The tale of OK Computer is a complex one. Until I started working at Blocland and talking to the rest of the staff, who are all considerably younger and sharper than myself, I had no idea of its history and importance. After numerous discussions with the team, I realized most of my ideas of modern music were way off.
Apparently rock and roll was invented in the late 60s/early 70s by a pair of American artists: David Bowie and Iggy Pop. There was approximately a 10 year “Golden Age” of rock where Iggy Pop and his band The Stooges, along with the aforementioned Bowie, ruled the world. However, their popularity would wane leading many to believe that rock was dead. But in the late 70s/early 80s, two British acts would rise up and remind people that rock had not, in fact, perished.
The Smiths and Joy Division ushered in another wonderful era in rock music. Unfortunately no other rock bands existed at this time. Some say it was due to disinterest and others claim that because of the power of those two bands no other musicians even dared to consider a career in the mythic rock genre. The Smiths would break up and the first true rock star, Morrissey, would rise from its ashes. The tragic suicide of Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis would signal an end to Joy Division. Other members of Joy Division apparently tried to make a go of it without Curtis, but no fruit was to come from their efforts. Despite some serious research, I wasn’t able to come up with as much as a name for the failed band in question. After the dissolution of these two monumentally important rock bands, rock once again went dormant.
Years would go by before Radiohead would surface and release OK Computer. Once again, rock strode the earth in all its majesty. Soon, bands like Interpol, Bloc Party, and The Strokes would take the very basic template those early bands had laid down and move rock forward in ways nobody could have possibly imagined during its infancy. It wouldn’t be long before the greatest band in the history of the genre, LCD Soundsystem, would make Sounds Of Silver, an album considered by most to be the greatest opus in rock history. Rock remains alive and well to this day thanks to these five hugely important acts. There is simply no way to overemphasize the importance of “The Big Five”. Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Joy Division, The Smiths, and Radiohead… God bless them.
Again, my recollection of the history of rock was filled with so many sketchy and sometimes downright WRONG recollections. In my mind there was something called “the blues.” Then another silly notion I had were of shadowy characters named “Elvis Presley”, “The Beatles”, “The Rolling Stones” and something called “Led Zeppelin”. What a fool I was. I am so grateful for my fellow Blocland.com writing staff, and management, for making me see what a patsy I was.
To this day OK Computer remains part of the Holy Trinity of rock history along with The Strokes’ Is This It and the aforementioned Sound of Silver. Virtually all other rock albums owe their deepest of gratitude for the genius found on these masterpieces. Truly a debt that can never be paid.
The album starts with a bang. The buzz-saw guitars scream out like a clarion call from atop a grand mountain– this is no typical 90s alt-rock album. This isn’t your average Blur, Oasis or Jerky Boys record. Radiohead has something to say here and it’s more than, “Oi wot lads, isn’t it lonely when your bird leaves you.” This is a heavy, glitchy portrait of the present and a dystopian, prescient vision of the future. “Airbag” sets up the album as the 1984, the Brave New World, the Huey Lewis and the News’ Sports of our generation.
The song is autobiographical. When Thom sings, “I’m amazed that I survived. An airbag saved my life,” he is being quite literal. A decade prior, he had been in a serious car accident and was badly injured. Luckily, an airbag happened to be passing by and it pulled Thom from the burning wreckage, called 911 and performed CPR on him. Thom remains in contact with the airbag to this day, exchanging cards for Christmas and whatever holidays British people celebrate.
Ultimately both injured and saved by technology, Yorke comes out of the near-death experience “born again” and “back to save the universe” as a new man. However, even as he sings that seemingly triumphant chorus, the minor falls in the vulnerable melody give away his underlying doubt about the future and his worries about if he has any sweets back at the flat or if he’s already eaten all his Jelly Babies.
About halfway into the song, Thom drops out and the rhythm section takes over allowing the singing guitars and the off-kilter drums with glitched-out overlays to take center stage. Later, a false ending leads to a bass-led jam that combines some classic Yorke-ian warble moans to build to a climax and the return of those glitches and the instant-and-forever-classic overdriven guitar riff before finally finishing with the classic guitar switch-off – bringing us right back to the fuckin’ 90s.
“Airbag” shows Yorke both haunted by and saved by technology, perfectly setting the theme of the album – technology and the duality of its inherent great and frightening nature and possibilities. This is foreshadowing of Kid A’s futuristic sad robot sound and Radiohead’s future as the most technological of all the ‘tech ‘n roll’ bands.
