Why Listen to Radiohead

Meet the band:

Singer: Thom Yorke

Johnny “Bangs” Greenwood

….and the rest.

Radiohead and Me

The first Radiohead song I heard was Karma Police on the Much Music combo album Big Shiny Tunes 3. I must have been 12 years old at the time, and back then it made sense in my brain that I could do my homework on one end of the room, while the stereo on the other end of the room played a song I really liked, then when it ended, I would get up and cross the room and press “back” and I would return to my homework and listen to it again. I must have done this 20 times in one sitting.

Q: I know it was the 90’s and all, but I’m surprised your stereo didn’t have a “repeat” button.

A: It probably did. But I think my goal was to actually listen to the whole thing but I kept changing my mind and playing it again.

Q: You loved Karma Police that much?

A: No. It was Push It by Garbage that I loved. But I kept hearing the beginning of Karma Police and then I knew it was time to go back and replay Push It. Come on! Karma Police was no match for the intoxicating and risqué beats of Garbage!

Q: Agreed. So then what happened?

A: That was my entire experience with Radiohead until I was 14. Oh, besides seeing The Bends lying around my eldest brother’s house and thinking, “this cover is not interesting for 12 year olds.”

The Bends album art: not interesting for 12 year olds.

Q: So what happened when you were 14?

A: By this time my brother lived in Toronto, and I visited him one Christmas in 2000, and this happened to be a very exciting time for Radiohead fans. The album Kid A had just come out, causing waves of rejoicing. Everyone had been so eager to find out what they were going to do next after the amazing OK Computer album. Of course, I was in my own world and knew none of this, but I was able to perceive a few things despite my mental absentness:

  1. My brother invited a friend over who hadn’t heard the album yet.
  2. He was playing songs for him from Kid A.
  3. I was in the room at the same time.

I see what you did there…

The story has a really quick ending. It’s like, lots of build-up and then wham, it’s over. Here is the end of the story:

I heard “How to Disappear Completely” and “Idioteque”… and the rest is history. I became a fan for life.

And I even started to love “Karma Police.”

Q: That’s a nice story, but it wasn’t very brief. Are you sure you’re going to get this blog done before the concert tomorrow?

A: Can I do it? Let’s find out! Watch me go!

Why Listen to Radiohead

This is the part of the blog I was dreading the most.  There are too many things I want to talk about, but like a well-mannered Beaudelaire orphan, I will try to keep it simple and not just go and stab Count Olaf a hundred times in the dark.

There are several themes that are interwoven into the songs of Radiohead, which my conscious and subconscious minds pick up on when I listen to them:

Imagination and Possibilities

Even if you don’t understand everything Radiohead is singing about, everything they say has meaning. Whether it means something to just them and they don’t want you to know, or it means something to you personally…that’s really up to you.

Sometimes they give you clues as to their meaning, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you know what it means just from feeling the music, instead of listening. The bottom line is that because they hold back some pieces of the puzzle, we’ll always be wondering and thinking about the possibilities. And as we grow and change (I’m not a carefree 14 year old anymore, I’m sad to say), we find new ways to interpret the songs. Their music grows with us because of its endless possibilities.

You know that feeling when you’re going for a walk, and the music you’re listening to takes over your world and you either think you’re in a movie, or you’re creating a movie right there, featuring you, walking to the store, buying some M&Ms. Are you a spy? Are you in the witness protection program? Are you a psychopath? The movie is your oyster.

Sound Mixing

Anything from Kid A and up must be listened to with noise-cancelling ear buds. It’s amazing.

Just Doing What You Want To Do

This is not only the main reason I love Radiohead.

This is why I’m writing this article.

Among their many cherished and celebrated themes – Paranoia, Tragedy, Revenge, Hope, Imagination, Futility, Human Observation – the one that stands out to me the most is the attitude of just doing what you want to do, no matter what people say. And they practice what they sing.

For instance, once we’ve succeeded at something, and we’re expected to continue being awesome, usually we look at what people liked about our first creation and we try to emulate it, while still trying to tweak it so it’s not exactly the same thing again. Oh how we wish we could just release the exact same thing again…but we cannot.

