Top Five Radiohead B-Sides

While I will never fully commit to one band as being my end-all-be-all "favorite", I can, with all the confidence in my 5'6", 150 lb. frame, say that Radiohead is currently the best band in the world. No other (relevant) band in the world can tout the catalogue that these guys have. In the 14 years that this band has been making music, they have released six INCREDIBLE albums, and one OK album (Pablo Honey). The latter just so happened to be their first album, so that pretty much means that every album that Radiohead has released since 1995 has been spectacular.

With the new Radiohead album coming out this past week, I find myself in the middle of a Radiohead binge. It is crazy how when a band releases a really good album, not only will you beat the hell out of that, but you find yourself revisiting all of their old albums as well because you are reminded of just how much you love that particular band. This has been no different with the release of Radiohead's seventh LP, In Rainbows. One of the interesting aspects of Radiohead's most recent release is that it finds the band venturing away from their laptops and back to their guitars and drums, leaving us with a relatively "minimalist" rendering of Radiohead. This got me thinking. There are very few songs on any of Radiohead's "official releases" (their 7 LPs) that I would describe as "sparse" or "bare". However, there are quite a few (fantastic) Radiohead b-sides that fit this mold. Accordingly, I thought I would put together a list of my top five Radiohead b-sides. (For those unaware, b-sides are tracks that don't appear on a main album, but were recorded and released by the band in some alternative form - i.e. EP, single, etc. They got their name from the A-Side and B-Side of 7" single records that were released back in the day. Basically, record labels would release the radio single (the "hit") on the A-Side of the 7" vinyl, and then just another random track on the B-Side - traditionally a track that was recorded but didn't make the cut for the final LP.) Getting to the point, here are my top five Radiohead B-Sides (songs that Radiohead had released, but just not released on any of their seven LPs).

5. "How I Made My Millions" - No Surprises CD 1 (Single)
"How I Made My Millions" was recorded by Thom Yorke, by himself, in his home, on his personal four track. If the recording you have sounds like a demo, that is because it is. When Yorke took this solo recording into the studio to show his bandmates, they all agreed that it was perfect as it was (Radiohead members Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway said it "blew them away"). As such, the band did not touch Yorke's original recording, and released it (as is) on the No Surprises single (pretty rogue for a band known as being studio perfectionists). If you listen closely, you can hear Yorke's girlfriend moving about in the kitchen as Thom sings over a foreboding piano (Why do I get chills when I picture Thom Yorke's girlfriend putting away celery as he labors away in the next room on the piano?). As with many Radiohead songs, the meaning could be a number of things, but I think the ambiguity of this one makes it that much better.

4. "Fog (Again)" (Live) - Com Lag: 2+2=5 (EP)
This is actually the second countdown appearance this track has made on the blog (see: Another Thom Yorke solo piano track, "Fog" made its debut at a Radiohead concert in Israel. This has lead to much speculation that the song is about the impact that the Israel/Palestine conflict has had on all of the children living in Israel (and its surrounding areas). It is difficult to know if Yorke was truly trying to make that cultural statement by choosing to unveil the song in Israel (I would not put it past him, but I can also see him emphatically dismissing the claim). On a larger scale, "Fog" tells the story of an individual (or individuals) that has been altered forever by a significant event. Something everyone can relate to. Some of my favorite Yorke lyrics at the end of this song: "How did you go bad? Did you go bad? Some things will never wash away. Did you go bad?"

3. "Gagging Order" - Com Lag: 2+2=5 (EP)
Formerly known as "Move Along", "Gagging Order" is the story of a homeless man that died in the street, and no one even stopped to notice (I think the former title was more appropriate, but the latter title is more "Radiohead"). The song is nothing more than a finger-picked guitar and Thom Yorke (seeing a trend here?). Despite the fact that the song's subject matter is completely depressing, I find this to be one of Radiohead's most beautiful tracks, but I cannot explain why.

