Radiohead has been one of the most influential and innovative bands of the last few decades, and a large proportion of their success can be attributed to their versatility.
Venturing into rock, electronic, ambient, pop, indie, alternative, and grunge territories, they cover a remarkable amount of sonic ground, so to say they have a broad appeal is a massive understatement!
From the lush and atmospheric soundscapes of “Fake Plastic Trees” to the raw and visceral energy of “Paranoid Android,” the band has produced a wealth of classic tracks that continue to inspire and captivate fans around the world.
With such an impressive body of work, it can be tough to narrow down a list of the best Radiohead songs. So we took a different angle on it. What if you were a classic rock fan and wanted to give Radiohead a listen?
In this article, we will explore the 13 best Radiohead songs for fans of rock, that have made a significant impact on music and culture.
RELATED: Love Heavy Rock? Try These Genesis Songs
13: “Creep” — Pablo Honey, 1993
Let’s kick things off with the obvious. Creep, with its super distorted, Cobain-esque chorus, pained vocal delivery, and of course, that infamous F-bomb Thom drops before the song even reaches the 1-minute mark, is a raging rock slap bursting from the staves with angst!
The lyrics air the inner monologue of the forsaken, the outcast looking in from the exterior, and Thom’s bestial howls ache with yearning and torment — It doesn’t get more rock than that, folks.
Another thing that might attract fans of classic rock to the mix here is the fact that “Creep” is a straightforward guitar-led track.
Written long before Thom tried his hand at movie composition and Johnny fell down the modular synth rabbit hole, this, their first smash hit is a gritty celebration of the six-string.
You can almost hear the violence with which the chords our strummed on the chorus, and although you have to weather a rather soft, alternative verse to get there, these quiet-before-the-storm passages only serve to elevate the fuzzed-out glory that explodes onto the airwaves beneath “But I’m a creep!!!!”
Radiohead themselves have expressed a healthy distaste of this track through the years, but something tells me you’re going to love it.
12: “Fake Plastic Trees” — The Bends, 1995
Before you listen to the laid-back acoustic intro of “Fake Plastic Trees”, let me preface this entry by mentioning that this track is all about the build, a steady swelling that culminates with a powerful crescendo complete with saturated lead guitars and thought-provoking lyrics.
Granted, it’s probably not going to satisfy the most diehard rockers out there, but for lovers of less in-your-face rock cuts, it’s a nightmarish dream just waiting to be obsessed over!
Although Thom’s vocals are predominantly clean throughout “Fake Plastic Trees”, there’s an intensity in his rack-stretched syllables that grinds down the poppy sheen of the song and leaves an unpolished, scarred composition in its wake.
11: “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” — The Bends, 1995
If you snatched Paul Simon’s acoustic guitar, smashed it on the ground, then handed him a Fender Telecaster, the music he and Art Garfunkel would write would sound pretty darn close to “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”.
While not particularly intense or loud, it’s the pervading darkness of this Radiohead cut that will appeal to rockers. It’s nowhere near as dynamic as some of the other tracks on this list, but I think it’s certainly worth checking out.
10: “Karma Police” — OK Computer, 1997
As the only Radiohead song to feature on the infamous Now That’s What I Call Music UK compilation albums, you wouldn’t think there’d be much sonic treasure for rockers to plunder in this track, and while it never reaches fever pitch, the moody dynamic makes it a very enjoyable listen for those more accustomed to heavier music.
9: “Reckoner” — In Rainbows, 2007
The blues-less guitar riff and funky beat of “Reckoner” have a faintly Californication-era Chili Peppers vibe. Yet, with a hyper-melodic break woven together with threads of melancholic strings, Radiohead takes genre-fluidity to a whole new level with this killer track.
RELATED: Fans Of The 80s Will Love These Songs By The Police
8: “Idioteque” — Kid A, 2000
“Idioteque” is an overtly futuristic-sounding piece composed primarily on a modular synth, but don’t let that put you off. When Radiohead lean into their electronic side, they compose some of their hardest-hitting tracks of all, which is certainly true here.
Thom Yorke’s apathetic crooning about bunkers, ice ages, and women and children going first, conjures frightfully apocalyptic imagery that will send a shiver down your spine and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
This is unequivocally my favorite Radiohead track of all time, and I consider myself a consummate rocker, so even though there isn’t a single guitar in the mix, I highly recommend giving it some time.
7: “Myxomatosis” — Hail To The Thief, 2003
Some rockers will mourn the departure of guitars on this track, but with bone-rattling bass synth lines and quivering treble drones the likes of which you’ll hear threaded throughout a Carpenter score, “Myxomatosis” is one of the heaviest Radiohead tracks of all time.