Refusing to deal with this nonsense, Radiohead writes what they want to write and what they think sounds cool, and in doing this have created some pretty damn experimental and insane things. As humans, we always try to compare new creations with previous work but in this case it’s very hard to do. They are constantly moving forward and never letting their previous successes affect their work.

In 2008 Radiohead stopped releasing albums under record labels and became a fully independent band, which allowed them even more freedom. Freedom to do fun things like allowing the fans to pay whatever they wanted for their album In Rainbows!

In a world where…

Hang on that’s a little cliché sounding….

In Pertobello’s world, it’s so easy to just be a pushover. To be guided by everyone else’s needs. In a way it’s almost easier. It’s the path of least resistance. But then later you really suffer for it when you forget who you are.

When I listen to Radiohead, I’m reminded of how it’s my life and I get to make my own decisions. Advice is all well and good, but in the end it’s up to me.

And during that hour-long commute home, when I get to shut the world out and crank up King of Limbs, I get to be the boss of my own life.

Q: Do  you love every song by Radiohead?

A: No. If I did, then I would just feel like they were trying to make me happy and that would defeat their “Deal with it” attitude.

deal wit it

Q: I feel like your blog, while insightful, explains more why you listen to Radiohead than why other people should get into them. Do you have any advice for aspiring listeners?

Yeah sorry. A lot of that stuff got cut out. I really should change the title of the article. Here are some tips:

  1. Remember that Radiohead is backwards. A lot of their songs are hard to enjoy at first but the more times you hear it, the better it gets (as opposed to songs that get overplayed on the radio.) I know it seems like my fandom was instant, especially since I said “the rest was history.” What I meant was “every album was a struggle. Some even took years, like Amesiac, which is now my favorite of them all.”
  2. My friend told me I should have introduced him to Hail to the Thief instead of Ok Computer. So, listen to Hail to the Thief first, kids.
  3. As you listen to them, check out the lyrics and song info on greenplastic.com. It really helped me to understand their thought processes and how they came to write some of the songs they did.

Q: Any closing remarks?

A: Just this: Aha! I made it! It’s still June 15th. (Oops it’s now 1:30am on the 16th. This is what I get for going out and playing pool while under a tight deadline). Please tune into Twitter tomorrow evening as I live tweet the whole concert. Haha, I’m just kidding. I don’t even know what “live tweet” means.

Goodbye everyone! Please enjoy a list of my top ten song:


10. Sit Down Stand Up (Hail to the Theif)

9. Pyramid Song (Amnesiac)

8. Climbing Up the Walls (OK Computer)

7. Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box (Amnesiac)

6. Pulk Pull Revolving Doors (Amnesiac)

5. Idioteque (Kid A)

4. Jigsaw Falling Into Place (In Rainbows)

3. Everything In Its Right Place (Kid A)

2.  2+2=5 (Hail to the Thief)

1. Lucky (OK Computer)



I’m sorry to announce that the much-anticipated concert was cancelled due to the stage collapsing about an hour before doors were supposed to open. My heart goes out to Scott Johnson’s family (the drum technician who was killed in the collapse) and the ones who were injured. Since the band dearly loved him as well, I feel absolutely terrible that this tragedy happened. I hope everyone recovers and remembers the excellent work Johnson has done for the band.


About pertobello

I live in Toronto but I'm from the east coast originally. I like photography, psychology, writing, pictures, the brain, literature and the creation of, taking snapshots, therapy (of myself and others), manuscripts, digital renderings of events and places, exploring the capablities and workings of the human mind, transcribing my thoughts and stories into a readable format. Wow I have an impressive list of interests!! cindy.pert@gmail.com
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3 Responses to Why Listen to Radiohead

  1. T. P. Lewis says:

    Sorry the concert didn’t happen. Brutal.

  2. John H says:

    just to chime in with you from a different perspective. I’m 50+ years old. Have two great kids- one is 24 and other is 21. Listened to a LOT of music in my years. Have “Adult ADHD” (without hyperactivity). Radiohead is a band I cannot get away from. Every album is different –and so complex. That’s what I really like about their style. It’s like perfectional imperfection. I think it must have something to do with the ADHD. Their music and lyrics actually make me hyperfocus.
    There is so much going on in one of their typical recordings (I know-what’s typical for them??)
    Anyway, enjoyed your post on Radiohead and I’m right on the same page with you. . .Take care.

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