Radiohead released their first single, "Creep", in 1992. Their debut album, Pablo Honey, followed in 1993. "Creep" was initially unsuccessful, but the song became a worldwide hit when reissued a year later, and the band were almost branded as one hit wonders. Radiohead's popularity in the United Kingdom increased with the release of their second album, The Bends (1995). The band's textured guitar atmospheres and Yorke's falsetto singing were warmly received by critics and fans. Radiohead's third album, OK Computer (1997), propelled the band to greater fame worldwide. Featuring an expansive sound and themes of alienation from the modern world, OK Computer has often been acclaimed as a landmark record of the 1990s.
The release of Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001) saw Radiohead reach the peak of their popularity, although the albums divided critical opinion. This period marked a change in Radiohead's musical style, with their incorporation of avant-garde electronic music, Krautrock and jazz influences. Hail to the Thief (2003), which mixed guitar-driven rock with electronics and contemporary lyrics, was the band's final album for their record label, EMI. Radiohead's seventh album, In Rainbows (2007), was first released independently as a digital download for which customers selected their own price, later meeting with critical and chart success. Prior to the release of In Rainbows and a 2008 Best Of release (which was unsanctioned by the band and comprised of tracks recorded during their time with EMI from 1992 - 2005), the band had sold over 25 million records.
The musicians who formed Radiohead met while attending Abingdon School, a boys-only public school in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Thom Yorke and Colin Greenwood were in the same year, Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway were one year older and Jonny Greenwood two years younger than Yorke. In 1986, they formed the band "On a Friday", the name referring to the band's usual rehearsal day in the school's music room. The group played their first gig in late 1986 at Oxford's Jericho Tavern; Greenwood originally joined as a keyboard player but soon became the lead guitarist.
Although Yorke, O'Brien, Selway, and Colin Greenwood had left Abingdon by 1987 to attend university, the band continued to rehearse often on weekends and holidays. In 1991, when all the members except Jonny had completed their university degrees, On a Friday regrouped, began to record demos such as Manic Hedgehog, and performed live gigs around Oxford. Although Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley had an active indie scene in the late 1980s, it centred around shoegazing bands such as Ride and Slowdive; On a Friday were never seen as fitting in this trend, commenting that they had missed it by the time they returned from university.
As On a Friday's number of live performances increased, record labels and producers became interested. Chris Hufford, the co-owner of Oxford's Courtyard Studios, attended an early On a Friday concert at the Jericho Tavern. Impressed by the band, he and his partner Bryce Edge produced a demo tape and became On a Friday's managers; they remain the band's managers to this day. Following a chance meeting between Colin Greenwood and EMI representative Keith Wozencroft at the record shop where Greenwood worked, the band signed a six-album recording contract with the label in late 1991. At the request of EMI, the band changed their name to Radiohead, inspired by the title of a song on Talking Heads' True Stories album.
However, "Creep" unexpectedly built momentum around the world, spreading from popularity in Israel to a San Francisco college radio station. By the time Radiohead began their first United States tour in early 1993, the music video for "Creep" was in heavy rotation on MTV. The song rose to number two on the Billboard modern rock charts and to number seven in the UK singles chart when re-released later that year. Radiohead nearly broke up due to the pressure of sudden success as the Pablo Honey supporting tour extended into its second year. The band described the tour as a miserable experience, as towards its end they were "still playing the same songs that [they had] recorded two years previously… almost like being held in a time warp."
After the American tour, Radiohead began work on their second album, hiring veteran Abbey Road studios producer John Leckie. Tensions were high, as the band felt smothered both by "Creep"'s success and the mounting expectations for a superior follow-up. The band sought a change of scenery, touring Australasia and the Far East in an attempt to reduce the pressure. However, confronted again by their popularity, Yorke became disenchanted at being "right at the sharp end of the sexy, sassy, MTV eye-candy lifestyle" he felt he was helping to sell to the world. The 1994 EP My Iron Lung, featuring the single of the same title, was Radiohead's reaction, marking a transition towards the greater depth they aimed for on their second album. The single was promoted through underground radio stations; sales were better than expected, starting a loyal fan base for the band. Having developed more new songs on tour, Radiohead finished recording their second album, The Bends, in late 1994, releasing it in May 1995.
