Radiohead is one of the most notable English rock bands of the 90s and 2000s, and their experimental approach to the genre has given fans numerous masterpiece albums to peruse. A major part of bringing alternative rock to the forefront of the music world alongside the likes of Nirvana, Green Day, and Pearl Jam, Radiohead is one of the most important rock bands of all time.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the most interesting facts about them, their formation, and the crazy careers they’ve had together.
Radiohead Got Their Start in 1985
The members of the band met while all of them were attending Abingdon School in Oxfordshire, England. After forming a band, they spent Fridays after school rehearsing in the school’s music room. Several iterations of instruments were used, as they preferred a collective artistic approach that gave them a lot of creative freedom throughout their time together. That trend was one of the things that continued throughout their entire careers.
For the most part, they felt stifled by the school. Abingdon was an independent school for boys, and they all disliked its strict atmosphere. The one saving grace was the music teacher at the school who introduced them to jazz, film scores, and classical music.
They played their first gig in 1987 at The Jericho Tavern. While the entire band had moved on and gone to college that year, they continued to meet and rehearse on the weekends. They were even offered a record deal by Island Records but wanted to go to school first and figure out an identity for themselves more.
They Didn’t Start Out Being Called Radiohead
Radiohead actually started out with the name On A Friday. The name came from only really being able to play and practice together on Fridays in their school’s music room. This was their name when they got an offer from Island Records, and they would only play eight total gigs under that name.
A strong demo tape and another performance at The Jericho Tavern ended up earning them a place at EMI. The label asked them to change their name, choosing Radiohead as an homage to the Talking Heads album True Stories and the single Radio Head.
Their Debut Album Helped Push Alternative Rock to Mainstream Audiences
There were certainly a few iconic bands that helped get alternative rock out of the underground world and into the hands of mainstream audiences. Nirvana tends to be the one we recognize the most, I’ve mentioned them on plenty of occasions in these articles, but there were certainly others who worked just as tirelessly.
Radiohead’s debut album Pablo Honey came out in 1993 and is what set the band up for success and aided the genre in breaking boundaries. It frankly didn’t do that well in the UK, with all of the single releases failing to sell well. However, it picked up steam in Israel and the US.
Creep was the catalyst for the album rising so quickly in overseas markets for the band. After getting regular airplay on US radio, it made it to number two on the US Modern Rock chart. The apparent “in” they found caused them to go on a North American tour, but by the summer of 1993, they were a huge success in the US.
Creep would go on to break the top 40 of the US Hot 100 and peak at number seven on the UK Singles chart when it was released again by EMI in that country. But all of that was part of the rise of alternative rock and helped keep it on an upward trajectory in the mid-90s.
Radiohead Has a Love-Hate Relationship With Creep
Speaking of Creep, there are a few things you need to know about this song. It’s widely known as the most successful single Radiohead ever released and is one of the greatest tracks of all time, but the band’s relationship with it is complex.
They never actually intended to release the song as a single, and even after producers convinced them to put it out, it wasn’t an immediate success. It wouldn’t be until EMI released the track that it would find success in the US and Israel, becoming a worldwide hit alongside slacker anthems like Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana and Loser by Beck. It remains their most successful single and one of the most successful debut singles of all time.
Unfortunately, that success came at a cost to the band. They spent years living in the shadow of Creep. From the hit hanging over their head as they worked on a second album to playing it at least once at every single show they did with audiences yelling for it, the song essentially suffocated Radiohead.
They got so tired of it that in the early 2000s, they refused to play the track in live shows. This went on for a few years, from 2009 to 2016. They still don’t feel like it should be their greatest work and are exhausted by it, but the hatred of the song is more of a joke for them now than anything else.
Phil Selway Was Almost Not Part of Radiohead
In the very early 90s, Phil Selway ended up quitting the band. He moved to Ireland to be with his lover, but that relationship unfortunately—or fortunately for us—didn’t have a happy ever after. Once it ended, he moved back to Oxford and rejoined the band, becoming part of one of the greatest rock bands of all time once again.
Radiohead Is Very Political
Since its inception, Radiohead has been politically minded. They’ve never shied away from being open about their political beliefs and have been decidedly against conservatism since the very start over three decades ago. It might seem ironic that all the members had an expensive private education, but that’s something they believe they’ve had to come to terms with, and being rooted in privilege gives them even more reason to turn to their rebellious themes.
