It’s no secret Radiohead is my favorite band. For more than a decade these Oxford boys have been my go-to musical group. They are brilliant in so many ways. Here’s my attempt to rank their albums. Who knows if this order will change over time. For now, these are the best Radiohead albums ranked first to worst:
#1: OK Computer
There are iconic albums of the late 90’s. This is one of them. For example, Pitchfork named it the greatest album of the 1990’s. According to Wikipedia, the United States National Recording Preservation Board selected OK Computer in 1995 for preservation in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, which designates it as a sound recording that has had “significant cultural, historical, or aesthetic impact in American life.” I bought this album in NYC a few years after it was released and would listen each evening, being transported with each track. I mean, every song (minus Fitter Happier)! Yup, it’s #1.
#2: Kid A
How do you follow up the most arguably iconic album of the 1990’s? You blow everyone out of the water with an album so different in style and musicality that it defies expectation, and consequently, makes the likes of Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and others declare it as the greatest album of the 2000’s. Kid A is where Radiohead entered the musical atmosphere of Pink Floyd and commanded the heights they dared to climb. I didn’t know what to do with Kid A when it first came out. It was so out of left field from the Radiohead I knew. But with each successive listen of the album in its entirety, Kid A became one of my favorites. #2 to be exact. With that said, I totally understand when critics select Kid A as Radiohead’s best album ever.
#3 (tie): The Bends
This is Radiohead’s best “guitar album” with the brilliant Johnny Greenwood in full force. From High and Dry to Fake Plastic Trees, The Bends is just hit after hit after hit. It’s the album that removed Radiohead from the one-hit-wonder list (e.g. Creep) to potential great band. Guardian critic Caroline Sullivan Radiohead’s The Bends had “transformed [Radiohead] from nondescript guitar-beaters to potential arena-fillers … The grandeur may eventually pall, as it has with U2, but it’s been years since big bumptious rock sounded this emotional.”1
#3 (tie): In Rainbows
The more I listen to this album the more I wonder if a tie for third is too low. However, I’m holding my ground for now. In Rainbows is where Radiohead innovatively offered fans a pay-what-you-like for digitals version of the album after being released from their record deal with EMI. Those who purchased the “enhanced version” [like yours truly] got eight more tracks. In Rainbows is more pop-friendly with songs like Weird Fishes/Arpeggi and Reckoner, while still jamming with Bodysnatchers and giving listeners the hauntingly beautiful Videotape. In Rainbows once again demonstrated the musical prowess of the best band in the world. Not a wasted song in the list.
#5: A Moon Shaped Pool
This 2016 release is a mixture of rock, classical, jazz, and so much more. I was a little trepidatious of what A Moon Shaped Pool would hold for listeners. But fear not, after one time through it was easy to see why Rolling Stone’s readers picked A Moon Shaped Pool as one of their 10 Best Albums of 2016. My favorite songs: Burn the Witch, Daydreaming, Ful Stop, and True Love Waits. This album reminded Radiohead fans that some bands can get better with age. Radiohead is one of those bands.
#6: Hail to the Thief
This album appropriately begins with the sound of a guitar plugging into an amp because HTTT feels less like a polished studio recorded after a mind-numbing take-after-take-after-take and more like a rehearsal “live” recording. Even with Radiohead’s knack for gritty antagonism, this album possesses an open angst against the George W. Bush election and politics of the day. Beyond the tracks to even the album’s artwork, HTTT is an project of foreboding and warning. Gone are the manipulated voices of Kid A or Amnesiac. Yorke returns to clear, if raw, vocals that often find themselves in songs which build and build toward a crescendo.
Amnesiac is an album that was created because of all the unused music from Kid A. It’s like an album of B-sides. You might call it Kid B. Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich recorded these tracks simultaneously in the Kid A sessions but ruled against creating a double album. With standout songs like Pyramid Song and Knives Out, Amnesiac was generally well-received though many felt the album was more a collection of outtakes than a unified piece of work. Radiohead was touring on this album when I first saw them in concert in 2001.
#8: King of Limbs
King of Limbs was Radiohead’s eighth studio album and one of their weakest offerings. The music feels like it was made on a MacBook with all its sampling, looping, and processing. While I appreciate the experimentation which went into Limbs, the overall product feels disjointed thematically and sub-par musically. B-sides like Supercollider and Butcher would have made the album better had they made the final cut. Radiohead also released an album of remixes to Limbs by electronic artists which made the initial album feel all the more experimental and less substantive.
#9: Pablo Honey
There’s a reason the band doesn’t play anything from this album in concerts except Creep (and that, they’ve really only done recently). This was their sacrificial offering to the record label idol…and why their other albums sound nothing like this. I have about everything Radiohead has ever produced, from EP’s, minisdiscs, to soundboard concert rips, and I don’t even own this album.