Monday, 13 February 2012

On a Friday would become?

known as a Talking Heads track..... but this post is not about the latter's personal exploits and/or activities, it's about.... well read on to find out.

Educated beginnings

The English indie/rock band On a Friday, was formed in Abingdon, Oxfordshire in 1985.  Its members are (to present) Thom Yorke, Colin and Johnny Greenwood, Phil Selway and Ed O'Brien (that's probably blown my post title now).  The band was formed as they all attended Abingdon School (an independent boys school) albeit some were in different years.  The name, On a Friday came to pass as it referred to the band's typical rehearsal day in school's music room.  I am very pleased, that it didn't remain through sentimentality but that new and the name what most will know them by will shortly be revealed.  Although its members inevitably left the school and later attended university, the band stayed in touch and continued to rehearse.  A number of live performances followed in the 80s and the group got their just desserts when EMI signed them up for a record contract in 1991.  By a twist of fate, it so how happened that it was a chance meeting by an EMI rep who met Colin Greenwood in a record shop where he worked.  Talk about a stroke of luck eh lads?  It was now (at the request of EMI) that On a Friday was now gone, dead and buried.  But not for long, Yorke and the boys were now to be known as Radiohead.

I'm not sure if Radiohead was purely EMI's idea or a combination of EMI and 'Radiohead' but I suppose others may know.  Anyway, 'Radiohead' was inspired by the title of a tune on Talking Heads' album True Stories - Radio head.  Notice the minor spelling amendment, as I suppose this would get around any 'stealing' issue as far I'm concerned (and hopefully Copyright laws), you can't be done or sued (see getting into that 'whatever you call it' again) by naming something after you've been inspired by.  For all trivia heads out there, the song on the aforementioned Heads' album was about the American actor Stephen Tobolowsky who told David Byrne about psychic abilities he had as a teen.  Just in case you're not aware Byrne was one of the founding members of US band Talking' Heads.  After Heads' became inactive, he would later go solo and also dabble in film.  While all interesting stuff and relevant, back to Radiohead.

Considering when they formed (albeit under a previous name) as already mentioned, they wouldn't go and release their debut single, Creep until 1992.  It however performed poorly and only became hugely popular after their debut album, Pablo Honey was released a year later.  Radio 1 even banned Creep for being 'too depressing'.  Ridiculous to me, but I suppose it didn't have any rapping, had meaningful lyrics and wasn't about love and all things, tacky, annoying, cliched and unfortunately the staple diet of many bands and music alike these days...  i am allowed a little rant, or I suppose it's frustration too.  You will learn about bands (British or otherwise) that you may not even of heard of.  Many will label them as awful and in turn must be awful as they will never be in charts but to all those people - here's a thought for the day.  'Just because something is not really know, doesn't mean to say it's automatically shit'  the same for most subject matter I suppose but that's for another post.  When that does happen, hopefully you'll come to appreciate them.

Hide those razors....

Radiohead's music is not particularly cheerful, in fact is largely rather depressing.  I suppose you could call them a 'suicide band'.  Some of the most brilliant songs feature a very dark melancholy, with powerful lyrics and Yorke's haunting and unique vox, make them what they are, genius in the very sense of the word.  As Radio 1 banned Creep - heck, that I thought was joyful compared to some of their later efforts, I've no idea as when they really did become big, did they lift the ban, regardless of the amount of suicides that may be encouraged...  I personally still believe that Exit Music (For a Film) from OK Computer remains their most macabre melody.  Digging into my fact bucket again, this was written specifically for the ending credits of the 1996 film William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - to give the full title starring Leo Dicaprico et al but I remember it for a very different reason.

In one of the episodes from the classic C4 sitcom Father Ted, though unfortunately short-lived due to the tragic death of Dermot Morgan who died in 1998, part of it featured a suicidal priest who was all for ending it all (for one reason or another) and then was cheered up (apols for the vagueness).  But during his exquisite reprieve, he unwisely chose a journey on a bus or coach which the radio blurted out something like 'Here's a hit from Radiohead' and then it began playing 'Exit Music', and then it focused on the priest and his face would quickly deteriorate once again into despair.  It was a touch of genius from the writers as they really couldn't have chosen a more appropriate song.  Like I say, on the off chance you haven't heard it, give it a try as I doubt you won't go through a variety of emotions.

