Usually seen quietly hanging a mop of hair over his guitar somewhere behind Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood was the first member of Radiohead to launch his solo career – taking his guitar, bass, piano, viola, drum and ondes Martenot skills to the movies. Already responsible for some of the most cinematic art rock of the last few decades, Greenwood’s scores have mixed free jazz, microtonal electronica and sweeping orchestral compositions to help change the sound and shape of the classic film soundtrack.
With new biopic Spencer now in cinemas, and The Power Of The Dog joining it tomorrow (November 19) – ahead of its Netflix release on December 1 – we rank Greenwood’s greatest film scores…
10. ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ (2011)
Never officially released, you have to watch Lynne Ramsay’s tragic school-shooter drama (or sit through an awful YouTube edit) to hear snippets of Greenwood’s mournful anti-horror score. “It wasn’t long enough,” Greenwood told Uncut. “There were a few pretty steel-strung harp things but the rest of it was mostly laptop-generated stuff recorded from an old LW radio… It’s good in the film but not exactly Raiders Of The Lost Ark on its own.”
If it were a Radiohead album… ‘Hail To The Thief’. The one that made the theremin cool again.
9. ‘Bodysong’ (2003)
Simon Pummell’s hypnotic montage documentary attempted to span the whole of the human experience – and Greenwood’s first score was no less ambitious. Melancholy piano loops, wild jazz bass riffs and ghostly organ chimes float over each other as Jonny jumps into his solo career headfirst. Standout track ‘Convergence’ was later worked into the score for Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, and its rule-breaking reuse kept him out of the running for a 2008 Oscar.
If it were a Radiohead album… ‘Pablo Honey’. The early one not enough people listen to (that’s only really known for one track…)
8. ‘Inherent Vice’ (2014)
Unreleased Radiohead track ‘Spooks’ found a place on Greenwood’s third score for Paul Thomas Anderson – re-emerging here as a dark surf pastiche with nods to The Velvet Underground that melted smoothly into the stoner haze of Anderson’s psychedelic neo-noir. Can, The Marketts, Kyu Sakamoto and Neil Young drift in and out along with spoken word dialogue from the film, but this was Greenwood’s chance to cruise through the backstreets of ’70s Hollywood and pick ’n’ mix his favourite filmic influences.
If it were a Radiohead album… ‘The King Of Limbs’. Slightly all over the place, better in shorter bursts, but still beautifully crafted.
7. ‘Norwegian Wood’ (2010)
Much of Greenwood’s work outside of Radiohead is influenced by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, and parts of his Penderecki-inspired BBC commission Doghouse found their way into his lush, sombre score for the film adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s novel. As classical as the score is, Greenwood keeps things experimental by recording it in his home studio using all period equipment (playing some parts himself on a Japanese ’60s nylon-strung guitar), and by mixing in avant-funk tracks from krautrock pioneers, Can.
If it were a Radiohead album… ‘Amnesiac’. Where classical music meets krautrock meets a nameless horror of the past, present and future.
6. ‘You Were Never Really Here’ (2018)
Lynne Ramsay’s uncompromising revenge thriller is full of noise and violence (and hammers), so it makes sense for Greenwood’s score to push into some pretty dark and jittery places. ‘Sandy’s Necklace’ goes full funk before ‘Nausea’ kicks in like a techno Radiohead remix. ‘Dark Streets’ adds ’80s synth menace and ‘YWNRH’ packs so much scuzzy feedback it makes you want to check your speakers are plugged in properly. At times remarkably restrained, almost tender, Greenwood’s score covers a lot of ground – writing complex, emotional and experimental horror music that hits like a hammer.
If it were a Radiohead album… ‘OK Computer’. The angry one with the biggest beat.
5. ‘The Master’ (2012)
Greenwood’s second collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson takes him back to the early ’50s for a spacious, lilting dreamscape that swims through Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Olivier Messiaen and Claude Debussy. Matching the film’s woozy sense of disorientation, Greenwood’s score is hypnotic without ever feeling overpowering – drawing you in slowly and changing tack as soon as it settles. Often eerie, occasionally frightening, sometimes sweet, it’s an album you fall asleep to and still somehow carry on listening to.
If it were a Radiohead album… ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’. The one that makes you want to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming.
4. ‘There Will Be Blood’ (2007)
“You can do things with the classical orchestra that unsettle you… that are sort of slightly wrong… that have some kind of undercurrent that’s slightly sinister,” Greenwood told Entertainment Weekly at the time of recording his first score for Anderson, turning in a sparse, frightening period piece bristling with gentle menace. Tracks like ‘Prospectors Arrive’ and ‘Oil’ swoon over cold strings, but it was the stabbing staccato of ‘Future Markets’ that best captured the film’s under-the-surface horror – sounding like an arthouse remix of the Jaws theme.
If it were a Radiohead album… ‘The Bends’. The breakthrough that made a dozen other imitators start trying and failing to do the same thing.
3. ‘Spencer’ (2021)
If you’ve heard Hans Zimmer’s stately score for The Crown, you’ll know exactly what to expect from Spencer – and it isn’t this at all. “You either use actual Handel or pastiche Handel”, Greenwood told NME, remembering struggling with the weight of royalty when he started scoring Pablo Larraín’s Princess Diana biopic. Wanting instead to “emphasise how chaotic and colourful” she was, Greenwood’s remarkable score sounds like a mind unravelling in real time – with frightened young jazz quickly swallowed up by the old baroque classics and spat back out of a church organ.
If it were a Radiohead album… ‘Kid A’. Doing something new with something old. The opposite of Elton John’s ‘Candle In The Wind’.
2. ‘The Power Of The Dog’ (2021)
Greenwood finds his most refined and elegant work to date in Jane Campion’s modern western with a score that opens up the interiors and shuts down the vistas. A perfect balance of light and dark, subtle and stately, ‘Viola Quartet’ gallops over a gypsy scale in plucked strings while ‘West Alone’ softens the film’s tender ballad. But the standout here is the simplest – with a single imperfect violin refrain on ‘Mimicry’ sounding like one of the most honest and beautiful things Greenwood has written in years.
If it were a Radiohead album… The next one (so new you haven’t heard it yet).
1. ‘Phantom Thread’ (2018)
Four films in, Greenwood and Anderson were never more perfectly paired than in Phantom Thread – a film, and a score, that luxuriates in classical beauty with an obsessively modern edge. Inspired by Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s reinterpretations of Bach, Greenwood’s lavish (and Oscar-nominated) orchestral score is all old-school glamour until it occasionally isn’t – with neurotic cracks of jazz and dissonance hitting all the black keys on purpose. Where ‘House Of Woodcook’ comes straight out of a stately Hollywood romance, ‘Barbara Rose’ is the anxiety-ridden fever dream that breaks it up.
If it were a Radiohead album… ‘In Rainbows’. The band’s most beautiful album. The one to dress up nice to (and also the one to cook a poisoned omelette to).