There is no band and group in the world that was able to launch alternative rock to the spotlight and keep the genre there for many years more than Radiohead. The band, which is composed of Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Philip Selway, started playing in the mid-1980s and released some of the most iconic alternative rock songs throughout the years, including “Creep” and “Paranoid Android.” Despite Radiohead’s popularity, not a lot of people know how the band was formed and how it rose to fame during the 1990s. To learn more about this alternative rock band and their story of success, here is an artist profile for Radiohead.
Formation of Radiohead
All of the members of Radiohead attended Abingdon School, an independent school exclusive for boys in Oxfordshire. Thom Yorke and Colin Greenwood were batchmates, while Philip Selway and Ed O’Brien were a year above Yorke and Colin. The last member of the band, Jonny Greenwood, who is also Colin’s older brother, was two years above his brother and Yorke.
In 1985, they formed their first band called “On a Friday,” which is a name they got from their usual day of rehearsals. Jonny Greenwood joined the band last, with his first instrument being the harmonica but later changed to keyboard and then to the guitar. They would practice as a band in the school’s music room during Fridays, but when they wanted to practice on Sundays as well, they got annoyed at the school’s strict environment, as they were charged a fee for using the rehearsal room during weekends. However, their music teacher encouraged them to continue playing as a band, and that same teacher also influenced them in a variety of music genres that influenced the band’s experimental style in making songs.
The band would eventually break up, as the members would continue their studies, with Jonny leaving Abingdon in 1987 and Yorke attending the University of Exeter. However, they would reform in 1991, wherein they would play in several clubs and bars until they meet Keith Wozencroft, the owner of the record shop called Our Price (where Colin Greenwood was also an employee) that also had connections with EMI, a renowned record label. EMI would then sign the band to a six-album recording contract in late 1991, but the label wanted them to change their name to something more appealing. The band agreed to change On a Friday to “Radiohead,” which is inspired by the song “Radio Head” by the Talking Heads.
Radiohead’s Rise to Fame
With the help of EMI, Radiohead successfully released their debut extended play or EP titled “Drill” in 1992. Because the band was unknown by many during that time, the EP did not become a hit and sold poorly. Around the same year, Radiohead also began recording songs for their debut album at an Oxford studio, with Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie acting as producers.
To promote the upcoming album, Radiohead released the first single, “Creep,” in September 1992. Although it failed to be a hit in the UK, as many critics and radio stations deemed the song to be “too depressing,” many stations around the world liked the song so much that they would play it frequently. After the release of their debut album titled “Pablo Honey” in February 1993, they began to gain traction in the US and Israel, where “Creep” became a massive hit. In the same year, Radiohead then embarked on their first North American tour.
Pressured to follow up the single “Creep” and their debut album, Radiohead would often over-rehearse their recordings for their second album, which they started recording in 1994 with producer John Leckie at the famous Abbey Road Studios. Wanting to take the pressure off of them, the band decided to tour in different countries around the world, including Mexico and Australia. Before the release of the second album, Radiohead released the “My Iron Lung” EP, which was their attempt to stray far away from mainstream music and begin experimenting on fusing rock music genres.
In March 1995, Radiohead finally released their second album, “The Bends.” The album was critically acclaimed, and it is through the record that they gained a loyal fanbase that proved that the band is not a one-hit-wonder. To support the release of the album, Radiohead once again went on a tour around North America and Europe. It was on this tour that their van, which contained their instruments and other equipment, was stolen before a concert in Denver, Colorado. For that concert, Yorke and Jonny Greenwood performed an acoustic set, but after the performance, their tour was canceled.
For their third album, Radiohead decided that they should self-produce it at their own rehearsal studio called Canned Applause, which was built in the countryside in Oxfordshire. In May 1997, the band then released the album “OK Computer,” which has avant-garde and electronic music influences that further cemented the band’s legacy as an experimental group.
After the release of the album, it became Radiohead’s first record to debut at number one on the UK charts. The album would then go on to win the Best Alternative Album award at the Grammy Awards the following year.
Kid A and Amnesiac
In the early months of 1999, Radiohead began to work on their fourth album, although they experienced some struggles as several members of the band would often have different views as to how Radiohead would sound in the next album. In addition, Yorke also experienced severe writer’s block, which prevented him from creating straightforward songs, but it did influence him to make fragmented music with abstract lyrics. The fourth album was then finally released in October 2000, and the record was called “Kid A.”