Albums of melancholy, electronics and The Eraser

Pablo Honey, Creep aside, which will remain its most famous track, was a decent debut and undoubtedly had some nice songs, Thinking About You and Anyone Can Play Guitar were highlights and it's back cover art was interesting as it was actually a man lying down but you couldn't see it unless you turned it upside down.  It was never going to challenge for the best debut as I can name better but still the start of something special.

In 1995, that something special began with The Bends and was the first Radiohead album I purchased (I don't usually buy or do things in order).  Of course this is me speaking and not some trend obsessed, glory-hunting music journo so views are purely independent.

With Bends, they released a powerhouse of an album and featured many excellent songs and not (like most nowadays) that the album boasts one or two 'good' songs what everybody knows and then the rest are utter dross and are just fillers for the sake of it.  That's a bit harsh, but in some cases, largely true.  The Bends or Fake Plastic Trees are my personal faves but I think Trees just shades it.  Other gems include My Iron Lung, Street Spirit (Fade In/Fade Out), Bones, Just and High and Dry, to name a few.  This really put them on the map and it would become my mission to buy anything and everything by them, even their singles.  I mention singles as looking back, they (by any band) was to become a huge waste of money.  Those 'exclusive' songs didn't cut it for me.

Before moving on, RH released My Iron Lung as an EP in 1994 (during The Bends sessions) and was just before The Bends and the album title would of course feature in The Bends.  Lesser known songs included The Trickster and Lozenge of Love.  The songs could also be found on B-sides to My Iron Lung singles so it makes sense to make it a mini-album and the bridge between Honey and Bends.  A nice little mini treat that. 

1997 was upon us and for me, the most anticipated album of the year was imminent, Radiohead's third - OK Computer, and it didn't disappoint, featuring surely one of the most depressing songs ever written and ironically my favourite ever Radiohead tune.  Paranoid Android, Karma Police, Subterranean Homesick Alien and nine others; including its most depressing, Exit Music and personal all-time fave No Surprises (ran a close second by Karma Police).  All songs have a story behind their meaning, 'a joke, getting wasted', 'suicide' and 'aliens' are all mentioned and references include Bob Dylan and Hitchhikers.  It is critically acclaimed to be one of the best albums of all time, a fantastic statement and even better achievement considering how at first they were slated.

For many though, their next two albums begged the question - had Thom and co gone insane?

In 2000 and 2001, Kid A and Amnesiac were released respectively and boy was it different.  It was so different, I reckon thousands of audible gasps of disappointment could be heard from die-hard fans.  I can see why many were disappointed as these were albums were definitely not OK CPU or Bends but instead were a variety of electronic, synthed, experimental-laden madness but this was Radiohead and clearly weren't dumb so although they knew that changing rock was a gamble, it was thankfully was a stroke of genius and eventually paid off superbly.

It is true that 'classic' Radiohead still existed with How To Disappear Completely and Optimistic, but if fans were expecting The Bends, CPU and even the grungey Pablo, they would feel robbed.  Many wouldn't have much lyrical content either, and much was repeated and Yorke's voice was sometimes used in disstortion.  Having delving into Yorke's inspiration and influences, he had long since admired glitch, disstortion, techno and albums that featured early computer music.  When you think about it, even 99% rock based, CPU featured what would be the staple sound for the future Radiohead i.e. Fitter, Happier and even samples on Karma Police.  So when you consider that, you can't really call it a gamble as it clearly wasn't a bolt out of the blue.

I, like many, came to really like the new Radiohead, but just because they had a new sound, they didn't make the switch to begin making 'cheerful' stuff.  This new sound involved horns, harps, qwerty and the brass section, which made for some great sounds, especially when combining it with bass - mostly on Idioteque from Kid A.  The album ended with another joyous number, Motion Picture Soundtrack.  Apart from succeeding in making the listener reaching for that bottle of pills, its brief use of harp was brilliant.

Amnesiac was simply an album made out of unused songs from Kid A sessions and consequently, were largely similar to Kid A, but not in a negative sense.  It was just another sound, which surely should be applauded in itself for Yorke to have the balls to do something different.  So the style wasn't murdered or massacred, just altered.  Colin Greenwood once said 'we felt we had to change everything' and Kid A onwards was surely the ultimate result.

