Recently I was talking to Irish friend CR and he said he kind of lost track of Radiohead after OK Computer, but was perhaps open to being converted if I were to guide him in the right direction. What a delightful challenge!! His only clues were that he loves Exit Music (For A Film) and also Thom’s solo effort, particularly Analyse, Black Swan and Harrowdown Hill.

I got so stuck into making the ultimate Radiohead conversion CD, that I ended up writing rather lengthy liner notes explaining why each track made it onto the list or what makes it stand out to me. Here’s what I ended up selecting (bear in mind I largely skipped over Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer as he knew these).

A guide in chronological order

01. Killer Cars [unreleased, 1994]
To start us off: some vintage Radiohead! An unreleased acoustic version of a song that featured on 1994’s Itch EP in a live version. That EP was released just after Pablo Honey (and contains far more interesting material if you ask me). This is the song responsible for my Radiohead obsession, I’ve been hooked ever since I heard it. It is also one of several odd songs dealing with Thom’s fear of cars/ car crashes

02. Permanent Daylight [My Iron Lung EP, 1994]
Some more old school Radiohead, released on another EP in 1994. It’s very reminiscent of some of the noise bands of the nineties and was indeed a tribute to Sonic Youth. There are hardly any lyrics, but they rock all the same:

The easiest way to sleep at night is to carry on believing that I don’t exist
The easiest way to sell your soul is to carry on believing that we don’t exist
It must be hard, hard with your head on backwards

03. Fake Plastic Trees [The Bends, 1995]
A live favourite and one of the many gems of The Bends. The line “He used to do surgery on girls in the eighties, but gravity always wins” always makes me giggle.

04. Lucky [OK Computer, 1997]
I realise you know OK Computer quite well, but I couldn’t NOT put this utterly amazing song on this cd. It is just essential. It always gives me goosebumps when played live, I secretly think the meaning of life is buried somewhere in this song. Oh and this one features an aircrash rather than a car crash, to mix things up a bit.

05. Talk Show Host [Street Spirit single, 1997]
This slightly eerie tale of escaping with your loved one is an amazing B-side to Street Spirit, which also appropriately features in Baz Luhrmann’s Rome & Juliet (which I still love). A favourite among fans, it doesn’t get played too much.

06. A Reminder [Airbag/ How Am I Driving? EP, 1997]
This very dreamy track featured on the (in my opinion best) EP “Airbag/ How Am I Driving?” which followed shortly after OK Computer, and has some of the most touching lyrics of a Radiohead song ever:

If I get old, I will not give in
And if I do, remind me of this
Remind me that once I was free
Once I was good, once I was me
And if I sit down and cross my arms
Hold me to this song

Knock me out smash out my brains
If I take the chair and start to talk shit

If I get old, remind me of this
One night we kissed, and I really meant it
Whatever happens, if we’re still speaking
Pick up the phone
Play me this song

07. Polyethylene (parts 1 & 2) [Airbag/ How Am I Driving? EP, 1997]
A two part song dealing with some of Thom’s favourite mid nineties obsessions: plastic, vacant middle class lives and selling of souls. There’s something oddly satisfying about spitting out the words “leukemia, schizophrenia, polyethylene!”.

08. How To Disappear Completely [Kid A, 2000]
A hauntingly desperate song of detachment, “I’m not here, this isn’t happening”. It also contains lyrics about floating down the Liffey.

09. Idioteque [Kid A, 2000]
This is the must have track off Kid A for two reasons: 1, it’s Radiohead at their most techno, and 2, Thom always goes absolutely mental when they play this track live. See it on youtube!

10. I Might Be Wrong [Amnesiac, 2001]
Together with Optimistic, this is arguably the most straight forward rock ‘n roll song amidst all the “experimental stuff” everyone was so taken aback by at the time Radiohead released Kid A and Amnesiac. It has a nice “mean” quality about it that grows on me more and more each time I hear it, something about the guitar.

11. Dollars & Cents [Amnesiac, 2001]
I like the ominous guitar strumming and bassline on this one, and the way Thom’s lyrics are a bit muffled and unclear, the whole song keeps you guessing for some reason. And it’s sexy. “Why don’t you quiet down?”.

12. Like Spinning Plates [I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, 2001]
Off and on my favourite all time Radiohead song (it varies…), this is the heartbrakingly beautiful piano driven live version of a song which first appeared on Amnesiac in a much more electronic execution, with the lyrics supposedly recorded by Thom singing backwards (also worth checking out). Oh and there’s more floating down a river going on (this time an unnamed muddy one).

13. 2+2=5 [Hail To The Thief, 2003]
I love the build up of tension in this song, “it’s the devil’s way now, there is no way out, you can scream and you can shout, it is too late now…” and then it erupts! As you might imagine it kicks royal arse live.

14. There There [Hail To The Thief, 2003]
Just like 2+2=5, this track was released as a single, and quite rightly so. The added percussion really gives this song some extra punch, when they play it live everyone seems to be drumming. I always feel like this song is trying to warn me about something, not to get complacent maybe. It also gave brokenbranches it’s title: “In pitch dark, I go walking in your landscape. Broken branches trip me as I speak”.

15. A Wolf At The Door [Hail To The Thief, 2003]
Radiohead do a stream of consciousness Bob Dylan-esque song, which I find irrisistable. If only because you simply have to learn the lyrics by heart so you can sing along in one breath.

16. Gagging Order [Go To Sleep EP, 2003 / Com Lag: 2+2=5 EP, 2004]
Just a sweet little acoustic song. Incidentally my phone’s tune when I get a text message.

17. 15 Steps [In Rainbows, 2007]
I immediately fell for this weird off-beat beat, makes me want to clap along or tap/ hit/ kick anything around me to mark the rhythm.

18. Jigsaw Falling Into Place [In Rainbows, 2007]
This song is in a hurry, I like the way Thom’s voice is contrastingly calm and cool at first, but then it all heats up. This is what Radiohead does best!

19. Videotape [In Rainbows, 2007]
What a wonderful idea: “When I’m at the pearly gates, this will be on my videotape”. A fitting end to this journey through the Radiohead catalogue.

NOTE: the youtube links provided have different sources: some are official Radiohead videos or Radiohead webcast videos, but others are fan videos or live fan recordings.

If any Radiohead fans stumble across this post: feel free to tell me which songs I unforgivably left out!