It is, without a doubt, the best song on the album and arguably in Radiohead’s entire discography. This is the consensus opinion of the entire Blocland staff.
All the nostalgic remembering of OK Computer seems to forget the fact that it was, after all, a 90s album. In the 90s, you didn’t buy albums for every song on it. You bought an album for the singles. Every song you ever wanted to hear on any album in the 90s was either tracks 1 or 2. In the case of OK Computer, it was track 2.
The only reason anybody would spend their hard-earned 90’s dollar on OK Computer was for “Paranoid Android”. Likely, they saw the “Paranoid Android” music video containing animated boobs, angelic ping-pong, a self-mutilating businessman, the band Radiohead, mermaids (“Now that’s some real mermaids” – Frank Ocean) and decided, “I need an easy way to access this song at my leisure.” Being the 90s, the compact disc was the only option to hear “Paranoid Android” on the regular. Unfortunately, this meant having to buy a CD containing a whole lot of wasted space. (Ever wonder why Radiohead calls their store “waste”?)
Thankfully, “Paranoid Android” is more than six minutes in length. This meant less trips to the boombox to hit BACK since you spent all your money on a CD and not a boombox with a “repeat individual track” function as “repeat entire album” was the norm at the time. The six-minute length is one of the top reasons why this song is not only the best song on OK Computer, but the best song of the 90s. Every other song worth considering usually petered out around the 4-5 minute mark. Sure, we had to put up with Thom singing about the weather for a few minutes, but that last blast of electric guitar squawk at least made it bearable.
The primary downside of “Paranoid Android” were those times you couldn’t make it to your boombox fast enough and you had to suffer through the opening notes of “Subterranean Homesick Alien” – a truly garbage song. It’s like if you took the bit about the raining from “Paranoid Android” and made another entire boring song out of it. “Airbag” at least hints at the fact that there could be a song worth hearing on OK Computer, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your relationship with “Paranoid Android”), “Paranoid Android” is the only song worth a damn on this snooze of an album.
Anytime anybody says, “OK Computer is my favorite album,” what they mean is, “I think ‘Paranoid Android’ is the only good song Radiohead has ever recorded.” All this, “OK Computer is the best album,” talk is really just an exercise in brevity meant to easily express everyone’s unified love of “Paranoid Android”. That’s it.
Subterranean Homesick Alien
It is here, on track three, that we reach the climax and true heart of this landmark album—the song that helped it achieve platinum certification and cemented its place among the firmament as one of, if not the, defining musical document of the confusing, frightening 90s.
Without giving listeners so much as a moment to breach, we are greeted by a wall of syncopated hand drums, hinting at the intoxicating cocktail of influences that Radiohead bend to their will, and giving the song a distinctly picante Latin flair.
Accompanying the cacophonic rhythmic battering, the guitar lead line swoops in, careening and lilting to and fro throughout the song like the alien spaceship of its namesake. Using the neck pickup to achieve an unmistakable muffled, fuzzy, yet clarion clear and smooth tone, it sounds as if the guitar is made of sentient liquid metal from a dystopian future.
The guitar is joined by a descending piano progression, reflecting an inevitable and somber post-modernity devoid of meaning or purpose. Horn stabs interject at every opportunity, haunting us with the constant threat of a debilitating panic attack, trading duty with the organ during the verses to lend a hauntingly calm, electronic sheen. And before the final iconic guitar solo, a short ascending rhythmic breakdown leads us on with false promises of hope, only to descend once again into an unfamiliar and unwanted nightmare.
It is the vocals, however, that take center stage throughout. Manipulated and EQed just so, they speak to the listener as if through an ancient radio, piped in from an alternate dimension of a misremembered past. At points, the top vocal line is flanked by other manipulated voices, much like the proverbial devil on one’s shoulder or perhaps… an alien. Like so many Radiohead lyrics, these lines concern themselves mainly with alienation and longing for an acceptance that seems impossible to fathom in an isolated, impersonal world, peppered throughout with astrological references and descriptions of a dilapidated urban landscape that echoes with the optimism of our forefathers. But perhaps the central tenet of the song, nay the entire album, is boiled down to a few brief lines in the chorus: “Give me your heart/Make it real/Or else forget about it.”
Exit Music (For A Film)
Context. All art is defined by its context, as no man is an island. Nothing is created in a vacuum. I first heard “Exit Music (For A Film)” in its true context.
