With reports that a new Radiohead album could be imminent, we’ve rustled up fifty little-known facts about the world’s most worshipped rock band. It’s time to celebrate.
The phrase ‘King Of Limbs’ relates to an ancient oak tree in Wiltshire’s Savernake Forest, near where Radiohead recorded part of ‘In Rainbows’. The phrase also appears in the 23rd chapter of the Qu’ran.
On Thom Yorke’s iPod? Well, according to his Office Charts playlists, recently he’s been listening to a lot of Holden, Can and Traxman. He likes his dubstep – he’s also into Brighter Dayz by Dj Rashad and long-time favourite Ennio Morricone.
Radiohead’s debut album ‘Pablo Honey’ was marketed by their US label at the Beavis & Butt-head “slacker” generation. A print ad at the time read: “Radiohead – better than Butt-head! Oxford England’s rowdiest new band. Huh-huh-huh, music that doesn’t suck. Featuring the self-loathing anthem ‘Creep’.” Oh dear…
What’s the connection between Radiohead and mournful 70s kids’ TV show Bagpuss? Well, the alternative title of ‘There There’ – off ‘Hail To The Thief’ – is a reference to the programme, which Thom Yorke loved as a child. ‘The Boney King Of Nowhere’ is a song sung by Gabriel the banjo-playing toad in the second episode, The Owls Of Athens.
Did you know Radiohead once covered Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ during a US radio session? It’s not the only wacky cover version they’ve done – search YouTube for their rendition of Glen Campbell’s ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’. It’s actually really good.
Radiohead met in the ’80s as fellow pupils at an all-boys public school, the Abingdon School, in Oxfordshire. Ubiquitous TV comic David Mitchell went to the same school – he was a few years below.
Thom Yorke’s dad was was an amateur boxer, and encouraged his son to take up the hobby – without much success.
The noise at the beginning of ‘The Bends” title track is that of a group of kids parading outside an American hotel the band were staying in, which Thom ran out and taped.
Smash hit breakthrough tune ‘Creep’ was initially dismissed as a possible single release in 1992 when producers mistakenly thought it was a Scott Walker cover. The confusion occurred after the band demoed the song in the studio and Yorke described it as “our Scott Walker song” (meaning it to be a moody soundalike).
Scott Walker-related fact number two: The eccentric crooner would love to join Radiohead. Walker was quoted in 2006 saying: “Radiohead are fabulous. If I could have it all again and be in a band, that’s the kind of band I’d like to have been in.”
Thom Yorke wrote ‘Creep’ after being rejected by a girl he was infatuated with while studying at Exeter University in the late ’80s. Yorke says it is about being in love with someone, but not feeling good enough, declaring, “There’s the beautiful people and then there’s the rest of us.”
Back in 1992, one NME live reviewer described Radiohead as “a lily-livered excuse for a rock band”. Oops. We came round though, giving 1997’s ‘OK Computer’ 10 out of 10.
While writing ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’, Thom Yorke knew it would be used on the Romeo And Juliet soundtrack, and initially attempted to write the lyrics using lines from Shakespeare’s play. It didn’t work out.
In a poll of NME readers in 2006, ‘Just’ came out as Radiohead’s best song. Thom Yorke explained its genesis thus: “‘Just’ was actually a competition between me and Jonny to get as many chords as possible into a song!”
A growing number of Radiohead fans believe that ‘OK Computer’ and ‘In Rainbows’ are both part of an over-arching masterplan. Apparently if you listen to them in sequence – one song from one, then one song from the other – they blend into each other. Head to Puddlegum for the full theory: it’s not as mad as it sounds.
Radiohead cite their music teacher, Terence Gilmore-James, as an early mentor. Colin Greenwood explains, “When we started, it was very important that we got support from him, because we weren’t getting any from the headmaster. You know, the man once sent us a bill, charging us for the use of school property.”
In 1987, a week after Jonny Greenwood’s first rehearsal with On A Friday, the band played their debut gig at the Jericho Tavern in Oxford. Modelling themselves on early heroes Talking Heads, they added a brass section, including two saxophone-playing sisters to fill out the line-up.
