If Radiohead’s music is sometimes difficult to classify in a well-defined category, one thing is certain: with its multiple hits, the group has left its mark on the history of music. But how did these five Britons become globally recognized icons? It all started on the school benches…
The birth of the group
The five band members met in the early 1980s while attending Abington School, an all-boys school. At the time of their visit, the school had approximately 750 students, aged 11 to 19. The atmosphere there was very strict. All students wore uniforms and had to go to mass twice a week. Thom Yorkethe band’s singer and songwriter, later declared that he did not have very happy memories of that time. “The others gave us malicious nicknames”, he explained. He didn’t get along with the director either. The only thing that found favor in his eyes was the music department. “No one came to disturb us and the rooms were soundproofed. We ran to take refuge there to hide from the rigor of the timetables and the uniforms”he recalled.
Since many of the school’s students were musically inclined, Thom Yorke didn’t have too much trouble finding people to play with. His first sidekick was Colin Greenwood, the future bassist of Radiohead. In his book “Exit Music: The Radiohead Story”, Mac Randall says that “Colin was slightly older than Thom. Both suffered from a lack of self-confidence. So they took refuge in music. They also had a taste for strange clothes in common.”
Together they joined their first group, TNT. They were 14 years old then. Thom became a singer almost by accident, because no one else wanted the role. The two teenagers, however, ended up leaving the group and sailing towards other horizons. That’s when they met Edward O’Brienwho will become their guitarist. “He was the sportiest of the band. He also appeared in the school newspaper several times”, writes Mac Randall. The three boys formed a group, where several other students joined as they wished. A few young girls from a nearby school even joined them. However, it was necessary to wait for the arrival of Phil Selwaysthe future drummer of the group, so that the four form a band more fixed. Their name? “On A Friday”, simply because Friday was the day they rehearsed.
But the Radiohead group as we know it today is not yet complete. The multi-instrumentalist is missing Jonny Greenwood. Jonny is Colin’s little brother. Like all little brothers, the boy liked to follow his eldest and older friends. He therefore very often attended rehearsals. This is how he became the fifth and last member of the group.
At the time, “On A Friday” had no desire for fame. It was just a bunch of friends killing time playing music. Their only audience was the other students of the school. The group could have dissolved at the end of their schooling, like so many others before them. But their entry into their respective universities failed to separate them. Instead, they continued to rehearse together during weekends and vacation times. The group was therefore idling, but still turning.
It was not until 1991 that serious things really began. That year, all the members of the group graduate from university, except Jonny who did not wish to go to higher education. They therefore have free rein to continue making their music as before. They chain the concerts during which they are spotted. That year, they signed with EMI. “On A Friday” becomes “Radiohead” in tribute to the band’s eponymous song Talking Heads.
The following year, they wrote “Creep”, which remains Radiohead’s best-known song to this day. For the purists (and for the group itself), it is however not representative of their entire career. Nevertheless, it is such a hit that it allows them to make themselves known to the general public and to go on tour.
The most significant album of their career is generally considered to be “Ok Computer”, released in 1997. It was hailed by critics and propelled them to stardom. “Paranoid Android”, the best song of Radiohead according to the Guardian comes from this album. Let’s also mention Kid A (2000) with more electronic accents. Despite a few moments of doubt, the group will never stop being productive.
After being released from its contract with EMI, Radiohead released its 7th album “In Rainbows” in 2007. The British made a daring bet for the time: to offer the content on their website and let people pay what they wanted for download. This great marketing stunt will be a success since it will allow them to collect a nice sum of money. In 2016, Radiohead released their latest album “A Moon Shaped”. However, he continues to perform on stage and at festivals.
Throughout their career, the members of the Radiohead group will prove their ability to analyze human emotions and experiences. They will not remain confined to a single genre either and will offer alternative rock, folk, electro, grunge, art rock… They will be acclaimed by critics but also by the public. In 2019, they will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many current artists are still inspired by Radiohead tracks today.
Rolling Stones magazine ranked them 73rd among the 100 greatest artists of all time.