Compared to their previous album that was layered with electronic and avant-garde tracks, “Kid A” was a simpler album that has a minimalist style, although the tracks still had diverse instrumentation that doesn’t limit the band from their assigned instruments. Similar to “OK Computer,” the fourth album was a hit for the band, with critics praising the experimental style that separates them from other alternative rock bands. The band would win the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album in 2001 for their “Kid A” record.
In May 2001, Radiohead released a follow-up album called “Amnesiac.” The album contains tracks that were supposed to be included in “Kid A” but were removed. However, Radiohead stated that they don’t see the album as a collection of B-sides but rather its own unique album that doesn’t have any connection to “Kid A.” TO promote both “Kid A” and “Amnesia,” the band embarked on a tour in Europe, North America, and Japan.
Hail to the Thief
Two years after the release of “Amnesiac,” Radiohead released another album titled “Hail to the Thief.” The album was promoted through the band’s website, Radiohead.tv, wherein they also uploaded music videos, webcasts, and short films connected to the album. For the album’s promotion, they scheduled a world tour that would start in May 2003 and would end with their concert at Coachella Festival in California in May 2004.
After fulfilling their six-album contract with EMI, they would decide not to renew their contracts and go on a hiatus to take care of their family and start doing solo projects. In July 2006, Yorke released his solo debut album titled “The Eraser.” While rumors of Radiohead’s breakup were spreading after the release of Yorke’s solo album, all members of the band reiterated that Radiohead is not breaking up and that the members are happy that Yorke was finally able to work on his own songs that are not for the band.
In October 2007, Radiohead released their most unique album to date, “In Rainbows.” The uniqueness of the album does not only come from its experimental tracks but also from its release process, as Radiohead chose to launch the album on their website and let their fans or listeners pay for any amount that they want, which also includes paying nothing.
The album was one of the firsts of its kind to be released that way, and some critics have praised the band for releasing the album without worrying about how much they can get from their work. On the other hand, there were musicians that were against the release, as they believed that it decreases the value of music and the hard work that every artist put into their recordings. Despite the criticisms, the album was downloaded more than 1 million times in just its first week of release.
The King of Limbs
In 2009, Yorke formed another band that will be performing the songs on his solo debut album, “The Eraser.” The band was called Atoms for Peace and featured bassist Flea. The band played several shows until 2013 when Yorke decided to put Atoms for Peace on hiatus. However, in 2018, Yorke reunited with several members of the band to perform at a solo concert by Yorke in Los Angeles.
After many years of trying to record a new album, Radiohead would finally release their eighth album called “The King of Limbs” in February 2011. The album was a major success for the band, although their popularity is slowly going down during that time since they have been gone from the spotlight for so long. They would then go on tour to promote the album, which would end in 2012.
Hiatus and A Moon Shaped Pool
When the King of Limbs tour ended in 2012, the members of Radiohead decided to go on a hiatus again. During the hiatus, Atoms for Peace released a new album called “Amok” in February 2013. In April 2016, XL Recordings, who released physical versions of “In Rainbows” and “The King of Limbs,” was able to acquire Radiohead’s back catalog. The label would release many of the band’s albums in vinyl format in May of the same year.
In May 2016, Radiohead returned from their 4-year hiatus and released their ninth studio album, “A Moon Shaped Pool.” The album was a commercial hit, and it sparked the resurgence of Radiohead as one of the most popular bands in the world. From 2016 up to 2018, Radiohead went on a tour around Europe, North America, South America, and Japan. In addition, they have also appeared again at the Coachella Festival.
Third Hiatus and the Smile
After 2018, Radiohead went on their third hiatus in order to work on solo projects. Selway and Yorke would write songs for movies, such as “Phantom Thread,” “Ramsay, You Were Never Really Here,” and “Suspiria.” In March 2018, the members of Radiohead were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
During a livestream event that was hosted by the Glastonbury Festival in May 2012, Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, along with drummer Tom Skinner, debuted a new band called the Smile. There are currently no talks of when Radiohead would reunite to make a new album.
Radiohead remains one of the best alternative rock bands of all time, and each album that they release is still a commercial and critical success, which is quite rare for bands that have begun playing in the 1980s. As fans are patiently waiting for new material, they are still not getting tired of Radiohead’s modern classic albums.