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Radiohead: Worst to Best

Radiohead The Bends

The members of Radiohead formed the band at high school – they were originally named On A Friday, reflecting their practice regime at Abingdon School in Oxfordshire. It took them an album to find their feet – debut Pablo Honey contained the hit ‘Creep’, but was lacking in personality compared to their later work. But they launched themselves into the big leagues with 1995’s The Bends, and have never looked back, making them the most acclaimed rock band to emerge in the 1990s.

Like The Beatles and David Bowie, the group’s triumph isn’t being the most experimental group out there, but that they were able to bring adventurous sounds to the mainstream; far more listeners have heard Kid A than have heard the Can, Autechre, and Oliver Messaien recordings that inspired it.

Here’s my take on Radiohead’s nine studio albums, from worst to best. It’s also worth remembering that, in the best British tradition, the band have placed a lot of good material on b-sides, and it’s worth hearing non album material like My Iron Lung and the OK Computer extended edition.

#9 – Pablo Honey

Radiohead Pablo Honey1993
Radiohead’s debut album launched the hit ‘Creep’, but it has less personality than the group’s other work – the only album where they’re trend following and unsure of themselves. Despite some good tunes, it often sounds like the work of a now-forgotten 1990s alt-rock band.


#8 – The King of Limbs

Radiohead The King Of Limbs2011
The King of Limbs is a brief collection of songs that sound like b-sides compared to Radiohead’s usual high standards. Even a weak Radiohead album has its moments, however, like the beautiful ‘Codex’ and the brooding ‘Little By Little’.


#7 – Amnesiac

Radiohead Amnesiac2001
An album of songs drawn from the same recording sessions as Kid A, Amnesiac is a more difficult listen, with some of Radiohead’s most abstract work. But stand out tracks like ‘You And Whose Army’ and ‘I Might Be Wrong’ that mean that Amnesiac deserves official studio album status, rather than relegating these excellent tunes to b-sides.


#6 – A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool2016
Radiohead returned from a five year hiatus album with A Moon Shaped Pool, an album that doesn’t break any new ground, but which is often beautiful and heartfelt. Songs like ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief’ and ‘Ful Stop’ are strong.


#5 – Hail To The Thief

Radiohead Hail to the Thief2003
It’s a little overlong, but there’s a lot of great material on 2003’s Hail To The Thief – ‘There There’ is my favourite Radiohead song, combining the group’s rhythmic exploration and beautiful melodies, while ‘Sail To The Moon’ is another gorgeous piece.


#4 – OK Computer

Radiohead OK Computer1997
I know it’s provocative to place the acclaimed OK Computer at #4, but Radiohead have a lot of great albums. Radiohead’s last album as a rock band has great songs like ‘Airbag’ and ‘Paranoid Android’, which overshadow the lesser numbers like ‘Electioneering’ and ‘Fitter Happier’.


#3 – In Rainbows

Radiohead In Rainbows2007
In Rainbows was famous for its marketing, where fans could nominate their price for the album, but it’s also one of their strongest records, with the gentle electronics giving the album a dreamy, consistent sound. ‘All I Need’ is especially beautiful.


#2 – The Bends

Radiohead The Bends1995
The Bends was Radiohead’s great leap forward – if they were perceived as one hit wonders after Pablo Honey, The Bends cemented their place as one of the most significant bands of their generation. ‘Street Spirit’ and ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ are among the best known songs, but it’s full of strong pieces – opener ‘Planet Telex’ shimmers, ‘Bones’ seethes, and ‘Black Star’ jangles.


#1 – Kid A

Radiohead Kid A2000
Kid A was a daring move from Radiohead – challenging their listeners with more esoteric material after establishing their career as a rock band. The sonic territory staked out on Kid A has effectively fuelled all of the band’s subsequent studio albums. Despite the adventurous eclecticism of the album, ranging from the ambience of ‘Tree Fingers’ to the demented marching band of ‘The National Anthem’, Kid A is full of memorable ideas, and holds up as the band’s finest.

Agree? Disagree? Do you have a favourite Radiohead album?

