Radiohead's 20 Best Songs Ranked

As Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood release their debut as the Smile, we're looking back at their other band
Radiohead's 20 Best Songs Ranked
A Light for Attracting Attention, out today through XL, sounds like the quintessential Radiohead album: it's got the interlocking arpeggios of In Rainbows, the snarling alt-rock of The Bends, the alien synths of Kid A and the lavish orchestrations of A Moon Shaped Pool all wrapped up into one album.

The irony, of course, is that it's actually not a Radiohead album. Rather, it's the debut by the Smile — the new side-project from Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, along with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner — and is missing three-fifths of Radiohead's lineup. For musicians who are known for fearlessly pushing the envelope with each project, A Light for Attracting Attention sounds like a rare moment of borrowing from the past.

As Yorke and Greenwood revisit some of their past sounds, we're doing the same — we're looking back on the best songs they've ever made. We've ranked Radiohead's 20 best songs, from the alt-rock anthems that launched their career (as well as Coldplay's career, and about a million other pretty-yet-sad rock bands) to the boundary-pushing experiments that made them one of the most revered groups of their time.

Here are Radiohead's 20 best songs ranked.

20. "Fake Plastic Trees"
The Bends (1995)



Tracks like "Fake Plastic Trees" and "High and Dry" are sometimes credited as prototypes for the saccharine, semi-soft rock of the early 2000s — the latter was once described as having "essentially invented Coldplay" — but of the two, "Fake Plastic Trees" has aged most gracefully. Whispers of a weirder, more complex Radiohead are there in the song's alien weightlessness and ghostly strings, and it's an early taste of the immense feeling that the band would go on to conjure in increasingly interesting ways.  
Kaelen Bell

19. "All I Need"
In Rainbows (2007)



​​Among the best romantic entries in the band's catalog, "All I Need" begins as a somewhat quieted, dour affair with a solemn synth backing Yorke's metaphors of unrequited love, positioning himself as "an animal trapped in your hot car" and "a moth who just wants to share your light." Brief string swells and light touches of piano and glockenspiel tease a greater endorphin rush that arrives with a final crescendo, as Yorke's conflicting "right" and "wrong" are carried forth on Philip Selway's resonating crash cymbal.
Calum Slingerland

18. "Daydreaming"
A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)



Radiohead have always been good at taking the unexpected route — and in the case of 2016's drop-dead gorgeous A Moon Shaped Pool, that meant stripping back the electronics and focusing on acoustic instrumentation and pure emotion. On past albums, they might have subverted the beauty of plaintive piano ballad "Daydreaming" (like they did with the jarring backmasking of "Like Spinning Plates"); here, they lean into it.
Alex Hudson

17. "A Reminder"
"Paranoid Android" single (1997)



It says a lot about Radiohead's late '90s output that they were able to write a song as sublime as "A Reminder," released as a B-side on the "Paranoid Android" single, and not include it on an album. Beginning with the sounds of a train station in Prague, Thom Yorke offers a touching tribute to youthful romance: "If I get old, remind me of this / That night we kissed and I really meant it / Whatever happens, if we're still speaking / Pick up the phone, play me this song." Even with a line about getting his brain smashed out, maybe it was simply too sweet to include on OK Computer.
Alex Hudson

16. "How to Disappear Completely"
Kid A (2000)



Kid A's wispy ode to wilful vanishing does exactly the opposite thanks to its moving string arrangement, at the time a clear compositional level-up for Jonny Greenwood. Producer Nigel Godrich has said that, upon receiving Greenwood's score, members of the Orchestra of St John's "burst into giggles, because they couldn't do what he'd written." The greatest view to date of the orchestra's recording session inside a 12th-century church — with Greenwood accompanying on ondes Martenot — came with the isolated session track from last year's KID A MNESIA retrospective, offering an unencumbered, equally stirring view of this song's most important element.
Calum Slingerland

15. "Where I End and You Begin"
Hail to the Thief (2003)



Written during a trip to Israel in 1998, "Where I End and You Begin" finds Yorke in a familiar zone — the frenzied, anxious world between love and apocalypse. What sounds like an obsessive relationship spills beyond the borders of infatuation into something larger and more threatening as the galloping, bass-driven groove begins to fray. "I will eat you alive," he intones, and the line between inner turmoil and biblical-scale menace dissolves further again.
Kaelen Bell
 
