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To put it mildly, Radiohead are very unusual.  There are few bands that have conquered the one hit wonder syndrome, once labeled…there are even fewer bands that use three guitarists…and even fewer than that, that have had as much formal schooling as the members of Radiohead.  That last point is by far the most shaping.  No popular band has had as many members actually graduate from college.  Upper Middle Class (and higher) people don’t tend to be rock stars…it just isn’t in their blood.  They are too grounded to give everything up to devote their lives to rock.  And people that actually graduate college hardly ever go into rock and roll; there are a few of course, but Radiohead had four! (And Johnny Greenwood certainly would have finished his schooling if the band didn’t make it when they did). 

 

Their upbringing is never far from the surface of their output.  If you needed any bit of a reminder of just how intellectual Radiohead truly are, look at their music videos: ”Just” is one of the most revered videos ever made with its amazing storyline and closing shot.  Paranoid Android,” and “Pyramid Song” use strange and compelling animation to great lengths.  No Surprises,” “Karma Police,” and “High and Dry” all follow major concepts and are strikingly effective.  Street Spirit,” “Knives Out,” and “There, There” use weird cinematography with unsettling freeze shots.  Not many other bands have made such gripping and thought out pieces of visual work.

 

To go along with the videos, Radiohead are also very atypical on the road.  None of the band members are ridiculous drinkers, one-night standers, druggies, or partiers.  In fact, on one of their first few tours of the United States, the band threw a book party in celebration of their final gig.  A book party!  Where party members each brought a book for another member to read…

 

With their higher-class backgrounds, the band had the money and know-how to have eclectic tastes.  Early known influences include Stereolab, Talking Heads, Strangelove, Moonshake, David Gray, John Lennon, Miles Davis, Th’ Faith Healers, The Fall, Sonic Youth, The Pixies, REM, Magazine, and Japan…a wide variety of music not available to a poorer child.  And these varied and expensive tastes helped create their sound: Ed O’Brien was quoted as saying, “The guitar sound on ‘No Surprises’ was supposed to hark back to ‘Pet Sounds,’ ‘Let Down’ was a nod to Phil Spector, ‘Exit Music’ had a Ennio Morricone atmosphere, ‘Airbag’ was an attempt to do something like DJ Shadow…”

 

Obviously this band is a rare one indeed, and it is no wonder they have been labeled the saviors of rock, with countless magazines ranking their work among the best ever created.  Don’t shy away from Radiohead based on their upbringing though…it is a true testament to their passion for music that they gave up their “normal” lives to record and produced music that has a universal message: Loneliness, rejection, and mass paranoia. 

 

Enjoy! 

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