While Radiohead were seen as outsiders to the Britpop scene that dominated the media's attention at the time, they were finally successful in their home country with The Bends. The album was driven by dense riffs and ethereal atmospheres from the band's three guitarists, with greater use of keyboards than their debut. Singles "Fake Plastic Trees", "High and Dry", "Just", and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" achieved chart success in the UK, the latter putting Radiohead in the top 5 for the first time. In mid-1995, Radiohead toured in support of R.E.M., one of their formative influences and at the time one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Introducing his opening act, Michael Stipe said, "Radiohead are so good, they scare me". The buzz generated by such famous fans, along with distinctive music videos for "Just" and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)", helped to expand Radiohead's popularity outside the UK. Jonny Greenwood said, "I think the turning point for us came about nine or 12 months after The Bends was released and it started appearing in people's [best of] polls for the end of the year. That's when it started to feel like we made the right choice about being a band." But critical acclaim and a growing fan base weren't enough for Radiohead to repeat the commercial popularity of "Creep" outside the UK. The Bends' singles only charted in a few countries, and the album's #88 peak on the US charts remains Radiohead's lowest position there.
OK Computer, fame and critical acclaim (1996–1998)Two new songs were already recorded for Radiohead's next album; "Lucky", released as a single to promote the War Child charity's The Help Album, and "Exit Music (For a Film)". With the assistance of producer Nigel Godrich, their collaborator on "Lucky" and on b-side "Talk Show Host," which contributed to Baz Luhrmann's 1996 adaptation of Romeo + Juliet, Radiohead produced their next album themselves, beginning work in early 1996. By July they had recorded four songs with Godrich at their rehearsal studio, Canned Applause, a converted apple shed in the countryside near Didcot, Oxfordshire. They decided to perfect the songs live, touring as an opening act for Alanis Morissette, before completing the record. The rest of the album was recorded in actress Jane Seymour's 15th-century mansion, St. Catherine's Court, near Bath. The recording sessions were relaxed, with the band playing at all hours of the day, recording songs in different rooms, and listening to The Beatles, DJ Shadow, Ennio Morricone and Miles Davis for inspiration. Recording on the album was completed by the end of 1996, and by March 1997, it was mixed and mastered.
Radiohead released their third album, OK Computer, in June 1997. Largely composed of melodic rock songs, the new record also found the band experimenting with song structures and incorporating some ambient, avant garde and electronic influences. OK Computer was the band's first number one UK chart debut, propelling Radiohead to commercial success around the world. Despite peaking at number 21 in the American charts, the album eventually met with mainstream recognition there, receiving a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album and a nomination for Album of the Year. "Paranoid Android", "Karma Police" and "No Surprises" were released as singles from the album, of which "Karma Police" was most successful in the U.S., peaking at number 14 on the Modern Rock charts.
OK Computer was eventually met with great critical acclaim, and Yorke admitted that he was "amazed it got the reaction it did. None of us fucking knew any more whether it was good or bad. What really blew my head off was the fact that people got all the things, all the textures and the sounds and the atmospheres we were trying to create. The release of OK Computer was followed by the "Against Demons" world tour. Grant Gee, the director of the "No Surprises" video, accompanied and filmed the band, releasing the footage in the 1999 documentary Meeting People Is Easy. The film portrays the band's disaffection with the music industry and press, showing their burnout as they progressed from their first tour dates in mid-1997 to mid-1998, nearly a year later. During this time the band also released a music video compilation, 7 Television Commercials, as well as two EPs, Airbag/How Am I Driving? and No Surprises/Running from Demons, that compiled B-sides from OK Computer singles..