After the success of Radiohead’s debut album, 1993’s ‘Pablo Honey’, Yorke has confessed his ego got a bit out of control, causing him to drink too much and dick about with his hair (blond extensions, anyone?). “When I got back to Oxford I was unbearable,” he cringed in 2000, “as soon as you get any success you disappear up your own arse.”
Colin Greenwood and Thom Yorke’s first musical project together was called TNT – they were a bit punky. While Yorke was at Exeter University, he played guitar in Flickernoise, a techno outfit.
Despite being released eight years apart, ‘Creep’ and ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ were written on the same day. The latter song existed for many years as an acoustic bootleg before it finally surfaced as the pedal organ-led closing track on ‘Kid A’.
Almost twenty years since it was released, ‘Creep’ is still making waves. Prince covered it at Coachella 2008 – then pulled all footage of it from YouTube. In July 2010, the trailer to The Social Network included a cover of ‘Creep’ by Belgian choir group Scala & Kolacny Brothers.
According to Thom Yorke, he and Colin Greenwood only ended up in a band together because of their terrible dress sense: “We always ended up at the same parties. He’d be wearing a beret and a catsuit, or something pretty fucking weird and I’d be in a frilly blouse and
crushed velvet dinner suit and we’d pass round the Joy Division records.”
Jonny Greenwood is famous for playing a Fender Telecaster (although, er, he’s playing a Starcaster in this picture). One notable exception? The ‘Stop Whispering’ video, in which he plays a Rickenbacker. That video is also notable for the sight of Thom Yorke in a natty white suit.
These days ‘Kid A’ is regarded as a boundary-breaking masterwork, but back in 2000 it had some pretty snitty reviews. Mark Beaumont in Melody Maker gave it 1.5 out of 5, calling it “tubby, ostentatious, self-congratulatory, look-ma-I-can-suck-my-own-cock whiny old rubbish.”
If he hadn’t had his heart broken, Phil Selway never would have been in Radiohead. He quit the band in the early ’90s and moved to Ireland. It was only when his relationship ended that he moved back to Oxford and rejoined the band.
That weird rattling percussion sound on ‘Paranoid Android’? It’s a cabasa, a maraca-like instrument popular in Latin jazz – though it’s also used in music therapy, particularly with individuals who have neurological disabilities as it requires minimal hand movement to produce a sound. Ed O’Brien plays it on the track.
Ed O’Brien is the tallest member of Radiohead at 6ft 2in; in fact no other member exceeds six foot.
Jeff Buckley was a bigger influence on Radiohead than they would perhaps today admit. ‘The Bends’ producer John Leckie, recalling the profound effect seeing Buckley had on Thom Yorke, said: “It made him realise you could sing in a falsetto without sounding drippy.”
Remember early 90s prank phonecall kings The Jerky Boys? The album title ‘Pablo Honey’ was inspired by one of their skits in which the prank caller says, “Pablo, honey? Please come to Florida!” to his victim. This snippet is sampled by the band on the track ‘How Do You?’.
Members of Radiohead have played homage to their increasingly expanding offspring by dedicating various songs/albums to them. ‘Hail To The Thief’ is dedicated to Jonny’s firstborn son Tamir born in 2002; ‘Amnesiac’ is dedicated to Thom’s son Noah born in 2001; while Thom’s daughter, Agnes, born in 2004, had Yorke’s solo effort ‘The Eraser’ dedicated to her.
In 2004, Thom Yorke’s middle finger sold for £248 on ebay. It turned out not to be his actual flesh-and-bone, but rather one he’d deliberately smashed off his recently acquired NME Award (pictured), declaring the bird-flicking middle digit to be offensive.
‘The Bends’ track ‘High & Dry’ ended up being an acoustic anthem – but it was originally much more funky, based around a stolen Soul II Soul rhythm.
Thom Yorke’s sulky demeanor and refusal to get matey with fellow celebs has caused a few hissy fits in the past. Kelly Jones harumphed that he was a “miserable twat”. Jack Black, Miley Cyrus and Kanye West have also had public grumbles about their treatment by the infamously taciturn singer.
