By Sydney York
Growing up, I’ve spent my time listening to many different bands and artists– ranging from completely opposite genres, and various styles. One band that has always stuck with me and is an all-time favorite of mine, would have to be Radiohead. The overwhelming honest lyrics, mellow tones, and most importantly the backstory behind each song brings some sort of new perspective on life. A lot of what we hear comes from the personal experiences and struggles of the lead singer:Thom Yorke.
Although most songs are quite depressing and gloomy to the average person, Thom Yorke never fails to give you a deeper connection to reality. Today, I wanted to go over some of the most prominent and conceptual songs by Radiohead that were influenced by Yorke’s political, environmental, and personal opinions or matters.
- “How to Disappear Completely”
This song was written around the basis of what Michael Stipe, lead singer and lyricist of R.E.M., conveyed to Yorke when he was on the brink of losing it. “I’m not here, this is not happening,” is what Stipe told Yorke to remember as he was trying to cope with the extreme amounts of pressure and anxiety he was going through. Yorke then took this and used it as a repeating line within the song “How to Disappear Completely”. Fame was always something Yorke never fully adjusted to, and he would often find himself in times of panic and neglectance. Stipe thankfully helped Yorke adjust and feel more comfortable to the gruesome amounts of work and anxiety.
- “No Surprises”
One of Radiohead’s most popular songs, this piece reflects a lot of Yorke’s opinions on the government and current political life. Although it is mostly up to interpretation, there are many links to frustrations on capitalism, working in a corrupt system, and slowly ruining yourself through it all. “Bring down the government. They don’t, they don’t speak for us,” is a common line throughout the song. This clearly speaks about how the government does not have complete control over you, and that you deserve the right to individuality. “A handshake of carbon monoxide,” is yet another prominent line within the song, which reflects the fact that while you are living under these systems, you are slowly killing yourself without even realizing. (Due to the fact that death by carbon monoxide usually goes undetected).
- “The Tourist”
“The Tourist” was written as a way to express the lack of control Yorke had over his mind, and the way it was constantly racing. He wanted everything to just slow down for a second; he yearned for peace. “Everything was about speed when I wrote those songs. I had a sense of looking out a window at things moving so fast I could barely see. One morning in Germany I was feeling particularly paranoid because I hadn’t slept well. I walked out to find something to eat, but I couldn’t find anything, and this f**king dog was barking at me. I’m staring at this dog, and everyone else is carrying on. That’s where ‘hey, man, slow down’ comes from. It sounds like it’s all about technology and stuff, but it’s not,” confesses Yorke in an interview.
“Lucky” is mainly about the band’s success and fulfillment. York and Ed (lead guitarist) describes being in the band as a sort of on-top-of-the world feeling, where you feel content with where you’re at, and you tend to not care about all of the haters.
One of my favorite songs by Radiohead, this song could have a plethora of deeper meanings, but the simplest one is about Thom Yorke’s wife, Rachel Owens, who sadly passed away of cancer in 2016. At the end of the song (in backwards and distorted lyrics), we can decipher some of what Yorke is saying. “Half of my life,” “I’ve found my love,” or “Every minute, half of my love.”
Standing as the most well-known Radiohead song, “Creep” stems from Yorke’s childhood and dark past. Growing up with a paralyzed eye and overall introverted, Yorke felt alien to his surroundings. As a boy, he felt like a creep to society. Over time, Yorke grew as a person and learned to cut ties with his past. He no longer felt insecure about certain parts of himself, and learned to show his eye as a badge of honor. One of the reasons why Yorke doesn’t like performing “Creep” anymore, is because he does not relate to the person he once was. The lyrics mean little to him now, so why continue to go back to the pain and suffering? Plus, the band has performed this song one-too-many times.
These are only a few of the many significant and meaningful Radiohead songs which revolve around Thom Yorke’s experiences. Yorke in general is an extremely inspirational person to look up to…music-wise, and personally.