Kid A, Amnesiac and a change in sound (1999–2001)
Radiohead were largely inactive following their 1997–1998 tour; after its end, their only public performance in 1998 was at an Amnesty International concert in Paris. Yorke later admitted that during that period the band came close to splitting up, and that he had developed severe depression: "New Year's Eve  was one of the lowest points of my life... I felt like I was going fucking crazy. Every time I picked up a guitar I just got the horrors. I would start writing a song, stop after 16 bars, hide it away in a drawer, look at it again, tear it up, destroy it." In early 1999, Radiohead began work on a follow-up to OK Computer. Although there was no longer any pressure or even a deadline from their record label, tension during this period was high. Band members all had different visions for Radiohead's future, and Yorke was still experiencing writer's block, influencing him toward a more abstract, fragmented form of songwriting. Eventually, all the members agreed on a new musical direction, redefining their instrumental roles in the band. Radiohead secluded themselves with producer Nigel Godrich in studios in Paris, Copenhagen, and Gloucester, and in their newly completed studio in Oxford. After nearly 18 months, Radiohead's recording sessions were completed in April 2000.
Radiohead released their fourth album, Kid A, in October 2000, the first of two albums from these recording sessions. Rather than being a stylistic sequel to OK Computer, Kid A featured a minimalist and textured style with less overt guitar parts and more diverse instrumentation including the ondes Martenot, programmed electronic beats, strings, and jazz horns. It was Radiohead's greatest commercial success to date, debuting at number one in many countries, including the United States, where its debut atop the Billboard chart marked a first for the band. This success has been variously attributed to hype; to the leaking of the album on the file-sharing network Napster a few months before its release; and to anticipation after OK Computer. Although Radiohead did not release any singles from Kid A, promos of "Optimistic" and "Idioteque" received radio play, and a series of "blips", or short videos set to portions of tracks, were played on music channels and released freely on the Internet. In early 2001, Kid A received a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album and a nomination for Album of the Year. Yet it received both praise and criticism in independent music circles for appropriating underground styles of music, while many mainstream critics saw Kid A as a "commercial suicide note", labelling it "intentionally difficult" and longing for a return to the band's earlier style. Radiohead's fans were similarly divided; along with those who were appalled or mystified, there were many who saw the album as the band's best work. Yorke, however, denied that Radiohead had purposely set out to eschew commercial expectations, saying, "I was really, really amazed at how badly [Kid A] was being viewed... because the music's not that hard to grasp. We're not trying to be difficult... We're actually trying to communicate but somewhere along the line, we just seemed to piss off a lot of people... What we're doing isn't that radical." The band had read Naomi Klein's anti-globalization book No Logo, and decided to tour Europe and North America in custom-built tents free of advertising, playing smaller theatres, to promote Kid A.
Amnesiac, released in June 2001, comprised additional tracks from the Kid A recording sessions. Radiohead's musical style on these tracks was similar to that of Kid A in their fusion of electronic music and art rock, but the album incorporated more jazz influence. The record was a critical and commercial success worldwide, reaching #2 in the US and being nominated for a Grammy Award and the Mercury Music Prize. After Amnesiac's release, the band embarked on a world tour, visiting North America, Europe and Japan. Meanwhile, "Pyramid Song" and "Knives Out", Radiohead's first singles since 1997, were modestly successful, and "I Might Be Wrong," initially planned as a third single, expanded into Radiohead's thus far only live record. I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, released in November 2001, featured performances of songs from Kid A and Amnesiac and the acoustic, previously unreleased "True Love Waits".