This is, after all, Exit Music For A Film. This song and its context destroys me every time.
The track has a solemn introspective start. This is the mental space one occupies at the end of a film. The melody carried by the flute particularly penetrates any emotional walls and suspension of disbelief I’ve left remaining. What very little I have left remaining, because as Thom’s vocals take the chorus to soaring new heights, I’m confronted with bittersweet resolution of this timeless film. Jack is gone, so many have gone. But not forever. They’ve only moved on, and they wait. They wait for the one left behind. Greenwood’s string arrangement bursts like a firework as Rose is reunited with those she could not forget for the remainder of her life. Reunited at long last with her true love. Her heart will go on.
This is Exit Music, in a sense. But in another sense, this is Entrance Music, as Radiohead gracefully escort Rose to her new beginning.
Well, hello there. I hope you’re enjoying your journey through this magical, musical retrospective. I know I am. If you’re like me, you’ve been listening along, song-by-song, as you read. Wow… how great is the ending to “Exit Music (For A Film)”? Those vocals… that BASS. It’s so great, in fact, that Radiohead had to discard 27 other songs before finally finding one worthy of following it up on the album. But find one, they did. Not only is ”Let Down” the centerpiece of OK Computer, it has also been called THE GREATEST SONG EVER WRITTEN, by me. The vocal counterpoint at the end might be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It still gives me goosebumps after thousands of spins.
As there really are no words to adequately describe the greatest song ever written, I’ll instead leave you with a parable inspired by the the greatest song ever written. See you on the other side 😉
There was an old man who lived with his old wife in an old house on a hill. They hated each other.
The old woman hated her husband’s old face. She hated his old clothes. She hated how OLD he smelled, even after hours of soaking in a tub. She hated his voice and his poor manners. She despised his laugh and his sickly cough. If pressed, I doubt she’d be able to think of anything or anyone she hated more than she hated him.
The old man knew his wife hated him and, believe me, he hated her too. He hated her crooked fingers and her swollen, chapped hands. He hated her stringy hair and her whiskered chin. He hated her pointless stories, and despised her atrocious cooking. He hated seeing her pink face every morning and would be beside himself with anger any time he saw that she was happy. Unlike his wife, however, there was one thing that the man hated even more than his ancient counterpart…he HATED the old woman’s dirty pet goat.
He hated the goat for all the reasons one might expect… it ate things it shouldn’t; it pooped where it shouldn’t; it made noises when it shouldn’t… but really, he hated it because his wife adored it. She spoke to it like it was a human being, for fuck’s sake. She’d blow it kisses. She’d even eat dinner in the goat’s pen when she couldn’t bear the sight of the old man.
It started one night as a dream; he comes home to find the goat chewing on his favorite pair of slippers. With the swift movement of a much younger man, he removes a large civil war saber from its case above the fireplace and swings it in the direction of the goat’s outstretched neck. Laughing maniacally, he picks up the severed goat head and places it on a serving dish in the center of his kitchen table… just as his wife enters the room. After experiencing the same joyous dream for three consecutive nights, the old man became obsessed with making it his reality. He’d finally rid himself of that filthy goat, and, more importantly, he would crush the spirit of his detestable wife. The old man began fantasizing about the look of horror in her eyes and the sorrowful wails that would follow. The idea consumed him. For the first time in years, he found himself smiling.
One day, while the old woman was out picking onions, the old man pulled the sword from the wall. He took it outside, behind the barn, to the goat’s pen.
The woman returned to the house on the hill just as the sun was beginning to set. Her husband was waiting for her there, reclining in his chair with his feet up on the kitchen table. “Hello, dear! I thought I’d handle supper tonight!” he said, confidently removing the silver top from the platter in front of him. A huge smile spread across his face. This was the moment he’d been waiting for.
The woman stared at the bloody mess ruining her grandmother’s silver serving platter in the middle of her kitchen table. Expressionless, she walked towards the old man, her gaze never leaving the freshly severed goat head.
As if in slow motion, the woman then leaned back, opened her mouth wide, and let out the loudest, most boisterous laugh the man had ever heard.
