Radiohead albums ranked great to greatest


Credit: Aurelien Guichard

Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke performing live at the Roundhouse in 2016.

Fletcher Elsholz, Twitter Team

Radiohead is an English alt-rock band formed in 1985 after all of the members met at Abingdon School for boys. They have sold over thirty million albums worldwide and are one known for hits such as “Creep” “Karma Police” and “Fake Plastic Trees.” These songs are emblematic of the most influential alt-rock and electronic bands of all time, re-defining genres with almost all of their releases. 

Radiohead was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019 and has won 6 Grammy awards, but with all this fame and prestige comes a question, how do the Radiohead albums compare to each other?

“The King of Limbs2011 is a more dreary take on electronic music with a lot of sampling and repetition of itself from earlier in the songs, which makes them all blend together. There aren’t really any standout tracks from this album. I think it gets a lower ranking than “Pablo Honey” 1993 because it’s more experimental and adventurous than “Pablo Honey, but in terms of listenability, it’s a tiny bit lower than “Pablo Honey.”

Pablo Honey” 1993 was the first album released by Radiohead. There isn’t really much to say about it, being a pretty standard 90’s alt-rock album that proudly wears influences from contemporary bands such as Nirvana and other grunge bands. Looking back on it, it really doesn’t hold up that much to material from the time because it’s not as influential or as unique as them, almost making it Radiohead’s worst album.

In “Hail To The Thief,” 2003 the listener hears a more traditional rock album with all of the songs being the live studio recordings. Additionally, it has more traditional mixing with double-tracked guitar and bass parts. The album features a lot of political influence after the birth of frontman Thom Yorke’s son, Noah Yorke. Thom felt a lot of panic about world powers not really caring about anything except profit. The state of the world is expressed with the line in the opening track “2 + 2 = 5” a reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 about intense government control. referring to the state of the world as if it’s being run by tyrannical maniacs. Aside from the political themes, there isn’t really anything that memorable.

“Amnesiac” 2001 is the fifth album released by Radiohead; it was released after “Kid A” and was recorded from the same sessions, which often leads to people writing it off as nothing more than leftovers and scraps from  “Kid A”. “Amnesiac” takes amore traditional approach to rock music while still being very electronic or experimental. Making the more experimental aspects of the album not really blend in that well and makes the album less cohesive than other Radiohead albums.

“A Moon Shaped Pool” 2016 is probably the saddest album by Radiohead. After the death of Thom Yorke’s ex-wife Rachael Owen, Thom Yorke felt like it was finally time to give an official release to the song “True Love Waits,” A dreary electronic version was released instead of an acoustic recording, “True Love Waits,” as well as the rest of the album took a more minimalistic, depressive approach to electronic music with drummer Phil Selway being replaced by electronic drum machines. Jonny Greenwood, the guitarist, switched to playing the keyboard for the album. The album is ultimately helped by the electronic drums as it takes away a human element of the album, making it more bleak and desolate while also remaining beautiful.

“Kid Awas the fourth album released and arguably the most experimental. The album has been nicknamed by Youtuber Middle 8  the “greatest left turn in music history“”Kid A” immediately sets the tone with the opener, “Everything in its Right Place,” a somewhat uncomfortable, neurotic song with reversed vocals dubbed in the back of the mix and glitchy electronic music over odd and shifting time signatures which happens throughout the rest of the album as well.  It was a very nice change of pace at the time and is still a very fresh and relistenable album.

The Bends” was the second album to be released by Radiohead. Although released shortly after their debut “Pablo Honey”, “The Bends” made a great departure from the typical sound of the time, with a more art-rock style approach to songwriting. The album has a generally depressing tone with the main hit off of the album, “Fake Plastic Trees,”  being about a world full of fake people and about replacing the love of real humans with the love of objects. Unrequited love is a theme present throughout the rest of the album and most of their other albums. 

The song “Street Spirit Fade Out” is the closer of the album, and while not having any themes of love in it, it does start a pattern for each of the future albums to follow, the closing song always being about death. Not only was “The Bends” influential to other artists, it was also instrumental in the development of Radiohead’s sound.

In Rainbows” was the sixth album released by Radiohead and was released independently by the band after their five album record deal with Interscope Records. The album was released online on Oct. 10, 2007 with an extremely inventive “pay what you want” format which spearheaded the independent, DIY movement found in music production today. Not only was “In Rainbows a breath of fresh air for the industry of music but was also sonically fresh with Radiohead finally sounding up-beat and energetic during a majority of the album. The opener “15 Step” works to introduce the listener to the sounds that would be used during the album with a 5/4 rhythm, funky bassline and electronic drum sounds and keyboard. 

In Rainbows” has more of a focus on love than other Radiohead albums with a thread of unrequited love being carried throughout the album, especially on tracks such as “Nude and Weird Fishes,” with the song “Nude” saying “don’t get any big ideas, they’re not gonna happen.” The pain and confusion found in relationships carries on in “Weird Fishes” with the line, “everybody leaves If they get the chance.” This album is very cohesive, beautiful and influential.

Ok Computer” was the third album released by Radiohead and is their most influential album, with heavy themes from science-fiction literature found sonically in the album featuring a lot of strange, chiming noises thanks to inventive guitar playing from Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien. Themes of sci-fi are also found in the second track on the album “Paranoid Android.” “Paranoid Android” doesn’t just combine science fiction with music, but it joins the entire album together into one song by using rhythmic and tonal musical motifs revisited throughout the album. It has themes of alienation and discontent with society and commercialization, with lines making fun of yuppies networking amongst themselves. 

Another standout from the album is “Let Down,” a personal favorite continuing the themes of society being crushing and oppressive featuring the lyrics “the emptiest of feelings, disappointed people, clinging onto bottles, crushed like a bug in the ground.” In addition to Thom Yorke’s vocal performance being beautiful on this song, the guitar work from O’Brien is amazing, with him playing in the time signatures of 6/4 and 5/4, switching back and forth between those two while the rest of the band is playing in 4/4. It makes the earworming part from O’Brien stand out in a very unique way. The entire album is very unique as well as incredibly influential and groundbreaking in the context of when it was released in 1997, still remaining incredibly fresh today. The album’s unique qualities make it stand out and are nearly irreplaceable. It would be impossible for anybody in the future to emulate “Ok Computer.”