide review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
  • AZ review by Douglas Wolk
  • BN Barnes & Noble review by Colin Helms
  • AD Adrian Denning
  • DG Dai Griffiths (2004). 33 1/3: Ok Computer Bloomsbury Academic: New York, NY.
  • QM Q magazine review by David Cavanaugh. Was at Review no longer online.
  • RV The Review “100 Greatest Albums of All Time” by Clarke Speicher (October – November 2001; Vol. 128: numbers 12-23).
  • RS review by David Fricke
  • TL Time Magazine’s All-TIME 100 Albums by Josh Tyrangiel and Alan Light (11/13/06).
  • URB URB magazine. “The 50 Greatest Albums Ever” (July 2003).
  • VH1 VH1. (2003). 100 Greatest Albums. Edited by Jacob Hoye. Pocket Books: New York, NY.

Other Related DMDB Pages:

First posted 6/28/2013; last updated 9/5/2021.

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


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


Related Links:

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