RadioHead Reading Festival OK Computer, fame and critical acclaim (1996–1998)


In late 1995, Radiohead had already recorded one song that would make their next record. “Lucky”, released as a single to promote the War Child charity’s The Help Album, had come out of a brief session with Nigel Godrich, a young audio engineer who had assisted on The Bends and also produced a 1996 B-side, “Talk Show Host”. The band decided to produce their next album with Godrich’s assistance, and they began work in early 1996. By July they had recorded four songs at their rehearsal studio, Canned Applause, a converted apple shed in the countryside near Didcot, Oxfordshire.

In August 1996 Radiohead toured as the opening act for Alanis Morissette, seeking to perfect their new songs live before completing the record. They then resumed recording, again outside a traditional music studio, settling instead at a 15th-century mansion, St. Catherine’s Court, near Bath.The recording sessions were relaxed, with the band playing at all hours of the day, recording songs in different rooms, and listening to The Beatles, DJ Shadow, Ennio Morricone and Miles Davis for inspiration.Radiohead contributed “Talk Show Host”, as well as a newly-recorded song called “Exit Music (For a Film)”, to Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo + Juliet late in the year. Most of the rest of the album was complete by the end of 1996, and by March 1997, the record was mixed and mastered.

Radiohead released their third album, OK Computer, in June 1997. Largely composed of melodic rock songs, the new record also found the band experimenting with song structures and incorporating some ambient, avant garde and electronic influences. The album’s lyrics took a more observational, less personal tone than The Bends, expressing what one magazine called “end-of-the-millennium blues”.OK Computer met with great critical acclaim, and Yorke admitted that he was “amazed it got the reaction it did. None of us fucking knew any more whether it was good or bad. What really blew my head off was the fact that people got all the things, all the textures and the sounds and the atmospheres we were trying to create.”

OK Computer was the band’s first number one UK chart debut, propelling Radiohead to commercial success around the world. Despite peaking at number 21 in the US charts, the album eventually met with mainstream recognition there, receiving the first Grammy Awards recognition of the band’s career, a win for Best Alternative Album and a nomination for Album of the Year.”Paranoid Android”, “Karma Police” and “No Surprises” were released as singles from the album, of which “Karma Police” was most successful internationally.

The release of OK Computer was followed by the “Against Demons” world tour. Grant Gee, the director of the “No Surprises” video, accompanied and filmed the band, releasing the footage in the 1999 documentary Meeting People Is Easy.The film portrays the band’s disaffection with the music industry and press, showing their burnout as they progressed from their first tour dates in mid-1997 to mid-1998, nearly a year later.The film is also notable for documenting earlier versions of songs that were never released or were not released until years later, such as “How to Disappear Completely”, “Life in a Glasshouse” and “Nude”. During this time the band also released a music video compilation, 7 Television Commercials, as well as two EPs, Airbag/How Am I Driving? and No Surprises/Running from Demons, that compiled their B-sides from OK Computer singles.

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