Ranking the 5 Best Songs on the Classic Radiohead Album ‘The Bends’

Radiohead made the leap to rock hero status around the world with their 1997 album OK Computer. But two years earlier, they had already delivered a standout rock album with The Bends. It just took everyone a little while longer to catch on to their greatness.

Videos by American Songwriter

The Bends contains some of the songs most beloved by the band’s faithful. Here are our choices for the Top 5 on the album.

5. “My Iron Lung”

If you only know Radiohead post-OK Computer, you might be surprised at how hard they rock on The Bends. With the brawny guitars of Jonny Greenwood leading the way, they thrashed their way about on several songs on the album, including “My Iron Lung.” In this case, the thunderous backdrop proves particularly suitable for Thom Yorke’s ominous exhortations. It’s clear from the lyrics Yorke was already frustrated with the expectations placed upon his band, comparing it to being trapped in the titular medical device with little chance of escape.

4. “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”

Radiohead has hinted in the past they use the last songs on their albums as a way of pointing toward the direction they’re heading next. Considering OK Computer was next on their agenda following The Bends, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” makes a lot of sense in that context. Its disturbing visions and feelings of helplessness in the face of modern pressures would have made it a very good fit on the following album. Yorke tries to work his way out of it in the hypnotic chorus, while urging others to do the same with his final bellow: Immerse yourself in love.

3. “The Bends”

Here’s another track where the encroaching forces surrounding Yorke seem far too overwhelming for him to overcome. Where other people see simple pleasures, such as having a nice conversation with one’s girlfriend in a bar, he sees a mundane routine. Luckily, the music around him keeps revving up into a muscular fever pitch. And it even delivers him to a kind of release, rising to an even higher peak as he screams out, I wanna live, breathe / I wanna be a part of the human race. The insinuation is that what we consider living in the modern world is more like existing.

2. “Black Star”

Radiohead usually steers clear of obvious topics in their work, which is why you don’t hear an abundance of songs from them about love and romantic relationships. But when they do address that theme, their innate idiosyncrasy, especially in Yorke’s lyrical approach, helps those particular songs carve out their own unique territory. “Black Star” is just such a song. There are enough crunching guitars to keep the song from getting sappy. In the chorus, the helpless narrator looks for astral reasons why his connection with his lover has been irreparably severed.

1. “Fake Plastic Trees”

Radiohead has always drawn people in with some of the experimental flourishes that have immeasurably embellished their music. But it’s hard to imagine they would have gone very far if they weren’t also songwriting craftsmen. “Fake Plastic Trees” comes on as a song about a relationship and the narrator’s struggles to live up to the expectations of his significant other. But Yorke hints at an overall malaise that makes this narrator question the reality of everything around him. Meanwhile, the music rises effortlessly to majesty once those guitars kick in for the final verse.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage

Leave a Reply

Stevie Nicks Subtly Shouts Out Taylor Swift At California Show

Stevie Nicks Gives an “Iconic” Nod to Taylor Swift at California Show

Tommy Lee Calls Motley Crue's New Music a 'Rebirth'

Tommy Lee Talks “Rebirth” of Mötley Crüe and Their New Energy With John 5