Hail to the Thief and a hiatus (2002–2004)During July and August 2002, Radiohead toured Portugal and Spain, playing several new songs. They then recorded their sixth album in two weeks in a Los Angeles studio with Nigel Godrich, adding a few tracks later in Oxford. The band described the recording process as relaxed, in contrast to the tense sessions for Kid A and Amnesiac. The new album, Hail to the Thief, was released in June 2003. Mixing influences from throughout Radiohead's career, Hail to the Thief combined guitar-based rock with an electronic sound and topical lyrics. Although the album was critically acclaimed, many critics felt that the band was treading water creatively rather than continuing the "genre-redefining" trend that OK Computer had begun. Nevertheless, Hail to the Thief enjoyed commercial success, debuting at #3 on the Billboard chart and eventually being certified platinum in the UK and gold in the US. The album's singles, "There There", "Go to Sleep" and "2+2=5" achieved a level of play on modern rock radio. At the 2003 Grammy Awards, the album was nominated for Best Alternative Album, while producers Nigel Godrich and Darrell Thorp received the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album.
Yorke denied that Hail to the Thief's title was a comment on the controversial 2000 American presidential election, explaining that he first heard the phrase during a Radio 4 discussion of John Quincy Adams, "who stole the election and who was known as 'The Thief' throughout his presidency". Yorke explained that although the album was influenced by world events of late 2001 and early 2002, it also "struck [him] as the most amazing, powerful phrase... It will annoy me if people say it's a direct protest because I feel really strongly that [Radiohead] didn't write a protest record, we didn't write a political record." After the release of Hail to the Thief, Radiohead embarked on an international tour, which began in May 2003 and included a headlining performance at the Glastonbury Festival. The tour finished in May 2004 with a performance at the Coachella Festival. During their tour, the band released COM LAG, an EP compiling most of the b-sides from the Hail to the Thief era. Following their tour, the band began writing and rehearsing in their Oxford studio, but soon went on hiatus; free of contractual obligations, Radiohead spent the remainder of 2004 resting and working on solo projects.
In Rainbows and independent work (2005–present)
Radiohead began work on their seventh album in February 2005. In September 2005, the band recorded a piano-based song, "I Want None of This", for the War Child charity album Help: A Day in the Life. The album was sold online, with "I Want None of This" being the most downloaded track, although it was not released as a single. At the time, Radiohead were without a record contract, having fulfilled their recording contract with EMI in 2004 with the release of COM LAG. Shortly before the band began writing new songs for the album, Yorke told Time, "I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'Fuck you' to this decaying business model. Radiohead had begun recording their next album on their own and then with producer Mark Stent, but in late 2006, after a tour of Europe and North America during which they debuted 13 new songs, they resumed work with Nigel Godrich in several rural locations in England. The album was completed in June 2007 and was mastered the following month.
Radiohead's seventh album, In Rainbows, was released on 10 October 2007 as a digital download for which customers chose their own price. Although it was reported that 1.2 million digital downloads were sold by the day of the album's release, the band's management did not release official sales figures, claiming that the Internet-only distribution was intended to boost sales of the physical album. Yet according to Yorke, Radiohead's profits from the digital download of In Rainbows outstripped combined profits from digital downloads of all of the band's other studio albums. Explaining the reasons behind the album's delivery and pricing scheme, Jonny Greenwood said, "It was an experiment that felt worth trying...[and] it's fun to make people stop for a few seconds and think about what music is worth."
A "discbox" including a bonus CD from the recording sessions, a double vinyl edition of the album, and a hardcover book of artwork was released in early December. In Rainbows was physically released in the UK in late December on XL Recordings and in North America in January 2008 on TBD Records and charted at number one both in the UK and in the US. The album's success in the US marked Radiohead's highest chart success in that country since Kid A, while it was their fifth UK number one album. "Jigsaw Falling into Place", the first single from the album, was released in the UK in January 2008. The second single, "Nude", debuted at #37 in the Billboard Hot 100, Radiohead's first song to make that chart since 1995's "High and Dry" and their first time in the top 40 since "Creep".
In Rainbows received overwhelmingly positive reviews, among the best of Radiohead's career. Critics praised the album for having a more accessible sound and personal style of lyrics than their past work. Yorke described the album as Radiohead's attempt to "describe...as coherently and conclusively as possible, what moves us." He said that with In Rainbows, Radiohead wanted to make a concise album, such as classic albums as Transformer, Revolver, and Hunky Dory. In July 2008, In Rainbows was nominated for the short list of the 2008 Mercury Music Prize.
