The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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A few notes on daily blogging § Stock and flow / 2017-11-20 19:52:47
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Meet the Attendees – edcampoc § The generative web event / 2017-02-27 10:18:17
Does Your Digital Business Support a Lifestyle You Love? § Stock and flow / 2017-02-09 18:15:22
Daniel § Stock and flow / 2017-02-06 23:47:51
Kanye West, media cyborg – MacDara Conroy § Kanye West, media cyborg / 2017-01-18 10:53:08
Inventing a game – MacDara Conroy § Inventing a game / 2017-01-18 10:52:33
Losing my religion | Mathew Lowry § Stock and flow / 2016-07-11 08:26:59
Facebook is wrong, text is deathless – Sitegreek !nfotech § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2016-06-20 16:42:52

Age of majority

Radiohead’s new album King of Limbs dropped on Friday, prompting much love from the Twittersphere. Maybe too much. The British band hits a kind of sweet spot for the educated set: progressive contemporary music that’s equally accessible whether you’re into old-school prog/classic rock, 90s alternative, or 00s house. Still, some of the exchanges seemed a little, um, exuberant:

Still, I think music fans and cultural observers need to grapple with this a little: Radiohead’s first album, Pablo Honey, came out 18 years ago. Here’s another way to think about it: when that album came out, I was 13; now I’m 31. And from at least The Bends to the present, they’ve commanded the attention of the musical press and the rock audience as one of the top ten — or higher — bands at any given moment. You might have loved Radiohead, you might have been bored by them, you might have wished they’d gone back to an earlier style you liked better, but you always had to pay attention to them, and know where you stood. For 18 years. That’s an astonishing achievement.

Here are some comparisons. The Rolling Stones have obviously outdone everyone in the rock longevity department; even if they were sometimes a punchline, they’ve made solid music and have always been insanely profitable. But really, if you take the stretch from 1964’s The Rolling Stones to 1981’s Tattoo You — which is actually mostly a B-sides album of leftovers from 1978’s Some Girls — that’s only 17 years. If you just do their first album through Some Girls, it’s only 14 years. And that’s when the Stones basically stop evolving as a band and stop being a crucial signpost for popular music.

Very few other rock bands last that long. The Beatles didn’t. Talking Heads didn’t. The Pixies and The Velvet Underground obviously didn’t. The Who only had 13 years between their first album and Keith Moon’s overdose. When Bruce Springsteen had a hit with “Streets of Philadelphia” eighteen years after Born To Run, it was an amazing comeback. R.E.M. had about 20 years of fairly consistent attention between “Radio Free Europe” and Reveal, but that’s an unknown underground band on one end and a kind of boring washed-up band on the other with a peak in the middle.

The Flaming Lips are still pushing it. U2’s been going for about 30 years, although they’ve lost a lot of cred along the way that Radiohead hasn’t. Bob Dylan is a freak. But this is the level we’re talking about here: U2, Dylan, and Radiohead. It’s worth tipping your cap. And watching some videos.


I would take issue with your assessment of the Rolling Stones; the ’80s were kind of a drought for them, but they’ve had at least two really strong albums since then (Voodoo Lounge and A Bigger Bang) which stand up very well alongside their strongest work. I’m not sure they qualify as “evolutionary” in the Radiohead sense, but they are good examples of doing fresh-feeling work with an established set of tools. Seismic shifts can be very necessary at times, but I worry that more granular progress (which can be just as necessary) will be dismissed as unimportant.

But then I also think it’s a mistake to make comparisons with bands like the Beatles; musical culture–even inside of pop music–became fractured in the ’70s in a way the Beatles never had to deal with, and might not have even been able to deal with, given how obvious they were about appropriating their influences.

Tim Carmody says…

Your last point about the Beatles and the evolution of musical culture hits on something I’ve been thinking, but didn’t quite say. Yes, you can say that Radiohead’s an evolutionary band, but it’s been a pretty intra-species evolution, with fewer of the fits and jumps of someone like David Bowie or even the convolutions The Beatles had to make (along with everyone else) in a much shorter time frame. I mean, even the “new”/”experimental” stuff that Radiohead’s added to their alternative rock foundation over the last fifteen years isn’t anything that would be unrecognizable to smart musical audiences in 1993.