14. "Planet Telex"
The Bends (1995)



Legend has it that Yorke recorded his vocals for "Planet Telex" drunk and slumped in the corner of the studio. The song apparently came together quickly, imbuing a self-reflexive slant to its opening salvo of "You can force it but it will not come," sung in Yorke's liquor-loosened yelp. Much is made of Radiohead's cerebral experimentation, but "Planet Telex" is further proof of their off-hand, spontaneous magic — a band as much about the body as it is about the brain.
Kaelen Bell
 
13. "Reckoner"
In Rainbows (2007)



Of all the ghosts that occupy In Rainbows, "Reckoner" sounds the most uneasy — whatever spirit possesses the song's glowing clatter clearly has further business to attend to on this side of the divide. One of the most menacing, beautiful songs — featuring a wandering, unforgettable riff allegedly inspired by John Frusciante — on a record built exclusively from menacing and beautiful songs, "Reckoner" is "dedicated to all human beings." Whether that should be taken as comfort or threat is still unclear.
Kaelen Bell

12. "Airbag"
OK Computer (1997)



Compared to past catalogue entries like "Killer Cars" or "Stupid Car," "Airbag" is the most celebratory of Radiohead's motor-minded songs. As if pulled from the wreckage having just watched life flash before his eyes, Yorke affirms in the confident chorus, "In an interstellar burst / I'm back to save the universe." The influence of DJ Shadow's Endtroducing… stunner "Changeling / Transmission 1" is felt deeply in the simple, schlepping drum loop and Ed O'Brien's intermittent bass thump — to say nothing of the imitation turntablism towards the end — while its main riff brings to mind a driver on a winding course, punching the gas pedal on the straightaway as the guitars hit the open A chord.
Calum Slingerland

11. "My Iron Lung"
The Bends (1995)



If you haven't listened to The Bends in a minute, here's something you might have forgotten: Yorke's voice sounds absolutely incredible. His low end has never sounded so rich, nor his snarl quite so venomous. On the nervy "My Iron Lunch," Jonny Greenwood's wonky Whammy tones give way to explosions of distorted fury, making this a pinnacle of their alt-rock phase.
Alex Hudson

10. "There, There"
Hail to the Thief (2003)



Yorke's standard lyrical mode is cryptic, paranoid and vaguely political — and he's perhaps never sung a single line that sums up his outlook as perfectly as "Just 'cause you feel it doesn't mean it's there." The highlight of the brilliant yet scattershot Hail to the Thief matches Yorke's unsettled musings with thunderous floor toms and chilling, distorted arpeggios that pay off with a cathartic crescendo.
Alex Hudson

9. "Codex"
The King of Limbs (2011)



The King of Limbs is the only true misstep of Radiohead's career — but the short, uneven LP finds its groove on side B with an excellent run of songs. In particular, "Codex" is peaceful to the point of narcotic, the watery flange on the piano evoking Yorke's lyrics about jumping into a "clear lake." With horns that wash in on a wave of reverb and bubbling strings, it deftly balances uneasiness with pure bliss.
Alex Hudson

8. "Talk Show Host"
"Street Spirit (Fade Out)" single (1996)



Cut during the same session that birthed "Lucky," this highly touted B-side finds Radiohead delving deeper into the trip-hop influence of the mid-'90s. The back-and-forth between moody bass and guitar underscores Yorke's threat — or tease, even — "You want me? / Fuckin' well come and find me / I'll be waiting." The song hews even closer to this fusion genre in the hands of Nelle Hooper, whose smoothed-out remix may be even more familiar thanks to its inclusion on the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet.
Calum Slingerland

7. "Karma Police"
OK Computer (1997)



The midway marker of OK Computer is as wryly humorous as it is wary, as Yorke's enervated gestures at fridge buzz, radio static and a "Hitler hairdo" coast on the song's arresting melodic twists and turns, inspired by the Beatles' "Sexy Sadie." The feelings peak as he sings, sounding close to collapse, "I've given all I can, it's not enough." Some reprieve is found in the chorus and its tiptoeing piano — despite the frontman's gentle warning, "This is what you'll get / When you mess with us" — before the song's final section snaps back to reality, only for reverberating vocals and a looping, effects-heavy outro to usher in another breakdown.
Calum Slingerland

6. "True Love Waits"
A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)



