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Listener's Guide to Radiohead

Updated on February 27, 2015

Radiohead is one of the most successful British bands of the 90's and the 2000s, yet their catalog of music is extremely diverse and sometimes, alienating to some fans of Radiohead's older albums because of the experimentation in their music. For people who have just begun to listen to Radiohead, this might be particularly jarring because of how unique most Radiohead albums are and how they are distinctive in comparison to the subsequent album.

Because of Radiohead's tendency to experiment and explore new styles and genres, it was fascinating to see how they progressed over the years. For the most open-minded listener, listening to all of Radiohead's albums chronologically is actually a very fun process spanning several genres of music, from alternative rock to electronic and third-stream and jazz stylings to glitch pop. However, we all have our own personal tastes in music and for those who simply want to enjoy the best that Radiohead has to offer for them personally, this guide is for you.

Where should I start?

This really depends on the kind of music you enjoy listening to. If you like more straightforward alternative rock, then you'd probably go for the earlier works of Radiohead; on the other hand, if you like more experimental, artful styles of work then you would listen to later works of Radiohead.

Radiohead's studio albums can be divided into two sides of a spectrum: Accessibility and Experimentation. From left to right spans the albums that are the most straightforward and accessible to anyone to the albums that are less accessible and more experimental.

In the center of this spectrum is what I like to call the "Big Three" of Radiohead. These are the albums In Rainbows, OK Computer, and Kid A.

"The Big Three"

The reason I call them "the Big Three" is because they not only lie in the center of the spectrum, but they're generally known as the most acclaimed, best albums that Radiohead has to offer, a notion that I believe to be quite true. Personally, I think that it is in your best interest to start with these three albums.

In Rainbows

With In Rainbows, Radiohead leaned more towards a more traditional, accessible sound, while at the same time experimentation wasn't necessarily non-existent; it flowed through the ideas and motifs of their music, with a larger focus on the melodic quality of songs, arpeggios, and a more minimalistic approach in general. For the most part, In Rainbows is a more straightforward album than the other two albums, so it leans towards accessibility. The album is very listenable and engaging, and has a great balance between electronic music and the more traditional use of guitars and strings.

OK Computer

OK Computer is widely known as the best Radiohead album, as well as being very high on "Top 100" or "Best Albums of All Time" lists. I see OK Computer as the sort of "bridge" between accessibility and experimentation, and this is mainly why I think it's their best work. This was where they really began to explore new styles and feels that paved the way for their later works, while at the same time being somewhat faithful to their older styles and fanbase. It showed the band beginning to mature drastically into a more artful, thoughtful group of composers and musicians, touching on themes like alienation and consumerism and exploring electronic music being implemented into their alternative rock. I highly recommend that any new listener of Radiohead begin here, their finest work.

Kid A

Kid A is one of the more "controversial" albums of Radiohead, as it firmly placed Radiohead as an art rock band, exploring genres such as electronic, ambient, jazz, and classical and implementing them in their music in various ways. This significantly alienated their fanbase because of how polarizing and different it was from their last album, OK Computer. Songs like "The National Anthem", "Treefingers", and "Idioteque" are fine examples of the inspirations that Radiohead drew from music by third-stream jazz artists such as Charles Mingus, ambient artists such as Brian Eno, and electronic artists, respectively. While it definitely divided fans substantially (some analysts believe that such a deviation from their original Britpop, alternative style is the reason why so many Radiohead fans became fans of Coldplay soon after), Kid A is one of their finest albums, and those who enjoy exploring various genres would surely enjoy it.


What about the others?

If you simply want to listen to more straightforward alt-rock, then you would go to the left side of the spectrum with Pablo Honey and The Bends, both being more popular, more introspective works of Radiohead. On the other hand, if you revel in exploring different things and sounds, then the right side of the spectrum is more for you, with the albums Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief, and The King of Limbs. I admit, I simply left the rest of the Radiohead albums in chronological order, but this is mostly because of two things:

  1. Pablo Honey is indeed more accessible than The Bends, the latter of which is like the younger teenage brother of OK Computer, fiddling with electronic influences here and there while being more emotional and introspective.
  2. I don't feel as if I am in the position to judge which of each of the albums on the right side is "more experimental" than the other. They're all very different and each time Radiohead makes a new album since Kid A, they've been touching on new influences and inspirations.


I won't go in as much detail for each of these albums, but I'll give a list of a few notable features in every album.