Before moving on, I feel I need to mention the album art of these two and even talk about secrets, yes a secret.  In Kid A, behind its plastic which housed the CD, carefully remove it and there it was, a hidden art booklet.  I remember noticing it by a total fluke but it was a welcome surprise featuring bizarre stuff by graphic artist Stanley Donwood, including Tony Blair with sharp teeth...  If anybody has it and didn't know that, I'll feel happy :)  Speaking of him, he was responsible for all artwork since 1994 so Bends onwards.

For Amnesiac, you had two choices, the standard edition or the strange limited version which was made as a library book.  Unique and odd and been a massive fan, I had to pay the few quid extra and go with the library book but unlike other library books, this would never be returned.  Incidentally, Stanley won a Grammy for his efforts.  To rap up, Kid A had no singles but Amnesiac did.  Instead, Kid A relied on clever internet marketing to promote its release.

The sixth album in 2003 was Hail to the Thief.  Again similar stuff and featured some dreamy efforts, mainly Sail to the Moon and 2+2=5.  Not forgetting A Wolf at the Door and A Punchup at a Wedding.  Clearly not expecting rock anymore, I ate it up but I think when considering the three, while still good, was the weakest out of the trilogy of experiments.  Each song had a sub-title (in brackets) so I suppose another meaning.

In 2007, the boys did something totally unexpected with In Rainbows, offering it as a digital download on their site and basically saying 'pay what you want for it' or 'pay how much you think it's worth'.  It was later released on CD in the traditional fashion but what a bold and audacious move.  i don't think it was ever done before and not even now by any other.  It was a massive improvement over Thief, not that Thief was bad, but was only good and not a great record.  Nude (my personal fave) in retrospect was ancient and was written in 1997.  House of Cards was a nod towards a love ballad.  Yorke is credited as Dr Tchock for artwork.

Four years later and we're all bang up to date with The King of Limbs in Feb 2011 and later was remixed and released as another album called TKOL RMX 1234567.  So-called as the acronym is 'the album title' then RMX for 'remix' and then 1-7 as it had seven remixes.  Makes sense eh?  Whatever, this was also available as a digital download but didn't repeat Rainbows of paying what you wanted.  Again, a physical release would follow.  This was influenced by fairy tales and inspired about the time when the band and Donwood spent living in forests.  This, out of the four electronic experiments is definitely the best and challenges CPU and Bends as their finest work.  Amazing to say considering that they were once known as only creating heavy rock anthemns.  Despite only having a track list of a mere eight, it was definitely quality over quantity.  There wasn't a weak track and was consistently brilliant throughout.

Oops, almost forgot, sandwiched between Thief and Rainbows, in 2006 Yorke kept surprising the world and me by releasing his own album - The Eraser.  Instantly and quite rightly the split bandwagon was jumped upon but Yorke eased those fears by announcing that the album was done with 'their' blessing and a spokesman confirmed that the split would not happen.  Thanks Thom, that would have been a right royal pain in the arse and would've pissed many fans off, mentioning no names 'ahem'.  When speaking about this album, don't use the word solo to his face, he doesn't like that but I suppose what else could you call it.  To keep with the current sound, he didn't revert back to rock as it was still full of beats and electronics, but didn't slump in quality and received positive acclaim by me and others.  The packaging was cardboard but unlike digipak, did not contain any plastic (for environmental issues).  Donwood received another award for his artwork on this baby.

Moving images captured on camera

Going back a few years and while VHS was still the most important thing since a teletext, Radiohead released a video collection named 7 Television Commercials in May 1998 (I purchased mine shortly after) and inevitably, was released on DVD a few years later, 2003 I think.

In no particular order, the videos were No Surprises, Paranoid Android, Street Spirit, Just, Fake Plastic Trees, High and Dry and Karma Police.  You'll notice that these songs spanned between 1995-1997 from the albums The Bends and OK Computer.  I will describe each below.

Paranoid Android - A fairly epic cartoon which was over 6 minutes (as the song was of course).  It had some strange shit and charicatures of the band, mainly Yorke.  It also had some refs to other lesser known songs like Punchdrunk (which as mentioned was on the EP My Iron Lung).  Yorke would have a ride with an angel in helicopter and play table tennis with her.  Oh and a fat, sweaty business man with a spiked posing pouch who eventually becomes a limbless baby, fall into the sea, be rescued, bandaged up by big breasted mermaids and be deposited in an apple tree, via a river with a bird for company.  Hmmmmm.

