Thursday, November 9, 2017

Such a Pretty Garden: The Case of Radiohead

Baby's Got the Bends This might be hard for some of you younger fans to deal with, but once upon a time, Radiohead was considered not much different from Nada Surf or Harvey Danger, rock bands that had a fun left-field hit in the early 1990s but that we never expected to hear much more from. "Creep" was a great single, full of self-loathing and that great chukka-chukka guitar hook, and if that was all Radiohead ever did, Nineties kids would still remember them fondly. But they did a lot more.

Eventually, of course, they'd deconstruct rock & roll and put it back together in mind-blowing (but still fun!) new ways. I think those early days are, in a way, key to what Radiohead eventually achieved. If you'll pardon the hyperbole, Radiohead remind me of Pablo Picasso, who was a tremendous draftsman in his younger days before he started moving facial parts all around women's heads. If he didn't know exactly how to draw realistically, he wouldn't have nearly as effective making his cubist visions.

Radiohead's early songs are brimming with pop smarts. After "Creep" hit, they landed "Fake Plastic Trees" and "High and Dry" on the British charts, and those songs are as tightly and brightly constructed as anything from Abba or Elvis Costello. Having that ability (and getting that out of their system) allowed them to make OK Computer, with its radical rethinking of what rock songs could be. Still and all, "Karma Police" and "No Surprises" are brilliantly composed and borderline tragic.

Don't Leave Me Dry "No Surprises," by the way, was initially included on the soundtrack to A Night at the Roxbury, the "Saturday Night Live" spinoff film with Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan, until preview audiences found it so heart-melting that it took them completely out of the movie in utter sadness, and the song had to be replaced. Of course, most people would have preferred to be taken completely out of A Night at the Roxbury.

After OK Computer, Radiohead's albums became events in the way that Beatles albums were events, and they usually lived up to the expectation: Kid A and Amnesiac were acclaimed as masterpieces; In Rainbows even spawned a hit single in "Nude," their first trip to the American Top Forty since "Creep." I don't need to convince you guys of this, do I? Radiohead is great.

This Is What You Get Baseball Hall of Fame voters would certainly love to vote for the likes of Willie Mays or Babe Ruth, but realistically, they end up shrugging their shoulders and inducting Bill Mazeroski and Bruce Sutter. Those of us who are fortunate enough to vote for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would love to elect a Chuck Berry or an Aretha Franklin, the kind of person who makes it feel like an honor to honor them. Most of the time, though, we're chewing over Yes and Joe Tex.

So it's nice to be able to support an artist like this, one that not only belongs but helps define what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame should be. I know that Thom Yorke and the boys have made disparaging, unenthusiastic noises about what Radiohead's place in the Hall would mean. Bald drummer Phil Selway told the great Rolling Stone interviewer Andy Greene, "We'd have to sit down and talk about it, but it's probably not at the top of my list of things to do." On the other hand, bassist Colin Greenwood: "I'd be grateful if we got in. Look at the other people that have been inducted. I don't know if everyone else will go though. It might be me just doing bass versions of everything like, 'Come on, you know this one!' I'd have to play the bass part to 'Creep' five times." Now that's a Hall of Fame quote.

The bottom line is, too bad for you, Phil: Your band belongs to the world now. And the world wants to give it the highest honor we can. I vote yes for Radiohead. It's fun to vote for Willie Mays.

No comments:

Post a Comment