Radiohead are up to something. It’s been five years since the band released The King of Limbs, but with the arrival of headlining dates at summer festivals abroad such as Primavera and Lollapalooza Berlin, the unused Bond theme “Spectre” and reports that Radiohead established a new LLC — a likely precursor to a new LP — it’s clear that Thom Yorke and company could drop their much anticipated ninth album at any moment.
Before it arrives, however, Rolling Stone dove into the lesser-explored crevices of the band’s discography — deep album tracks, B-sides, compilation and soundtrack songs, and fan-favorite live cuts that have never seen official release — to compile a list of key obscurities. From “Follow Me Around” and “Fog” to “Worrywort” and “Lift,” here are 20 great Radiohead songs only hardcore fans know.
By Daniel Kreps, David Ehrlich and James Montgomery.
“Banana Co” (1993)
Perhaps the most overtly political song that Radiohead cut prior to their Bush-era LP, Hail to the Thief, this sarcastic early B-side finds the band taking a broad swipe at the colonialist superpowers that continue to mine and mutilate certain Latin American countries (or “banana republics”) for their exports. Yorke, who would go on to become one of the music world’s most outspoken critics of agricultural exploitation, has never topped the bald facetiousness of an opening line like “Oh, Banana Co, we really love you, and we need you.” And while the song sometimes sounds like a dry run for some of the group’s more sophisticated album tracks from the same era (“Bones”), it never gets old hearing Yorke allow his vocals to sound clean enough to sell at a supermarket. D.E.
“Blow Out” (1993)
The most forward-thinking track from Radiohead’s inconspicuous debut LP — the song is effectively a test-drive for “Knives Out,” which would appear four records later — “Blow Out” finds Yorke warping his issues with low self-esteem into an oblique emo jam. One of the only Pablo Honeycuts that the band hasn’t been too embarrassed to play live since the mid-Nineties, the song displays the Oxford quintet’s precision as well as their penchant for sonic chaos. As the gentle cascade of guitars gives way to a squall of noise, this barnstorming album closer begins to sound like the work of a band that’s clawing at the door of their own future. D.E.
“True Love Waits” (1995)
In many ways, it’s Radiohead’s greatest unreleased song — even if it eventually did show up on 2001’s I Might Be Wrong live album. A haunting, heartbreaking exploration of dependence and desperation, it’s been in the back catalog since at least 1995, and thanks to bootlegs, it became a fan favorite — just as the band shelved it for a solid five years. Due to demand, Radiohead have occasionally worked it into sets during the past decade, where it feels almost like something taken from a time capsule, a remnant of a simpler, sadder era. In the 20 years since he first wrote it, Yorke’s turned his attention towards global concerns, but every so often, it’s nice to go back to a time when he was still kind of a Creep, or at least a guy who would sing, “I’m not living/I’m just killing time” and mean it. J.M.
“Killer Cars” (1995)
One of Radiohead’s very first B-sides — a rough version of the song appeared in their live sets as far back as 1993 — the blistering iteration with which most fans are familiar wasn’t recorded until a few years later. A three-pronged guitar jam in which the music is as blunt and panicked as the lyrics, “Killer Cars” finds Yorke taking the same physical anxieties that weaseled their way into LP cuts like “My Iron Lung” and leveraging them into a full-fledged freakout over how we take our lives into our hands every time we get behind the wheel. “I’m going out for a little drive and it could be the last time you see me alive,” raves the singer, adding a grim twist of irony to the crash-test dummy that’s plastered on the front cover of The Bends. D.E.
A fan favorite among Radiohead diehards, the soaring, sparkling “Lift” was a mainstay on Bends-era set lists, one of the last vestiges of that album’s anthemic, Brit-Pop hooks before the band embarked on a darker path with OK Computer. However, “Lift” didn’t fit with the vibe of OKC or its B-sides, and Radiohead ditched the track for nearly seven years, only to resurrect it with a slower, more restrained version during their 2002 tour.