The smile was still frozen on the old man’s lips, but his brow began to furrow in disbelief. When the woman finally regained her composure, she turned to the man and said, “You simple, simple fool. You think I cared about that old goat? I’d have never given the beast a single thought had I not known of your disdain for it. Truth be told, I hated the thing too. It smelled like shit and ate a good pair of mittens I knitted last winter. In fact, I hated it ever since the day ole’ Mary dropped it off here. I just hated you more! When I saw how angry that goat made you, I thought I’d have a little bit of fun with it… and boy did I! I would talk to it to show you how uninteresting you were to me. I’d blow it kisses to show you how undesirable I found you. I’d even eat with it in its pen, just to show you how unpleasant you were to be around!”
She continued, “He was a prickly old goat, though. In fact, I’d recently decided to kill the damn thing myself once the swelling in my hands went down a bit, but you’ve just gone and saved me the trouble! Oh, oh, that reminds me, when you’re done cleaning off my granny’s centerpiece, please do not forget to dry it COMPLETELY. Last time you left water in the crevices and it took me six hours of hard buffing to get the shine back. How many times do I have to tell you? The worst thing you can do to silver is le…”
Slowly, the smile left the old man’s face.
I’m not sure I really understand what this song is about but that doesn’t stop me from loving it the most. I’ve listened to 70% of OK Computer and this is the best from the 70% I have heard. I actually wasn’t even aware this album was out until the guys said we should do a 20-year retrospective on it. I was like, “Of what?” and like, “It’s called OKCupid? I’ll meet my future spouse there!”
I lied. I still haven’t listened to it. I was really hoping we would do an article on Rush. Maybe next time?
OK Computer is my father. He impregnated my mother while on tour. He has never spoken to me, his son. I wander the world without guidance. OK Computer is a terrible father.
You know what makes “Electioneering” the best track on OK Computer by far? It has none of that chicken-shit whining that Radiohead is usually known for. The rest of this album is all “raaaain down on me” and “a handshake of carbon monoxide,” it’s just a total bummer. I’d much rather listen to Thom shout “ahhhhh” like he does in the second verse here. If you disagree, lighten up and get a life.
When admin approached me and told me we were doing an OK Computer 20-year anny retrospective piece my immediate reaction was, “That sounds crucial. I’m going to the lake.” But Doris insisted and so here I am. Writing about Radiohead. So I figured if I’m gonna do a Radiohead song I might as well make it something off the beaten path. That led me to do some archival digging. What I found was a Nigeria-only release of OK Computer featuring a little known bonus track called “Creep”. When I stumbled upon this track I realized I, Blochead, had discovered the Holy Grail of Radiohead songs. Don’t be jealous. It’s unbecoming. After pouring through old issues of The Punch, the most read newspaper in Nigeria, I was able to find some details about this elusive track. Apparently Thom Yorke wrote the song as an ode to displaced South Africans who were still feeling the ripples of the horror that had been Apartheid. The name “Creep” is actually an acronym. Cameroon, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Ecuador, and Paris are represented. All proud African nations. Throughout the song, Yorke slyly references the struggles the great African people were going through at this difficult time in the island’s history. Here’s a small sampling of the powerful imagery only a master like Yorke could convey. This first one is a subtle nod to just how difficult dealing with the oppression was at the time.
“So I creep, yeah, just creepin’ on,
But I’ll know ‘cept nobody is supposed to know
So I creep, yeah, ’cause he doesn’t know what I do,
And no attention goes to show, oh”
This next excerpt from “Creep” by Radiohead is a painful look at how although free from the reign of terror that Apartheid was most, they were still very confused about how they would fit into a world that until that event, didn’t so much as recognize their existence.
“Well, I’m half the man I used to be
Half the man I used to be”
Whew. Powerful. But the majesty of this track doesn’t end with the lyrical content. The music of this bonus track masterpiece is subtle. Famed Radiohead guitarist Billy Greenhorn actually uses a sample of the Wham! track “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” to fashion a very violent “CHUNK CHUNK…….CHUNK CHUNK” guitar effect. It’s jarring and effective. With a perfect set of headphones or ear buds one can hear a faint George Michael coo at the end of each note. I strongly suggest an older pair of iPod ear buds. The ones that come with the unit. The drums, bass, and everything else associated with this song are tragically forgettable.
Climbing Up the Walls
I’m sure my colleagues will agree when I say “Climbing Up the Walls” serves as an oasis hidden in the back half of an excruciatingly painful, joyless, and barren album. Cup your hands and drink it in. You’ve made it this far and, goddamn it, you deserve it. The track kicks off with the instantly recognizable saxophone line that was later sampled and re-purposed for the late 90s Kevin James vehicle, The King of Queens. Beyond its musical wallpaper and the inherent inoffensiveness of the sax line, it’s easy to see where Kevin James found a kindred spirit in the track. Ed O’Brien (the only credited member on the track) tapped into a playful energy that concocted a relatable portrait of the daily grind, familial bonds, and the mind numbing apathy of middle-aged suburban life. Hilarity ensues.