Street Spirit - Clever stuff and good photography here.  Shot in b/w and featured some nice effects as Yorke fell and was somewhere else.  I seem to remember it set in some kind of caravan junk yard.

Just - The band are seen performing the tune in an apartment but the focal point of it was a suit who (after a shower) just (no pun intended) decides to lie on the floor for apparently no reason.  After some guy trips over him, he asks what he's doing and remains schtum.  It features no speech from the actors and is subtitled.  He gets a crowd around him and when one attempts to touch him, he gets very agitated.

Eventually, after much questioning of why he's lying there, despite giving warnings, he relents and tells them (w/o subtitles), the outcome is that everybody is now on the floor (presumably paralysed).  The band have long since refused to disclose what the answer was, if anything as it may well be gobbledygook but the band say that something is spoken.  Subject to much debate, it will continue to rage as to what he says with no definitive answer - Clever move lads.

Fake Plastic Trees - Set in a supermarket, the band are in shopping trolleys and other customers do some odd things, especially the bald guy who shaves his head and leaves a red mark - I suppose the fake polystyrene man.  Superb song but not a very good video, although having said that, Yorke does grit his teeth and go mental....

High and Dry - The story behind this one is to do with a bank job or robbery and a bent lawyer.  Bits are told briefly in flashback.  The band feature somewhat and Thom has wacky red hair.  It is primarily set in a greasy spoon and the actors mime to the lyrics.  It comes to pass that the robbers gives the cook a key (earlier placed in a dip) which is found by him after been taken away with leftover food.  After retrieving the key, the cook prepares a  takeaway box.  The lawyer is seen with Thom and a small boy in the toilet and becomes very nervous when he is seen by both and runs out panicking.

The robbers receive the takeaway from the cook, which presumably must be the exchange for the key and they leave and drive away.  The lawyer is seen making a phone call and is shitting bricks when an unknown party approaches him with leather gloves (a hitman maybe) which prompts him to drop his briefcase.  Meanwhile, they open the box and much to their horror, the contents is revealed to be a bomb, buried under chips and soon after detonates, obviously killing them.  With a running time of just over 4 mins, it crams a lot in and is an interesting watch.

Karma Police - The second best video and ironically my second fave RH song.  It focuses on a suicidal looking Yorke inside a car (who changes positions after various shots) who is chasing a guy down a deserted road.  After chasing the guy to the point of exhaustion, the car clearly has an oil or petrol leak.  The guy takes the opportunity to burn the leak by using some matches he has hidden behind his back.  Now on fire, the car reverses for some distance and we pan inside the car but Yorke has gone.  Spooky.

No Surprises - The best is saved til last, or so they say.  The song is awesome, played purely with a xylophone, drums with a single subtle guitar riff, it's superb and that's just the instruments.  The lyrics are something else.  The vid is centred purely on Yorke in a glass sort of helmet which slowly fills up with water.  The lyrics can be seen reflected on the dome and Yorke is visibly seen getting increasingly desperate.  The relief can be seen when the water is released and even Mr Cheerful himself, applies a nice touch by giving us a little smile.  Even with the safety measures in place, (it was filmed in high speed and played back in slow-mo), Yorke didn't look comfortable.  Its director, Grant Gee discusses the video (and making of) during the documentary - Meeting People Is Easy.

A good and great selection of songs but only seven, it was a bit tight but that's the only thing we had as we didn't have Youtube back then so I was grateful it was released.  I watched and wore the tape out many times.  What was even tighter though, is that it had no extras, the obvious would be the story behind each song and/or video but at the very least what that guy said at the end of Just, but was not to be.

The band have made other videos (past and present songs) including Creep, Knives Out, I Might Be Wrong, House of Cards and Lotus Flower.

So there it is, my take on Radiohead, with trivia and even letting out a secret which I hope will benefit somebody.  IMHO, they remain one of the greatest bands to come out of good old Blighty.  My musical taste is varied but Radiohead is up there with being my rock soft spot.  In short they are nothing short of the dogs bits and bobs.

When the grim reaper comes knocking on my door and I have to let him in, my final request on this Earth (in a proactive sense of course) is for No Surprises to be played at my funeral.  No, I've never thought about dying before but those lyrics and xylophone plink plonks must echo in my lifeless ears one last time but for now, they will play at my leisure...

That's it for now so No Surprises there then.

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