Thom Yorke defended his gloomy reputation in 1996 thus: “It’s just that I’m surrounded by a world of grinning idiots and I don’t think I want to be another one.”
A mysterious number, 1426148550, appeared on the cover of the ‘Airbag/How Am I Driving’ EP. Fans quickly discovered it to be a pager number which, if dialled, revealed the voice of Thom saying “Hello”. Fans left messages which the band supposedly kept for possible inclusion in a future recording.
In the mid-’90s Jonny started wearing a wrist brace to support a poorly strumming hand; he then decided it looked rather dapper even after his wrist was better and kept it on as a kind of trademark look.
One of Radiohead’s best-loved B-sides is ‘Cuttooth’ (from the ‘Knives Out’ single). For a long time it was a key track during the ‘Kid A’/’Amnesiac’ sessions – Ed O’Brien mentioned in twelve times in his online diary – and was only left off ‘Amnesiac’ at the last minute.
Phil Selway and Jonny Greenwood joined the band Dive Dive, alongside Jarvis Cocker, to appear in the 2005 film Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire as the Weird Sisters, a popular band among young wizards.
The ‘Hail To The Thief’ album sleeve was designed by long-time Radiohead designer Stanley Downwood and ‘Dr Tchock’ (aka Thom Yorke). It’s supposed to represent Los Angeles, where much of the album was recorded. Other “maps” in the album artwork refer to the street plans of London, Grozny, and Baghdad.
Thom Yorke finds his own singing voice irritating: “It annoys me how pretty my voice is… how polite it can sound when perhaps what I’m singing is deeply acidic.” This dissastisfaction led to Yorke semi-speaking, rather than singing, on 2003’s ‘Myxomatosis’ and ‘A Wolf At The Door’.
In 1987, Thom Yorke and his girlfriend were involved in a car crash. His girlfriend suffered whiplash and although Yorke was unharmed, it brought on his car phobia, which he later wrote about in Radiohead songs such as ‘Airbag’, ‘Killer Cars’, ‘Stupid Car’ and ‘Drunkk Machine’.
When Radiohead first got together at their Oxford school, they were known as On A Friday because they practised, cryptically enough, on Fridays in the music room. After they were signed in 1991, they changed their name to Radiohead, the title of a Talking Heads song.
Thom Yorke suffered a traumatic Christmas in 1996. His garden pond froze, killing his collection of exotic fish.
The average coughed up for Radiohead’s innovative you-decide-what-to-pay, internet-only released seventh album ‘In Rainbows’ was a miserly £2.90, with 60 per cent of fans electing to pay nowt.
Thom Yorke recorded the vocals to ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ in late 1994 just after seeing Jeff Buckley play the Garage in London. Apparently, an inspired Yorke rushed back to the studio, did two takes then broke down in tears.
The Radiohead lads are a well-educated bunch. Besides their public-school learning, Thom has a degree in English and Fine Art from Exeter; Colin’s got a degree in English from Cambridge; Ed studied Economics at Manchester Uni, and Phil has got an English and History BA from Liverpool. Jonny dropped out of his Oxford Brookes music degree to join the band in 1991.
Thom Yorke was inspired to become veggie by The Smiths’ ‘Meat Is Murder’ – as well as more personal reasons: “I started going out with this girl,” he explains, “and I wanted to impress her so I pretended to be a vegetarian.” Sadly Chris Martin trounced Thom Yorke to win the coveted ‘World’s Sexiest Vegetarian’ crown in 2005.
Jonny Greenwood is the only band member to be a classically trained musician, having taken formal viola lessons as a child. In addition to
viola and guitar, the multi-instrumentalist plays organ, piano, xylophone, glockenspiel, ondes martenot (similar to a theremin), banjo and harmonica.
‘The King Of Limbs’ is not the only thing members of Radiohead have been working on. Jonny Greenwood has been announced as the composer for a new film starring Tilda Swinton. The guitarist will score We Need to Talk About Kevin, the third feature by Scottish director Lynne Ramsay.