I was torn when I heard the news about Radiohead’s new The Best Of CD being released without cooperation from the band. Even though I am devoted to Radiohead, I can’t help but feel conflicted about a compilation not sanctioned by the band. Perhaps EMI is sour about Radiohead parting ways for the uncharted waters of free agency. But this isn’t the first time a label has released an artist’s material without their blessing. The Beatles had problems with Capitol/EMI releasing haphazard collections in the ’70s without the Fab Four’s permission. Most recently, The Smiths’ Very Best of disc and The Libertines’ Time for Heroes: Best of collections were released without any input from either band.
The sad fact and the reason that many artists like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead are going label-less is because once you sign a contract, in many cases, the record label then owns the product. The artist owns the copyright and publishing. This is where bands make the most money on songwriting publishing. So even though Thom and the band wrote “Paranoid Android,” EMI owns the songs and can release and re-release the song in any form of compilation.
Of course, this would all be moot if Radiohead had stayed at EMI. More likely the label would be asking the band for input on compilations like this Best of. So because they left and went indie, you could say that EMI is sort of sticking it to the band. But Radiohead still has the last laugh in a sense. Even though Radiohead didn’t approve this release, and the reason they aren’t telling their fans to boycott this collection, is because, at the end of the day, the band will recoup some money on this release.
Sorry for that long historical diatribe, but in terms of the compilation itself, the songs speak volumes of Radiohead’s success during the EMI years. Regardless of the past, The Best Of is a stunning collection. Song after song it’s an impressive compilation of stellar selections from a band that changed the landscape of music with their unique blend of supersonic brilliance. From The Beatles-meets-DJ Shadow epic “Paranoid Android” to Aphex Twin and XL Recordings inspired electronic wickedness of “Idioteque,” Radiohead created a new form of otherworldly and revolutionary rhythms with an emotional touchstone we all can connect to.
I hate to say it but I got into Radiohead late in the game. I wasn’t a fan of “Creep” when it was first released. If you were to ask me which band of the ’90s would have lasted well into the next decade, I would have guessed Jeff Buckley and Suede. Even though the memory of Buckley will live on forever, I admit that I was way off. Nonetheless, this band went from a one hit wonder to exploding beauty and urgency of an artist searching for meaning and rhythm within their songs. The Bends‘ sound was influenced by records by two of the band’s heroes, namely Morrissey’s Your Arsenal and Nirvana’s In Utero. You can hear the Nirvana influence on the chaotic guitar breakdown in the “Heart Shaped Box”-like riffs on “My Iron Lung.” It is also known that that a Jeff Buckley live performance led to Thom Yorke’s heart wrenching vocal on “Fake Plastic Trees.”
The amazing thing about Radiohead, and unlike some novice rock acts, is that you rarely can pick out their influences on their music. For the most part, the band sound only like Radiohead which is what separates the great acts from sub par ones. You’ve likely heard the famous saying by Lionel Trilling, “Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal.”
As Radiohead matured the more evolved into their own distinctive sound. Listen to OK Computer and beyond, especially the brilliant “Karma Police.” “Karma” is the first Radiohead song that hooked me. I remember, much to the annoyance of my co-workers and customers, playing that song over and over again, and turning it up louder and louder at this bookstore job I had in San Antonio. There was something about the truth and decadent exquisiteness of that song: the marching drum beats and cinematic piano keys, and Thom Yorke’s lyrics, especially the lines, “For a minute there/ I lost myself, I lost myself,” when I finally understood Radiohead. It was as if my life was separated between two distinct sections B.R./A.R., before and after Radiohead. I was blind, now I could hear clearly in a voice and a vision that was beautiful and strange to me in the same breath.
“Everything (was) In Its Right Place” when Kid A, Radiohead’s next album dropped in 2000. To this day this is my most beloved album in the band’s eclectic catalog. Along with “Everything,” “Idioteque” and “How to Disappear Completely,” the exemplary “The National Anthem” my favorite song off Kid A is featured on this double disc compilation. Colin’s addictive bassline and Charles Mingus influenced arrangement mixed with a spaced-out, effects-layered backbeat make this the most freaked-out song in their canon. Thom Yorke’s vocals foreshadow the fear that gripped our nations after September 11th.
Amnesiac has three of the band’s most underrated cuts—the riffed intensity of “I Might Be Wrong,” the killer induced and Johnny Marr influenced “Knives Out” and the piano-based splendor that is “Pyramid Song.” Dubbed at one time by Thom Yorke, `the best thing we ever committed to tape,’ their inclusion is essential on this compilation.
Hail to the Thief‘s “2 + 2 = 5” was supposed to announce to the world Radiohead’s triumphant return to their guitar rooted glory. Even though the band incorporated more of their trademark killer riffs, Radiohead didn’t abandon any of the electronic experimentation that they discovered in Kid A and Amnesiac. Listen for the percussive and mysterious lovesick “There There” and the guitar heroics of “Go to Sleep,” which make the cut on The Best Of.
I was pleased to see the inclusion of the fan favorite “Talk Show Host” and the live version of “True Love Waits” on this deluxe edition. But why have three songs from Pablo Honey? I know if the band was involved we may have finally seen the release of the ever elusive “Big Boots” as heard on Grant Gee’s extraordinary documentary Meeting People is Easy.
I have to say I am very impressed with this deluxe The Best Of collection. Thirty tracks from the most influential band of our lifetime—listening to this classic, I hope we have hundreds more. With the release of In Rainbows, my favorite album since Kid A, it’s reassuring to know that Radiohead made the right choice by going forward with their sonic excursions and leaving behind the bottom line politics of major label business. Regardless, it’s the songs and not the behind the scene bullshit that everyone will remember in the long run.
Morrissey – Greatest Hits
Pulp – Hits
Björk – Greatest Hits