September 22, 2002
WHICH city in England boasts the largest number of signed
bands per capita? Well, according to this week's radio.wazee
spotlight band Radiohead,
it's their hometown of Oxford (also home to Ride and
Supergrass). All five members of the band are natives
of Oxford, where they met at Abingdon School. Singer-guitarist
Thom Yorke and bassist Colin Greenwood were the first
to hit it off at Abingdon, sharing an affinity for Joy
Division, Magazine, and cross-dressing. Ed O'Brien,
another singer-guitarist, was added because Thom thought
he was "cool and looked like Morrissey." Phil
Selway replaced the trio's drum machine, and the foursome
formed On a Friday, named after what else?
the day they practiced. Soon, Colin's younger brother,
Jonny, joined their ranks on harmonica, but the quintet
soon put their budding career on hold as various members
shuttled off to universities. Thom went to Exeter to
study fine art and literature; Ed to Manchester for
politics; and Colin and Phil went on to study English
at Cambridge and Liverpool, respectively.
During vacations from school, On
a Friday was revived; live shows featured a brass
section and, as a closer, a rousing rendition of Elvis
Costello's "Pump It Up." In the summer of
1991, after the members had all completed school,
they regrouped in Oxford (Jonny was now a full-fledged
guitarist and keyboard player), and eventually changed
their name to Radiohead ("Radio Head" is
a Talking Heads song on the album True Stories). With
other commitments out of the way, they began to take
the band seriously, and it didn't take long for the
powers-that-be to take notice: after their first official
gig, Radiohead received more than twenty record-company
Radiohead's first release was a
1992 U.K.-only EP, Drill, which sparked enough interest
to land them opening slots on tours with PJ Harvey,
Tears for Fears, and James, just to name a few. But
this was only the beginning, as a song called "Creep"
was about to change their careers forever. "Creep"
hit U.K. airwaves in the second half of 1992 and was
eventually named one of the top British singles of
both that year and the next. The song, which was perceived
as an anthem for the alienated, had little in common
with the rest of their first album, Pablo Honey, released
in 1993. In fact, some fans of "Creep" were
disappointed by the comparative mellowness of the
rest of the album, though plenty were fascinated by
the band's distinct and varied sound. At last, here
was a new British band that owed more to Pink Floyd
than to usual suspects the Beatles or the Sex Pistols
(in 1995, the band even tipped their hat to Pink Floyd
by mounting a most Floydian quadraphonic surround-sound
tour of the U.K.). And "Creep" certainly
helped Radiohead sell tickets, even though subsequent
radio singles failed to garner much airplay in America.
In 1994, the band next released
an EP called My Iron Lung, which provided a taste
of what was to come on 1995's The Bends. American
radio jumped on the single "Fake Plastic Trees,"
which also appeared on the oh-so-hip soundtrack to
the film Clueless in 1995. At last, the band began
to escape from their "Creep" pigeonhole.
"Fake Plastic Trees," a slow and almost
mournful tune, was a far cry from the grinding plaint
of the earlier hit, as was "High And Dry,"
which also received significant airplay.
By this time, the band had plenty
of fans in the music world as well as the population
at large. R.E.M. liked Radiohead so much that they
asked them to be an opening act on their 1995 European
and American tours. Meanwhile, other bands paid their
respects by doing covers of Radiohead songs. Tears
for Fears recorded a live version of "Creep"
and released it as a B-side. The Pretenders also recorded
their own rendition of "Creep," which appears
on the Isle of View video (but not on the CD). It
was Alanis Morissette, however, who may have been
the biggest Radiohead fan: she often performed "Fake
Plastic Trees" during her live shows in 1995
and 1996, and she invited the band to tour with her
in August of 1996.
Radiohead started working on material
for their third album in early 1996, but it wasn't
until after the Morissette tour that they headed into
the studio to get down to some serious business. And
what a studio it was the band recorded the
album in a fourteenth-century manor house owned by
actress Jane Seymour (of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
fame). Located outside of Bath, England, the isolated
mansion was also used by the Cure to record their
album Wild Mood Swings. The working title of the new
record was Ones and Zeroes, but that binary-code reference
evolved to OK Computer by the time the set was released
in 1997. Songs were recorded all over the Seymour
mansion, everywhere from the grand ballroom to the
hallway. Bassist Colin Greenwood, in an interview
with New Musical Express, described the resulting
sound as being "like a stoned Radiohead."
The first single, a six-and-a-half-minute track in
three parts entitled "Paranoid Android,"
was released in May and entered the U.K. charts at
No. 3. OK Computer, released the following month,
debuted at No. 1 in the U.K.
Although Radiohead has been touring
since OK Computer's release, and they expect to play
more shows in the U.S. in November and December, they
do have plans for some "new" music. The
band has given DJ Shadow "Subterranean Homesick
Alien" to work on and plans to offer the entire
OK Computer album to Massive Attack for a remixing