  • Pablo Honey- Debut album of Radiohead. Placed them on the charts with their hit-single "Creep", which is (regrettably) their most well-known song.
  • The Bends- Probably one of the most popular Radiohead albums, The Bends is known to be one of the best albums of the 90's. Critically acclaimed unlike its predecessor.
  • Amnesiac- A continuation of Kid A, it was initially going to be released alongside Kid A as a double album. Amnesiac has a jazzier feel than Kid A, with "Life in a Glasshouse" being a notable example of such. Critically acclaimed.
  • Hail to the Thief- Viewed by many as a return to the more traditional alt-rock feel of Radiohead, while in fact this album is still rather experimental and electronic in nature. Critically acclaimed and a fan-favorite by many.
  • The King of Limbs- A glitch-pop album, which again deviates from the alternative rock that had "returned." The King of Limbs is not as acclaimed as others, and is even more dividing than Kid A in that critics and fans alike have polarizing opinions of the album.

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    • shon1121 profile image

      2 years ago from Perth, Scotland

      A really enjoyable read, such an incredible band. Look forward to reading more of what you have written.

    • profile image

      Andi 2 years ago

      Suiinpsrrgly well-written and informative for a free online article.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Nice job, zichrilui. I place Radiohead up there with the Beatles and Pink Floyd. There's so many great songs that defy categorizing. One of my favorites is Spinning Plates-- both versions (but the live version with Thom on keyboards is hauntingly beautiful). Then there's My Iron Lung... and No Surprises...and Body Snatchers... and on and on. It's hard to believe they've been around for almost 30 years now!

    • profile image

      Bconn1149 3 years ago

      Great blog. Check out the one I wrote about them. It is about how "OK Computer" began the evolution of their music and moved them towards "Kid A" and it is a review of the two albums as well.

      http://bconn1149.hubpages.com/hub/Radiohead-OK-Com...

    • Zichri Lui profile image
      Author

      Ming Dao Lui 4 years ago from Quincy, Massachusetts

      Thanks Danny!

      Glad you liked it! I'm just wondering what their next album's gonna be like whenever that comes out.

    • Dannytaylor02 profile image

      Daniel Nathan Taylor 4 years ago from United Kingdom, Liverpool

      My all time favourite band!

      loved them during the 90's with their mellon collie theme combined with Thom Yorke's incredible voice makes them in my eyes the greatest band of the modern generation.

      Found this hub after making a hub about a band that no doubt used Radiohead for Inspiration so im glad that this came up!

    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 5 years ago from Western Australia

      Great hub about great bands:)

    • Music-and-Art-45 profile image

      Music-and-Art-45 5 years ago from USA, Illinois

      Great article. The Bends got me into Radiohead, I've been hooked ever since. Trying to pick a favorite Radiohead album is to do the impossible.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Radiohead made its way into the Hubnuggets nominees list this week! Please come and see and be sure to read and vote https://hubpages.com/community/A-HubNugget-Hunt-fo...

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 5 years ago from Tampa Bay

      What a great Radiohead review! It's nice to see a well-written, informative hub about one of the great Brit bands. I'm a big Radiohead fan and have loved their evolution. I think it makes them even more listenable than a band which sticks to one genre. It would be great to include one of their videos. I found a few excellent videos done in Paris, 2003. Love the Lotus Flower song/video. I like the format here with the photos/albums. Well done.

    • Zichri Lui profile image
      Author

      Ming Dao Lui 5 years ago from Quincy, Massachusetts

      spartucusjones, Honestly lots of people have very dividing opinions about Radiohead so no worries haha.

      I've been a fan of some of the more experimental stuff so Kid A is something that I've enjoyed more than the Bends, which I believe is probably more popular than Kid A. They're both really great albums though.

      And I also think The King of Limbs got a lot more hate than it really deserves. It's really not a bad album but I'll admit, it seems a bit lackluster when you compare it to some of their greater albums. I think KoL takes a little while to sink in all the way through. The second half of the album I think is much stronger than the first, starting with "Lotus Flower."

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 5 years ago from Parts Unknown

      A great hub about a truly influential and innovative band. OK Computer is among my all time personal faves and it is a true landmark. That being said I may be one on of the few Radiohead fans that feel that Kid A is overrated (I would place The Bends in my big 3). But you are right that it was a critically well received album. I also really enjoyed The King of Limbs and that it deserved more love.

    • Zichri Lui profile image
      Author

      Ming Dao Lui 5 years ago from Quincy, Massachusetts

      Thanks! :D I'm glad there's someone else who likes them as much as I do.

    • mirandalabelle profile image

      Miranda La Belle 5 years ago from Dunedin, Florida

      Very, very good hub. Love them so much... Votes up for you :)

    • Zichri Lui profile image
      Author

      Ming Dao Lui 5 years ago from Quincy, Massachusetts

      Thanks so much! I started listening to them after OK Computer too. I really like how evolved their sound is.

    • Olde Cashmere profile image

      Olde Cashmere 5 years ago from Michigan, United States

      It's incredible how much this band evolved since their debut album ''Pablo Honey''. I have all of their studio albums and really enjoyed your review. Excellent hub! Voted up, interesting, and awesome.