Following the 2002 performances, “Lift” was again abandoned by the band, destined to linger among the other unsorted Radiohead songs in fans’ iTunes libraries … until last fall, when Jonny Greenwood revealed that Radiohead had worked on “Lift” again in the studio for possible inclusion on their next LP.
“It’s a ‘management-favorite,'” Greenwood said. “What people don’t know is that there’s a very old song on each album, like ‘Nude’ on In Rainbows. We never found the right arrangement for that, until then. ‘Lift’ is just like that. When the idea is right, it stays right. It doesn’t really matter in which form.” D.K.
We’re not sure who Thom Yorke is singing about on OK Computer outtake “Pearly,” but with each small signifier he reveals (“Dew-drop dentures,” “Vanilla milkshakes from Hard Rock Cafes” that lead to a “sweet tooth for white boys”), we can assume she’s a vain, cloistered monster — a kicking, squealing Gucci little piggy all grown up. That she now possesses power probably explains the song’s discordant din, a blur of wide-mawed guitars and pounding, doomy drums that eventually bursts open in an oozing final stanza. Scathing bit of social commentary, or just a slag-off to a celebrity, the point is still the same: Everything is rotten on the inside. J.M.
“Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2)” (1997)
A reminder that one of Radiohead’s great strengths has always been their ability to make the clinical feel visceral, this OK Computer contender is one step removed from Thom Yorke just reading names out of a phone book (instead, it’s lines like “Decaffeinate, unleaded, keep all surfaces clean,”), and yet it still packs a punch. Opening with a gently strummed aside, we get an abrupt stop, a live-room count off, a whirring organ and then twin booster rockets of guitar and drums that send this one skyward. It keeps twisting the higher it climbs, all gnashing chords and spiky leads and propulsive bass, before finally combusting somewhere in the upper atmosphere. The resulting cloud is probably still up there — more proof that it pays to shoot for the stars. J.M.
“Palo Alto” (1997)
Given that it’s from the OK Computer era — and named after the Silicon Valley enclave that incubated Facebook and Google — “Palo Alto” is very much about the oppressive emptiness of the wide-open tomorrow. When Thom Yorke sings, “In a city of the future/It is difficult to find a space,” he’s not talking about parking. But since it’s the closing track on the Airbag/How Am I Driving? EP — the bridge to the claustrophobic Kid A phase — it may also foreshadow Yorke’s realisation that those expanses were more cluttered than he imagined. When he sings, “In a city of the future/It is difficult to concentrate,” he might be talking about Snapchat. Either way, he knew we were doomed; it’s a good thing this one’s a stomper. J.M.
“Follow Me Around” (1998)
It first showed up in Meeting People Is Easy, Radiohead’s queasy film about the OK Computer world tour, where it played over a montage of monotonous interviews that included a weary Thom Yorke telling a journalist, “You will become a hypocrite … that’s what being an adult is. And then you have babies and that’s it.” Needless to say, he was grappling with some heavy stuff — the march of time, the crush of responsibility, the weight of expectation — all of which is evident in the dazzling, dour “Follow Me Around.” From mentions of shadowy figures lurking in corners to the aching acquiescence of the chorus, it’s one of his darkest songs, if only because he’s admitting he knows what’s coming, but has no other choice than to carry on. No wonder they never recorded this one proper; some things are better left as is. J.M.
It may not share the vaunted reputation of “True Love Waits” or “Talk Show Host,” but this fuzzy, slow-building Amnesiac castoff is one of Radiohead’s greatest B-sides. It begins with some heavily garbled synth notes that rumble like the sound waves of an old radio transmission returning to Earth. When Yorke’s voice eventually pierces through, it arrives with such a sudden clarify and closeness that it feels like he’s singing directly into your ear. It’s pretty much one big crescendo from there: The drums start to chug, Colin Greenwood begins mashing a tambourine, and a full-blown jam blooms around the fittingly opaque lyrics about NYC folklore and an unspecified child going bad. Rolled out in concerts on the rare occasions when the mood strikes, “Fog” is an emotionally unresolved crash course in what this band does best. D.E.