Selway elevates the shadowy composition with some energetic beats, and even though they never inspire an all-out head-banging session, a furious head-boppin’ is unavoidable.
And with Yorke waxing lyrical about being put down like a rabbit riddled with the eponymous disease, the grimness so often characteristic of rock music is certainly present on this track.
6: “National Anthem” — Kid A, 2000
On “National Anthem”, we hear Selway really going hell for leather on the cymbals while chaotic horns buzz beyond like a cloud of flies descending on a corpse.
Add Colin Greenwood’s persistent, thumping bass line and some subtle singing saw-style synths, and you’ve got a dangerously dense mesh of frequencies to contend with — This song couldn’t be further from radio-friendly!
5: Trans-Atlantic Drawl — Pyramid Song, 2001
This lesser-known Radiohead cut was released as part of the Pyramid Song EP, but never featured on the studio album release Amnesiac alongside its tracklist-mates, which is a shame, as it’s got some serious attitude — Like The Black Keys with far more teeth and originality.
Colin Greenwood is the star of the show here with his bluesy bass lick that’ll move your behind whether you want it to or not, but the younger Greenwood also comes in pretty strong on this cut, providing runs of ugly, screaming, gorgeous guitar devilry.
The only drawback for rockers here is that just after the 1:30 mark, the riffy jam goes AWOL and somber synth harmonies take center stage and drone on until the end of the track.
I personally love this drastic turn of events, but I can understand how it might give someone a sense of sonic whiplash.
4: “Paranoid Android” — OK Computer, 1997
“Paranoid Android” is a compositional triumph, each nuanced section stitched together with intriguing musical concepts.
After only seconds, you understand you’re not listening to the average alternative jam, but an enthralling musical journey that weaves in and out of rocky flourishes so rich with tension and attitude you can’t help but grit your teeth and nod your head.
Wait until that big distorted guitar riff comes in at 2:48 and tell me that’s not rock music!
And hold out until the end, as this track culminates in yet another heavy passage embellished by a totally off-the-wall, space-age guitar solo that sounds like the musical equivalent of a malfunctioning robot deciding to kill all humans.
3: “Bodysnatchers” — In Rainbows, 2007
People don’t really associate late Radiohead with rocky cuts, but “Bodysnatchers” from their 2007 release, In Rainbows, is a straight-up jam-rock masterpiece!
Laden with overdriven guitar riffs, pulse-raising beats, and driving bass lines, it’ll hit the spot for lovers of blues rock acts such as Clutch or Jack White, and I dare say the odd Sabbath savant will get a kick from this tune too.
You’ll also enjoy the impassioned vocal snippet towards the end of the track that, although short, stands out as one of York’s most intense moments in Radiohead’s entire back catalog.
RELATED: Nirvana Songs You Have To Hear
2: “The Bends” — The Bends, 1995
“The Bends” doesn’t mess around. Only seconds in, you’re met with huge stadium-style chords that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from Angus Young, Bruce Springsteen, or Mike McCreedy’s amp.
After this blistering intro, York channels David Gilmore on the verse, creating a neo-Floyd aesthetic before those goliath chords return to the mix to crush all your preconceived notions of Radiohead being a “soft” band all over again.
1: “Just” — The Bends, 1995
“Just” is undoubtedly the Radiohead song that will most appeal to fans of rock music. Stuffed with fizzing electric guitar passages and Placebo-esque chord choices, it’s a banger from top to bottom.
Even the quieter verses are gravid with tension and darkness that erupts when the choruses hit, establishing the perfect backdrop for York to deliver his lines with cold venom, but it’s Johnny who brings the fury in this cut.
Transforming his guitar into a living, breathing beast that spits, growls, and hisses all over the mix.
His input is like a wild, drunk driver that picks up York’s clean-cut acoustic hitchhiker, and instead of delivering it to their desired location, what ensues is a hell ride to the edge of insanity.
The video is also an absolute belter, so I highly recommend taking in the audio and visuals together.
Radiohead may not be typically defined by the rock sound, but they are acquainted with it, and although they tend to implement it with a delicate hand rather than broad strokes in their music, they do so in an intriguing and ingenious manner that, in many peoples opinions, offers more excitement than most if not all by the numbers rock songs.
The group has been an unparalleled force in modern music, pushing boundaries and challenging listeners with their innovative sound and lyrics. While their discography is filled with exceptional works, we think the 13 songs listed above will be right up your alley if you’re a fan of rock and roll!
- KISS and Tell: A Decibel-Defying Journey Through KISS’s Best Albums - May 26, 2023
- Francesca Hetfield – The Women Behind Metal’s Most Famous Frontman - May 26, 2023
- Meet Motley Crue: The Eternal Bad Boys of Rock ‘n’ Roll - May 26, 2023