26 thoughts on “Radiohead: Worst to Best Leave a comment

  1. Good write-up, I would just shuffle the top four to put “OK Computer” at #1, then the Bends, In Rainbows and Kid A. “OK Computer” still feels like an organically-conceived masterstroke. I know they are not a group to spin their wheels but after that they were a little too self-conscious about not being a straight-ahead rock band. Or maybe I’m too conventional. Anyway, a top-ranking band no matter how you slice it.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’ve always struggled with OK Computer a little – feels like half of the tracks are amazing good, and the other half are just OK. I get the too self-conscious about being a rock band thing – U2 went through a similar stage in the 1990s.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. “Electioneering” is actually one of my favourites off OK Computer, but I agree with your statement about too many throwaway tracks. While it’s a fantastic album, I feel like the flow of it is disjointed (I don’t like to listen to the songs in tracklist order) and it switches kind of erratically from mood to mood with each track.
    I feel like “The Bends” will always hold a special place for me because the first Radiohead song I ever really listened to as a kid was “High and Dry.” What a track.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Obviously any list drives us all crazy. But I can’t comprehend a world where OK Computer isn’t #1 or 2 – it’s an either/or with Kid A by any calculation of their catalog every time IMO. I would also posit that In Rainbows never fall below #3. The Bends is a dynamic leap forward from Pablo but still lacks the master strokes of to their more fully realized classics.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Not knowing the catalogue especially well, I cannot comment on the whole list. But I did listen to OK quite a lot at the time, and later when the excellent 3LP set came out. To be honest, despite whether one likes individual songs a lot or a little, I’m a bit non-plussed by the word ‘throwaway’. It means disposable or tossed-off, doesn’t it? I must be hearing something differently, I guess. It sounds extraordinarily thoughtful to me; in fact that was a barrier when I first heard it: too self-aware and ‘prepared’. But disposable? Half-hearted? (Shakes head puzzledly)

    Kid A is a brilliant re-imagining of music I love, and I love it to bits.

    As a result of this interesting list, I’m now on the look-out for In Rainbows.

    Cheers, Bruce.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Sorry – it probably wasn’t a great choice of words. I do feel like it’s too much of a two paced album for my liking though – there are about 6 amazing tracks that tower over the other 6 for me, and make it feel inconsistent.

      Lots of people have mentioned In Rainbows in the comments so it’s not just me – I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it.

      Liked by 3 people

        • Be interested to hear what you think. I feel like they staked out new sonic territory with Kid A, and all their subsequent albums have more or less inhabited that space. In Rainbows isn’t very ground-breaking for the group, but it’s a very tight, accomplished record.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. An interesting list… and while OK Computer has fell off the top spot for me in recent years, it’s only a few wood shavings below In Rainbows. It may well occupy top spot again, as is the transient nature of such lists.

    Anyway, aside from In Rainbows and OK Computer, the remaining spots in my top 5 are currently occupied by Kid A, A Moon Shaped Pool, and The Bends.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Kid A is the classic universally beloved album I will never get. God knows I have tried! Give me OK Computer, The Bends, In Rainbows, and even Hail To The Thief over it any day. Maybe it is just that I dislike electronic music?

    Anyway, great write-up.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. An important band but maybe a bit overrated. Nowadays I tend to find their music too miserable so I don’t go back often. Agree Pablo Honey is the band’s weakest LP yet I still love the hit Creep.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. A fine post, LOVE Radiohead!
    Nice call on All I Need, what a bassline – and the jangling guitar on Black star is right up there for me too.
    I’d likely go:
    9 King
    8 Amnesiac
    7 Moon
    6 Rainbows
    5 Pablo
    4 Kid A
    3 Hail
    2 Bends
    1 OK

    But I don’t disagree with your order either!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for doing this. I like Radiohead a lot but don’t know enough of their albums well enough. I own ‘OK Computer’ and ‘Hail to the Thief.’ I won’t try to rank them as I don’t have time. I’ll just enjoy some of these and maybe report back.

    Liked by 1 person

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