Accented with lyrics that sound like the transcript from one of Thom Yorke’s therapy sessions (“Don’t find yourself in doldrums/Go and get some rest/It’s such a beautiful day”), this synth-heavy Amnesiac-era B-side feels like a shot of novocaine right between your ears. Fueled by a serene digital melody that eventually ramps up in complexity in classic Radiohead fashion, “Worrywort” almost allows itself to become the band’s first unrepentant feel-good track — speed it up and it’s practically the stuff of a Passion Pit single. But this is Radiohead we’re talking about, and so, even at its most soothing, this mantra of personal affirmation never loses touch with the pain that it’s ostensibly trying to numb. D.E.
“I Froze Up” (2002)
The sparse, haunting “I Froze Up” originally premiered during one of Radiohead’s off-kilter webcasts in 2002, where Thom Yorke performed the song solo on a Fender Rhodes piano. This heavily bootlegged, low-bitrated version of “I Froze Up” was the only evidence the song ever existed … until 2010, when Yorke revived the track at a February solo concert in Cambridge, England. Two months later, “I Froze Up” popped up again, this time at an Atoms for Peace concert in Chicago, but that would be the last time Yorke revisited the somber cut.
“Morning Mr. Magpie,” another track that Yorke debuted during that December 2002 webcast, was also all but forgotten before its inclusion on Radiohead’s The King of Limbs, which gives fans hope that “I Froze Up” could also one day be released from the vaults. D.K.
“A Punchup at a Wedding (No no no no no no no no)” (2003)
Tucked away on the back side of Radiohead’s longest album, this slinky midtempo deep cut is the closest thing to a diss track that Yorke has ever recorded. Written in response to a nasty review of a hometown gig the band played in July 2001 (one of Yorke’s favorite performances), “A Punchup at a Wedding” helps Hail to the Thief bridge the gap from the simmering frustration of its first half to the sneering rage of its second one. “You’ve come here just to start a fight/You had to piss on our parade,” Yorke foams, the taunting piano transforming the song into the badass older brother that “Karma Police” always wanted. D.E.
“Gagging Order” (2003)
A lot of Radiohead songs start out as Thom Yorke flicking away at his acoustic guitar, but the gorgeous “Gagging Order” is one of the few that was actually recorded that way. Graced with some of the band’s most haunting imagery (“Move along, there’s nothing left to see/Just a body, pouring down the street”), this autumnal B-side proves that Radiohead is often at their best when mining veiled political statements for their haunting emotional undercurrents. Marrying a threatening title to a melody that sounds like it could soundtrack a wistful montage in Almost Famous, the track fleshes out the abstract Orwellian fears of Hail to the Thief by imbuing them with an unnervingly physical dimension. D.E.
The penultimate track on Radiohead’s bloated, schizophrenically sequenced Hail to the Thief, the fragile “Scatterbrain” appears like a tranquil oasis between the manic “Myxomatosis” and the 2003 LP’s sinister closer, “A Wolf at the Door.”
As Yorke explained in a 2008 interview with The Quietus, “Scatterbrain” stemmed from the singer’s frustration following his involvement in the Jubilee 2000, which radically changed his worldview as well as hammered home many of Hail to the Thief‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four undertones.
“I realised how out of control the disintegration was,” he said. “When I started with Jubilee 2000, I thought it was the most exciting thing I’d ever got involved with. Potentially, we could show what’s been going on for what it is. But it never happened, because the G8 were very smart, and they and the IMF and the World Bank kept passing it to each other, and eventually I found myself thinking, ‘Now I get it. It’s never going to happen.'”