2. "Talk Show Host" (Nellee Hooper Remix) - Romeo & Juliet Soundtrack
True story here. During my freshman year of college, I went through a stage where I would download movies that I was too embarrassed to watch with other people, so I watched them on my computer with headphones on. One movie in particular that I remember doing this with was the new version of Romeo & Juliet (I also watched Meet Joe Black in a similar setting...). I remember watching a young Leonardo Dicaprio in Romeo & Juliet though, and thinking that the song that kept playing during all of the important scenes sounded really ominous. No surprise (pun intended), it was Radiohead. Sidenote: I have always thought that Radiohead's versatility would give them the ability to score an entire film, and that that movie would stand on its own just because the music would be so incredible. However, it would be a horrible move for any band to commit to something like that without having complete control over the movie, and that is exactly why this would never happen. Anyhow, "Talk Show Host" has a hollow, industrial feel that fits perfectly with Baz Luhrman's chaotic depiction of modern-day Verona. Additionally, the lyrics, while not written exclusively for the film (see: "Exit Music (For A Film)" for the Radiohead song specifically written for that version of Romeo & Juliet), seem to fit perfectly with the tragic story of star-crossed lovers: "I want to, I want to be someone else or i'll explode".

1. "True Love Waits" (Live) - I Might Be Wrong - Live Recordings
Now this song is almost the entire reason I wanted to make this post. Make no mistake, I love the other four songs on this list, but "True Love Waits" is hands down my favorite, non-LP Radiohead track. I could easily write a "Certain Songs" post based on this song (and i might). There are actually only three songs that have a higher "Play Count" in my itunes than "True Love Waits". Once again, this is a solo Thom Yorke track, and its just Thom strumming an acoustic guitar, singing his heart out. So much is made about the sonic walls that Radiohead has torn down over the years, but it all comes back to the songs, and "True Love Waits" is simply a well written song. Has anyone read the lyrics? You'll have to excuse me, but they're fucking fantastic. I mean, it's heartbreaking, and Yorke's delivery only accentuates this, but the desperation in "True Love Waits" captures the feeling of helplessly being in love more than any song that I can think of ("I'll drown my beliefs to have you be in peace"..."I'm not living, I'm just killing time"...are you kidding me!? This is a B-SIDE!?). I don't know, perhaps I am just too fanatical when it comes to Radiohead to even write about this band. I probably need to bring it back a couple notches. I'll be up in the attic trying to live off of lollipops and crisps if you need me.

- Jameson



Anonymous said...

I must ask you to digress. You have sparked my curiosity. What are the other three songs in your iTunes library that have a higher play count than "True Love Waits?"

I unfortunately have not had the pleasure of hearing any Radiohead B-Sides; though, I'd love to fight with anyone that thinks that makes me any less of a fan. And yes, I'd use my entire 5'8'', 145 lb. frame to state my case.

I concur that Radiohead, for all of the same reasons you mentioned, is currently the best band in the world. To lend some credibility to my "opinion," I'll just throw in the fact that Radiohead is definitely not my favorite band. I guess I just don't like to be tied down to such a claim.


Jameson said...

You need to hear these songs. It does not make you any less of a fan that you havent, but these are superb tracks.

I thought people might want to know what the other three songs in my iTune library that have been played more than "True Love Waits". Its not a very exciting list, but they are all songs I hold close to my heart. Anyhow, here they are in order from most played to least played...

"16, Maybe Less" - Iron & Wine and Calexico
"Friends" - Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
"Thirteen" - Big Star

Luke said...

I'm late to the conversation but although I could argue on 3, 4, and 5 a bit (mostly just in their numbering) I wholeheartedly agree with you on Talk Show Host and True Love Waits going 1 and 2.

I'll admit I'm late to the Radiohead party after poo-pooing them for a few years as overindulgent, but I've since become a bit of an obsessive thanks to Allison and you totally nailed the b-sides list.

True Love Waits is simply incredible and Talk Show Host is the ultimate showcase that Radiohead is just too damn cool for anyone to even hang out with.