Celebrating Radiohead’s OK Computer 25 years later

Virgin Radio

16 Jun 2022, 07:33

Radiohead poses for a portrait at Capitol Records during the release of their album OK Computer in Los Angeles, California on June 12, 1997

Credit: Getty

It has been 25 years since Radiohead released their third studio album OK Computer in the UK, so we’re taking a look back to celebrate. 

When the band, formed in Oxfordshire by Thom Yorke, brothers John and Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Philip Selway, released OK Computer in 1997, they were already on the radar of your bog standard indie-rock fan of the 90s. 

Their anthemic hit Creep from the 1993 album Pablo Honey, had spent half a year in the British charts, peaking at no.7 and there was no doubt it had put them on the map. The melancholic tune about being a bit of a loser had wormed its way into the ears of many with Yorke’s haunting voice singing the words “I’m a creep/ I’m a weirdo” ringing through their heads. 

However, while the tune of self-loathing had propelled them to fame, it also put Radiohead in a box. It was their Wonderwall or Smells Like To Teen Spirit- impossible to escape and it eventually led to the band loathing it themselves. 

In fact, Radiohead refused to play Creep for seven years for that very reason. 

Radiohead, Thom Yorke, Vorst Nationaal, Brussels, Belgium, 14th October 1997.

Credit: Getty

In 1995, the band followed up on their hit with another album, The Bends, which seemed to tell us more about who they were and presented a band far more sure of themselves. Despite this, The Bends was missing something- a big radio-friendly anthem. 

“Ambition makes you look pretty ugly/ Kicking, squealing Gucci little piggy” - Paranoid Android

So here they were, in danger of being one of those 90s bands who would be remembered by the mass for one good song, never quite breaking commercial success. 

Enter: OK Computer. 

A new era

When Radiohead first presented their new record to the label, Capitol,  apparently, they were not totally sold. According to Selway, their reaction to OK Computer was along the lines of “commerical suicide”. 

So it’s fair to say Radiohead were taking a risk with this one. 

Ed O'Brien, Jonny Greenwood and Colin Greenwood (back to camera) of Radiohead perform on stage at the Glastonbury Festival on June 28th, 1997

Credit: Getty

Luckily, Captiol trusted their instincts and went full steam ahead with the ad campaign, and soon the distinctive album cover, designed by Stanley Donwood and Yorke, was splashed across billboards and magazines around the country. 

Could it have been something to do with the political climate of the 90s as Britain recovered from the most recent Conservative government, or the way that OK Computer screamed in dismay at the swirling misery that is modern life?

Who knows, but people loved it. 

An unconventional approach

Not only was their direction different after the intensely personal tracks of The Bends, but so was their instrumentation after the band made use of an array of unconventional production techniques. 

One of these included recording some tracks on the staircase of their house to make use of the natural reverberation.

“It was about being poisoned, full of debris and waste" - Thom Yorke

They also recorded part of OK Computer at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London, following in the footsteps of one of the album’s inspirations, The Beatles.

Radiohead managed to achieve this almost poetic approach to their songs with lyrics that evoked an existential dread and uneasy energy, whilst still being able to produce those all important anthems. 

Bassist Colin Greenwood, lead singer/pianist Thom Yorke, drummer Phil Selway, guitarist Jonny Greenwood and singer/guitarist Ed O'Brien of the British rock group Radiohead, play cards March, 1993

Credit: Getty

Take, for example, Karma Police with its repeating lines “For a minute there/I lost myself” that reinforced that sneaking suspicion that creeps up on us sometimes that we don’t actually belong anywhere.

It somehow made whining about the world cool and captured modern life and the swirling abyss that is capitalism. Nowhere is this more present than on that track Paranoid Android with the line “Ambition makes you look pretty ugly/ Kicking, squealing Gucci little piggy”, clearly showing Yorke’s despair with the materialistic hamster wheel that is the world. 

Yorke once said he wanted OK Computer to sound like Marvin Gaye’s What A Wonderful World, but instead “it was about being poisoned, full of debris and waste.”

Well, we think he just about nailed it.