Emphasis on "waits." This song dates back to the mid-'90s, at which point it was a lovestruck acoustic serenade, presumably directed towards Yorke's then-new partner, Rachel Owen. It took on a few forms over the years, but never made it onto an album until 2016's A Moon Shaped Pool — a mournful album released in the wake of Yorke and Owen's separation. In this new context, and with a deconstructed piano arrangement adding a haunting edge to Yorke's pleas of "Don't leave," it's absolutely devastating.
Alex Hudson

5. "Everything in Its Right Place"
Kid A (2000)



Reflecting on the writer's block and mental hurdles he had overcome during the making of Kid A in a 2021 interview, Yorke specifically recalled how he would "endlessly" play the main chord progression of "Everything in Its Right Place" in an effort to "meditate out of" his depression. Knowing that, the ruminative quality of the song reveals itself in its many layers. You feel the frontman make a breakthrough when he sings the calming, mantric chorus, only for the rising main chord sequence to take hold again, as if scaling the peaks and valleys of mental health alongside him. "What was that you tried to say?" Yorke questions, his own ask threatened to be drowned out by myriad warped vocal snippets ahead of reaching stability, if not clarity.
Calum Slingerland

4. "Pyramid Song"
Amnesiac (2001)



The lead single from Amnesiac is built upon some of Radiohead's most foundational compositional building blocks highlighted in this list. Its elegiac, undulating chord progression — composed the same week as that of "Everything in Its Right Place" — leaves Yorke to set the scene as he drifts down the river as if in Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, sailing on to an afterlife with "nothing to fear, nothing to doubt." Once more, Greenwood took the Orchestra of St John's to church, directing them to swing their strings as if playing in a jazz band, a moving mirror to Yorke's topline vocal melody as Selway's drums stutter to life. There are few songs that can speak to the sorrow, serenity and acceptance of death in the way this one does.
Calum Slingerland

3. "Paranoid Android"
OK Computer (1997)



A six-and-a-half-minute epic without a chorus boldly placed as OK Computer's second track and lead single, "Paranoid Android" is Gen X's answer to "Bohemian Rhapsody." This dizzying suite begins as a creepy lullaby, combusts with speaker-blown alt-rock and ascends heavenward as a haunting hymn — before finally being sucked down into hell with a squalling guitar freakout. The sheer compositional mastery is awe-inspiring on a cerebral level, while Yorke's lyrics are pure venomous emotion, as he seethes about a "kicking and squealing Gucci little piggy" and warns, "When I am king, you will be first against the wall." Even as Radiohead offer lofty critiques on modern life, they're right down here in the shit with the rest of us.
Alex Hudson

2. "Weird Fishes / Arpeggi"
In Rainbows (2007)



It's wild that a song like "Weird Fishes / Arpeggi" exists at all. That it exists — and that it's even arguable that it's not Radiohead's single greatest achievement — is nearly impossible to believe. "Weird Fishes / Arpeggi" is the nucleus of Radiohead's greatness, an insurmountably beautiful song that doesn't walk the line between warmth and chill but liquefies it completely. It's proof positive that, at their peerless best, Radiohead can draw tears from eyes and tease rhythm from hips like no other, accessors of an airborne grace. "I'll hit the bottom and escape," Yorke sings over the tangled, constantly dissolving outro — but "Weird Fishes / Arpeggi" sounds more like a peak, the kind of height that's come to define a near-indefinable band.
Kaelen Bell

1. "Idioteque"
Kid A (2000)



​​Over two decades on from its release, it's remarkable how in-tune "Idioteque" remains with "everything, all of the time," befitting of a world and culture insistent on keeping people distracted, if not amused, to death. As its dominant kick and snare pattern rounds into form, a technological throughline emerges from the song's samples of early computer music of the '70s through to the "mobiles chirping" as society's well-heeled bagmen make off with the money, pulling the ladder up behind them as you and yours take shelter from the fallout of their avarice. "We're not scaremongering / This is really happening," Yorke urges in the second verse, in something of an effort to rouse those left paralyzed by rampant consumption, the threat of environmental collapse, the insistence of "both sides" and the push-pull between seeing too much or not enough — a lyrical vision of our present he quite literally drew from a hat. Ultimately, through all the compounding crises of our unsettling, often unbearably stupid present, it is the joy of laughing until your head falls off, dancing through chaotic rhythms like this, that keeps us alive.
Calum Slingerland