Alternative music was a label that meant very little. Rock was still potent, but a new kind of music was bubbling up from the underground in the UK and US called drum n’ bass. Somehow in the thick of this strange era of music one of the greatest albums of all-time hit the airwaves and streets from, frankly, a very unlikely place.
On May 21st, 1997 Radiohead’s third album, ‘OK Computer’ was released worldwide to nearly unanimous critical acclaim. Inspired, but beyond, their influences such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Phil Spector and even Miles Davis, the record was an instant classic that has since been recognized by the Library of Congress by its inclusion in the National Recording Registry.
Written and recorded in England, most of the record was recorded in a mansion in Bath at St. Catherine’s. The sound of the record is futuristic, dense, cathartic without being overwrought, experimental, abstract yet pretty accessible, all things considered.
Fronted by Thom Yorke (main songwriter, lead singer, guitarist and moral compass) who is supported by Jonny Greenwood (guitar, glockenspiel, piano, etc.), Phil Selway (drums), Ed O’Brien (guitar, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass, bass synth) the band were poised for an artistic leap following their promising sophomore effort ‘The Bends’. They had vaulted into public consciousness, and not all of it good, with their single “Creep” in 1993, from their debut disc ‘Pablo Honey’. Yorke and the band recoiled from the spotlight, however, and had been on a quest to be more than they showed on their debut, but in many music fans mind, the die was cast. While ‘The Bends’ got critical acclaim and the band some cache artistically, ‘OK Computer’ was definitely a proposition that could go either way for the group.
When the label first heard the album they lowered their sales projections immediately from 2 million to 500,000. No one heard a marketable single on the record but the band, believing in their product (and rightly so) soldiered on, even releasing the epic six-minute plus ‘Paranoid Android’ as the lead single and video. Improbably the approach worked and the band over the course of the next two years and promotion of the album became phenoms for all the right reasons. The record found its audience and we were all the better for it.
From the D.J. Shadow-inspired ‘Airbag’ through the understated closer ‘The Tourist’, it’s an album that is incredible on a song-by-song basis, but as a piece of art is unimpeachable its greatness.
For Dan and Randy this is an album both consider one of their favorites. We wanted to do something special for our 50th episode and decided months ago that we’d use ‘OK Computer’ for the milestone podcast. As you’ll hear by listening this is a record that awed and amazed us from the very first listen and has been doing so for the last 18 years. It’s nothing short of a miracle that this album was made by the band that made it. And the world was all the more enriched for it.