“Yesterday’s headlines blown by the wind/Yesterday’s people end up scatterbrain,” Yorke wearily sings. “Any fool can easy pick a hole (I only wish I could fall in)/A moving target in a firing range.” D.K.
“Go Slowly” (2007)
For any other band, this would be one of their crowning achievements. For Radiohead, it’s basically a sketch that accidentally struck gold. Too half-formed to earn a place on LP, but too haunting to be left on the cutting room floor forever, this spare stunner from the In Rainbows sessions unfolds like a distant cousin of “Exit Music (for a Film).” “Go Slowly” is rooted in a profound despair of some kind, and its only escape is to dig further down. “I didn’t care/But now I can see that there’s a way out …,” Yorke croons, like he’s calling to death itself as his voice sinks beneath a quicksand of feedback to end one of the most beautifully disconcerting songs that the band has ever recorded. D.E.
“Down Is the New Up” (2007)
At first blush, it’s pretty bizarre — albeit fitting, given the song’s commitment to confusion — that this immense B-side didn’t find a home on In Rainbows (it wound up on the disc of bonus tracks that was released alongside the album’s CD release). On the other hand, this snivelling, carnivalesque piano jam is so discombobulating that it feels like the perfect complement to the album that flipped the music industry on its head. Kicking off with some of Radiohead’s characteristically ominous instructions (“Pour yourself a hot bath, pour yourself a drink/Nothing’s gonna happen without a warning …”), this unusually rich deep cut soon bubbles into a full-blown falsetto nightmare that would be even scarier if it weren’t so damn enjoyable. D.E.
“Faust Arp” (2007)
A 130-second song that’s often dismissed as the interstitial ditty sandwiched between In Rainbows favorites “All I Need” and “Reckoner,” this dense and richly orchestrated track is a far more crucial cut than its brevity might suggest. Balancing the intimacy of a lullaby with the passive-aggressiveness of a lovers’ spat, “Faust Arp” finds Yorke cooing tightly coiled verses about taxidermy and resentment over a gentle tide of strings that make the whole song sound as though it’s inexorably flowing downstream. But Jonny Greenwood is the secret ingredient here, his nimble acoustic guitar lending Yorke’s vocals the support they need to get away with lines like “You’ve got a head full of feathers/You’re gonna melt into butter.” D.E.
“These Are My Twisted Words” (2009)
For a band that is constantly innovating how they deliver their music — In Rainbows‘ surprise pay-what-you-want release, the BitTorrent distribution of Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, the SoundCloud drop of “Spectre” — the arrival of “These Are My Twisted Words” is still the most curious in Radiohead’s discography.
Coming 22 months after In Rainbows, “These Are My Twisted Words” first appeared on August 12th, 2009, without explanation on file-sharing site What.cd, with the MP3 accompanied by an info file boasting an ASCII picture warning of a “Wall of Ice” arriving August 17th.
Five days later, the winding, krautrock-inspired track was formally released as a free download through the band’s official website. The track never received a physical release — although Stanley Donwood–created artwork was included in the file for fans to print out — but “These Are My Twisted Words” continues to have a live presence, popping up frequently during the band’s The King of Limbs tour. D.K.
“Identikit” was one of three still-unreleased songs — along with “Cut a Hole” and “Ful Stop” — that Radiohead debuted during their tour in support of The King of Limbs, with the band performing the track nearly three dozen times over the course of their trek.
The twisty, hypnotic cut, one of the funkiest tracks in the band’s catalog, boasts guitarist Ed O’Brien’s most prominent vocal work, which stays in perfect sync with Yorke throughout the knotty verses that lead into the chaotic chorus.
“Identikit” was also one of the two tracks that Radiohead laid down at Jack White’s Third Man Records prior to their 2012 headlining performance at Bonnaroo. However, the band was reportedly unhappy with the finished product, and “Identikit” remains a TKOL tour relic barring inclusion on the upcoming Radiohead LP. D.K.