“Hey I’ve been to the grocery store!” “Hold the fucking phone! I hate dieting too!” This is what you’ll scream with unhinged and empty glee while a single tear rolls down your cheek as you wait for your increasingly sky-rocketing cholesterol levels to ravage your FDA-approved “pink slime” filled husk of a body. Yes, it’s clear Radiohead included “Climbing Up the Walls” just for you. You and your pessimistic and much more attractive spouse with whom you have virtually nothing in common with. You’ll be clamoring to stick an eccentric Jerry Stiller in your basement and lather him up in a generous amount of Vicks VapoRub by song’s end. But, don’t waste your time. Cut the track off after the minute and a half mark. Much like the album and your life, it’s all down hill from here.
Radiohead “fans” won’t admit it, but we all know OK Computer is fuckin’ exhausting. We don’t enjoy it – we wet our trousers and endure it. But then, “No Surprises” comes along to rescue us from the ghastly nightmare and… finally, NAP TIME! No obnoxious masturbating with the guitar or disembodied robots – you can rest assured, there are NO SURPRISES to wake you after the twinkly introduction offers a one-way ticket to Dreamland.
As human beings, we need water, shelter, shrimp, and sleep in order to survive. OK Computer provides NONE of that… until “No Surprises” arrives to offer sweet slumber before we shrivel up and die. Did you know it was originally called “Thom’s Lullaby” and was written to power down Jonny Greenwood after he finished the monologue on “Fitter Happier”? Fun fact, right? A lot more fun than shifting uncomfortably while listening to “Climbing Up The Walls” and trying to pretend it has a single redeemable quality in order to impress your drug-toting, dope new college friends.
If “No Surprises” is not your favorite track on OK Computer, you are a robot and should be terminated before Amazon starts using you to deliver fucking asparagus water to Bloc’s doorstep.
“Lucky” was the very first song written for OK Computer, and it established the tone for the rest of the album. It was the first domino that fell, leaving all others as simple formalities with no choice but
to follow suit. Here is how the album that changed everyone and caused every single person in the world’s life to begin.
The night before the morning that “Lucky” was conceived, Jonny Greenwood watched Dirty Harry alone in his apartment with all the
lights off. Earlier that day in the studio, he and his less attractive brother, Colin, got into an argument because Colin found and promptly ate all of Jonny’s Fun Dip candy, which caused Johnny to have no fun at all that day. He was bitter, he was smoldering, and as he watched Clint Eastwood march across the silver screen in commanding fashion, he fell asleep.
As Jonny walked into the studio the next morning, he saw his brother warming up for the writing session with some kind of sly and devious smirk on his less attractive face. Infuriated, Jonny marched across the studio in commanding fashion, grabbed his brother by the shirt, and in a voice he had never heard before, an American voice full of force, gusto, and other commanding things, said to Colin, “I have a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and it would blow your head clean off, so you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” Clearly this drew the attention of the other bandmates; Ed stopped playing whole notes through his whammy pedal and gawked in awe. Thom stopped dancing in the corner and with his eyes wide as silver dollars said, “It’s going to be a gloooorrrious day.” Colin, being the clearly less attractive but also the clearly tougher of the two brothers, responded to Jonny through the same sly and devious smirk, “I feel my luck could change,” then shrugged his handsome yet wimpy brother off with ease. With his bass guitar still in hand, Colin unleashed one of his simplest yet ominous-as-all-fuck bass lines into the ears of his bandmates. The rafters shook and Jonny pissed his jeans a bit. The rest of the song and the remaining songs on the album came together as a haphazard formality in a matter of hours (one could say, “they were on a roll this time”) as the bandmates all rode this “Lucky” wave into the hearts and souls of humankind for all eternity.
“Turd in the Diamond, with Don”
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
The Girl is Mine.
Run for Your Life.
That’s Not Me.
All of Ten.
The thermal exhaust port in the Death Star.
No diamond is truly flawless. OK CPU is no different, and so there is “The Tourist.” Not a bad tune, though it’s unlikely you pop your compact disc in and skip to track 12. Relative to the greatness of the rest of the album, it is a fine track. And that’s OK, innit?