RadioHead Reading Festival Pablo Honey, The Bends and early success (1992–1995)


Radiohead recorded their debut release, the Drill EP, with Chris Hufford and Bryce Edge at Courtyard Studios. Released in March 1992, its chart performance was very poor. Subsequently, the band enlisted Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade—who had worked with US indie bands Pixies and Dinosaur Jr.—to produce their debut album, recorded quickly in an Oxford studio in 1992.With the release of the “Creep” single late in the year, Radiohead began to receive attention in the British music press, not all of it favourable. NME described them as “a lily-livered excuse for a rock band”,and “Creep” was blacklisted by BBC Radio 1 because it was deemed “too depressing”.

The band released their debut album, Pablo Honey, in February 1993. It stalled at number 22 in the UK charts, as “Creep” and its anthemic follow-up singles “Anyone Can Play Guitar” and “Stop Whispering” failed to become radio or video hits. “Pop Is Dead”, a non-album single later disavowed by the band, sold equally poorly. Some critics compared the band’s early style to the wave of grunge music popular in the early 1990s—to the extent of Radiohead being dubbed “Nirvana-lite”—yet Pablo Honey failed to make either a critical or a commercial splash upon its initial release.Despite shared influences with popular guitar-heavy acts, and some notice for Yorke’s falsetto voice, the band toured only British universities and clubs. In the first few months of 1993, Radiohead began to attract listeners elsewhere. “Creep” had been played very frequently on Israeli radio by an influential DJ, and in March, after the song became a hit on that country’s charts, Radiohead were invited to Tel Aviv for their first live gig overseas. Around the same time, the San Francisco alternative radio station KITS added the song to its playlist. Soon other radio stations along the west coast of the United States followed suit. By the time Radiohead began their first North American tour in June 1993, the music video for “Creep” was in heavy rotation on MTV.The song rose to number two on the US modern rock chart, entered the lower reaches of the top 40 pop chart, and finally hit number seven in the UK singles chart when EMI re-released it in Britain late in the year.

Unexpected attention to the single in America caused the label to improvise new promotional plans, and the band shuttled back and forth between continents, playing over 150 concerts in 1993.Radiohead nearly broke up due to the pressure of sudden success as the Pablo Honey supporting tour extended into its second year.Band members described the tour as difficult to adjust to, saying that towards its end they were “still playing the same songs that [they had] recorded two years previously… like being held in a time warp”, when they were eager to work on new songs.

The band began work on their second album in 1994, hiring veteran Abbey Road studios producer John Leckie. Tensions were high, with mounting expectations on the band to deliver a superior follow-up to match or exceed the success of “Creep”.Recording felt unnatural in the studio, band members having over-rehearsed their material.They sought a change of scenery, touring the Far East, Australasia and Mexico in an attempt to reduce the pressure. The band found greater confidence performing their new music live. However, confronted again by the fame he had achieved, Yorke became disillusioned at being “right at the sharp end of the sexy, sassy, MTV eye-candy lifestyle” he felt he was helping to sell to the world.

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