Their album The Bends was where the political angle actually took off. It went from being anti-corporate to something that was more. Pessimism, anti-establishment, and 90s liberalism were all major influences on their music.
OK Computer was the point that it became apparent that this was a serious political critique. The entire album, largely labeled as a masterpiece, was a critique of the late-capitalist wasteland they saw before them. They would continue this anti-globalism and anti-capitalistic as time progressed, putting out statement record after statement record.
While none of the members are active in politics, listening to their music gives you a sense of the things they care about. Pacifism, environmentalism, and anti-racism are all abundantly clear through the band’s work.
Pioneers of the Pay-What-You-Want Model
Radiohead released an album in 2007 titled In Rainbows, but they used a different model to actually monetize it. They allowed people to download the album online but didn’t set a fixed price. They essentially allowed consumers to pay what they thought was appropriate for the album. But why would they do this?
The 2000s was the decade that saw the internet begin its rise to being the overarching thing it is today. Video and music sharing was rampant as new sites came out—anyone else remember LimeWire and the computer viruses it gave you? But regulations weren’t in place the way they are today, and copyright striking wasn’t a simple process.
Piracy was a major issue. People could copy the data from a CD to their computer, and then upload the files online. Others could easily download those files, effectively getting—reasonable to bad—quality albums for free. Many artists and companies tried different things to protest against or stop piracy online. Radiohead took a different approach.
Upon release of In Rainbows, they used the pay-what-you-want model. It allowed users to download the album for free, and then charge themselves whatever amount they thought was fair instead of selling the album for a fixed cost. It was a hugely important release and decision, making waves throughout the music industry.
Its success is rather unknown when it comes to ending online piracy, but the actual numbers are very real. The average fan spent a total of £2.90 on the album, with 60% of the people who downloaded it doing so and paying nothing.
Jonny Greenwood Is An Accomplished Film Score Composer
Jonny Greenwood doesn’t just work on music for Radiohead, he’s a successful score composer for films. Some of his most notable credits include work on movies like Inherent Vice, The Master, and There Will Be Blood.
His work on There Will Be Blood was masterful, so much so that it was noted as the likely winner of the 2008 Oscar for Best Original Score. Unfortunately, it used samples. That disqualified it for the award because Rule 15 of the Academy’s Special Rules for Music Awards excludes any music that uses samples of tracked themes or pre-existing music.
Some of the Band Was In The Harry Potter Film Franchise
If anybody remembers the Harry Potter films—I know, everyone does—then you saw a couple of members of Radiohead in one of the movies. Specifically, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire featured a wizard band that made quite the ruckus at the Yule Ball. The Weird Sisters are the fictitious rock band who played on that stage in 2005, bringing to life a group from the book. Phil Selway and Jonny Greenwood were two of the members of that band on stage, helping introduce the world to J.K. Rowling’s version of wizard rock.
Jonny Greenwood’s Wrist Brace Isn’t Needed
Jonny Greenwood started wearing a wrist brace in the middle of the 90s as a way to help support his hand. He wasn’t strumming the way he wanted to because of some weakness, so he used the brace to make sure it was strong enough to do the things he wanted. Once his wrist healed up, he decided to keep it as it looked kind of cool. The wrist brace ended up being a trademark look for him and a signature piece of his wardrobe.
OK Computer and In Rainbows Might Be One Album
There’s a significant portion of the Radiohead fanbase that buys into the conspiracy theory that two of their best albums blend into each other. By listening to OK Computer and In Rainbows in sequence, one song from one then a track from the other, they apparently blend together.
It goes by the name The Binary Theory and was put together in 2007, right after In Rainbows was released. The band even eventually discussed the theory during interviews, never denying that there was something to it. You can read more about it on Puddlegum thanks to them reposting the original articles from 2007 and dissecting them further. If you’re interested, check it out here.
Radiohead Live Shows Are Sick
It’s no secret that Radiohead likes to push boundaries, but they don’t just do it inside of their songs. Their live shows are meant to be immersive and innovative experiences for fans. They often put in incredible visual effects and elements you won’t see in any other shows. If you do go see them live, expect to be surprised by what they pull off on stage.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.