Radiohead is currently finishing their 2008 tour of North America, Europe and Japan to promote In Rainbows, and there are some reports the band may play in South America for the first time in 2009. A greatest hits album, titled Radiohead: The Best Of, was released by EMI in June 2008. The compilation was made without the input of the band and also does not contain any songs from In Rainbows, as the band had already left EMI. The band continues to put out tracks from In Rainbows as singles and videos. In April 2008, Radiohead released a music video for "All I Need" to promote MTV's EXIT campaign to end child exploitation and human trafficking in Asia. In July a digitally-shot video for their song "House of Cards" was made available under a Creative Commons license. "House of Cards", along with "Bodysnatchers", also received a single release on radio. In September the band announced a fourth single, "Reckoner," and a remix competition similar to one organised for "Nude". After finishing their world tour, Radiohead plan to record some new songs.
Style and songwriting
Among Radiohead members' earliest influences were Queen and Elvis Costello; post-punk acts such as Joy Division and Magazine; and 1980s alternative rock bands such as R.E.M., the Pixies, The Smiths and Sonic Youth. By the mid-1990s, Radiohead began to mention an interest in electronic music, especially that of trip-hop act Massive Attack, and the instrumental hip hop of DJ Shadow, which Radiohead claimed as an influence on parts of OK Computer. Other influences on the album were Miles Davis and Ennio Morricone, along with 1960s pop groups such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Jonny Greenwood also cited composer Krzysztof Penderecki as an inspiration on the sound of OK Computer. During this era, critics noted musical similarities between OK Computer and the albums of progressive rock bands such as Pink Floyd, but the band denied that their music was directly influenced by progressive rock.
The electronic style of Kid A and Amnesiac was the result of Thom Yorke's admiration for glitch, ambient techno and IDM as exemplified by Warp Records artists such as Autechre, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada and Squarepusher. The jazz of Charles Mingus, Alice Coltrane, and Miles Davis, and 1970s Krautrock bands such as Can and Neu!, were other major influences during this period. Jonny Greenwood's interest in 20th century classical music also had a role, as the influence of both Penderecki and composer Olivier Messiaen was apparent; for several songs on Kid A and later albums, Greenwood has played the Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument popularised by Messiaen.
While working on Hail to the Thief, Radiohead put renewed emphasis on guitar rock. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and particularly Neil Young were reported sources of inspiration to the band during this period. Radiohead also continued to cite the electronic influences of their previous two albums, along with classical musicians and Can. Since beginning to record In Rainbows, Radiohead members have mentioned a variety of rock, electronic, hip hop and experimental musicians as influences, including Liars, Modeselektor, Spank Rock and M.I.A. Band members have also been inspired by reggae and dub music. The 2007 Trojan Records release Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller is a selection of songs from Greenwood's favourite dub artists. Recording In Rainbows in 2006, Yorke said, "We're trying not to get too fussy, which is obviously our tendency. We don't really listen to rock music. A lot of what we listen to is techno and dub. But essentially, it's dance music, and that's feeding back into us, in a crude way.
Changing rolesRadiohead's evolving musical style has been seen as a consequence of band members' varied tastes and accomplishments. Lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood is the only classically-trained member of the band and served as the BBC's Composer in Residence. Greenwood is a multi-instrumentalist; aside from guitar and keyboard, he plays the ondes Martenot, banjo, viola and harmonica. He also in recent years has done electronic and digital manipulation. However, not all of these instruments have appeared on record. Greenwood has also arranged string orchestrations for Radiohead songs, including "Climbing Up the Walls", "How to Disappear Completely" and "Pyramid Song". Yorke plays guitar and piano and, at Exeter University, was once a DJ and part of a techno group, "Flickernoise". In recent years he has focused on the digital manipulation of sound, claiming in 2003 that if forced to choose, he would rather make music only on computer than only on guitar.
Since their formation, Radiohead have, lyrically and musically, been dominated by Yorke. In a 2000 interview, Yorke said, "We operate like the UN, and I'm America." An exception to this dynamic is songwriting. Although Yorke is responsible for writing nearly all the lyrics, songwriting is a collaborative effort, and it has been noted in interviews that all the band members have roles in the process. As a result, all the band's songs are officially credited to "Radiohead". The Kid A/Amnesiac sessions brought about a change in Radiohead's musical style, and an even more radical change in the band's working method. Ed O'Brien described the situation in 2000: "If you're going to make a different-sounding record, you have to change the methodology... everyone feels insecure. I'm a guitarist and suddenly it's like, well, there are no guitars on this track, or no drums. Jonny, me, Coz, and Phil had to get our heads round that."
Since the band's shift from standard rock music instrumentation toward an emphasis on electronic sound, band members have had greater flexibility and now regularly switch instruments depending on the particular song requirements. On Kid A and Amnesiac, Yorke played keyboard and bass, while Jonny Greenwood often played ondes Martenot rather than guitar, bassist Colin Greenwood worked on sampling, and O'Brien and Selway branched out to drum machines and digital manipulations, also finding ways to incorporate their primary instruments, guitar and percussion, respectively, into the new sound. The relaxed 2003 recording sessions for Hail to the Thief led to a different dynamic in Radiohead, with Yorke admitting in interviews that "[his] power within the band was absolutely unbalanced and [he] would subvert everybody else's power at all costs. But...it's actually a lot more healthy now, democracy wise, than it used to be."
CollaboratorsThe band maintains a close relationship with their producers and engineers, in particular Nigel Godrich, as well as with graphic artist Stanley Donwood. Godrich made his name with Radiohead, working with the band since The Bends, and as co-producer since OK Computer. He has, at times, been dubbed the "sixth member" of the band in an allusion to George Martin's work with the Beatles. Donwood, another longtime associate of the band, has produced all of Radiohead's album covers and visual artwork since 1994. He often works directly with Yorke, whom he met at art school; Yorke is credited in these collaborations under the pseudonyms "Tchock" or "The White Chocolate Farm". Donwood's graphics work with the band has encompassed oil paintings, computer-generated imagery, collage and antique posters, as well as work on the band's official web site. In interviews, he has said that he works near where the band is recording so as to find a visual equivalent for their sound. Together with Yorke, Donwood won a Grammy in 2002 for a special edition of Amnesiac packaged as a library book.
Other collaborators include Graeme Stewart, Dilly Gent, and Peter Clemens. Stewart has been Radiohead's sound engineer since their Kid A/Amnesiac sessions. He has also engineered Jonny Greenwood's and Yorke's respective solo albums Bodysong and The Eraser. Gent has been responsible for commissioning all Radiohead music videos since OK Computer, working with the band to find a director suitable for each project. The band's live technician, Peter Clemens, or "Plank", has worked with the band since before The Bends, setting up their instruments for both studio recordings and live performances.
InfluenceRadiohead's work has appeared in a large number of listener polls and critics' lists. For example, in 2005, Radiohead were ranked number 73 in Rolling Stone's list of "the greatest artists of all time". While the band's later albums brought them a wide audience, their earlier sound on The Bends and OK Computer remained influential on British rock music. In the late 1990s and 2000s, many critics compared the style of contemporary bands to Radiohead. Some of these bands also used the band's own producers Nigel Godrich or John Leckie. When asked in 2001 by MTV, "How do you guys feel about the fact that bands like Travis, Coldplay and Muse are making a career sounding exactly like your records did in 1997?", Yorke replied, "Good luck with Kid A." Other British rock bands such as Bloc Party have cited influences from Kid A and Amnesiac, but acts in other countries and musical genres have also been influenced by Radiohead. The Roots, Hanson, John Mayer, Massive Attack and Gillian Welch, as well as some jazz and classical musicians, have covered or sampled Radiohead songs.