Is part of the reason Radiohead has been able to be successful mining a tight cluster of styles for so long actually that they’re basically doing the same thing The Stones did — mine a well-established set of permutations and influences with great craft and taste? — but it’s just that pretty much everybody else we listen to is doing that too?

But remember one other variable: Radiohead may have been around for 18 years, but this is only their eighth record. Compare:

Rolling Stones between ’64 and ’78: 16 studio albums (in the U.S.) in 15 years
Beatles between ’63 and ’70: 17 studio albums (in the U.S.) in eight years
R.E.M. between ’80 and ’96 (the Berry years): 10 studio albums in 17 years

Radiohead’s put out about 80 minutes of music in the past eight years. The music business has obviously changed a lot since the ’60s or ’70s, and releases tend to get more spaced out as a band establishes itself, but I think at least part of Radiohead’s staying power is that they have a business model that lets it make sense to produce music rarely enough that a release is a punctuating event.

(Thought experiment: Imagine John, Paul, George, and Ringo magically transformed to, say, 1993. Would we have seen anything like the fast-paced evolution you see in the first five years of The Beatles if those years were in the Clinton administration?)

Tim Carmody says…

This is a smart point. Let me suggest another analogy (I’m all about analogies today). Radiohead’s on a different schedule that makes it easier to stay on top. It’s sort of like being a U.S. Senator; once you’re in, it’s hard to get rid of you, because you only have to run for re-election every six years, it’s hard to raise money for statewide races, and unless there’s a real ideological shift, it’s pretty easy to position yourself as a moderate, deliver a lot of pork to your state and stay on top.

Daniel Inouye’s been a senator for 48 years, but he’s only had to run for election 8 times. It’s still impressive — but if you compare that to Richard J. and Richard M. Daley in Chicago, who had political strangleholds on their cities and seemed to have been around forever — they actually only served as mayor for like 20-22 years. Which, again, is damned impressive. But it required a completely different set of conditions for it to happen.

Kyle says…

You, of course, neglected to mention Sonic Youth, surely the kings of this category, as they’ve been performing (and relevant) for *30* years now. Followed pretty closely by Yo La Tengo (27 years).

For more mainstream groups, try the Red Hot Chili Peppers (26 years) or The Foo Fighters (18 years) (and Dave Grohl was in some other band before that …. which brings up another point, you kind of slag on The Beatles for only going on 8 years, but those guys continued to make relevant music all through the 70s, plus David Byrne and Frank Black are still on the scene …)

List of artists formed between 1990 and 1994 who are still critically and commercially relevant:

Dave Matthews Band, Modest Mouse, Beck, Daft Punk, Spoon, Wilco, Apples in Stereo, Weezer, Deerhoof, Cake, Rancid, Green Day, Sloan, Ben Folds/Ben Folds Five

Just to dilute your point a little. : )

Ewan Pearson brought up Sonic Youth the other day on Twitter, to which I replied, “One question is why we care so much about Radiohead – not Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Flaming Lips, Björk, even Beck.” And: “I mean, you and I care about Sonic Youth, like we care about Eno or Scott Walker or Bill Callahan — but they’re not Radiohead.”

Ewan said (smartly): “I guess ’cause they span the art / popular / success divide in a way no-one else really has in ages. In Rainbows still floors me.”

It isn’t completely about longevity, or quality, or even popular success, but the intersection of the three. For instance, I love Bill Callahan, who formerly recorded as Smog; he’s been making albums for more than twenty years, and I think all of them are great. But Callahan’s always floated well below the surface of mainstream attention, and his new albums, no matter how well received, aren’t really events even in the indie blogosphere. He’s just not at the same level of attention.

And I’d say for the last decade, maybe the last fifteen years, Sonic Youth or Yo La Tengo have only been maybe a tick or two up from that. They are not at the level of cultural attention that Radiohead has enjoyed consistently over that same fifteen-year-period. I love those bands; I wish I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass sold 500K copies; but it didn’t.

At the same time, I should say — I never claimed to be exhaustive with my comparisons; I’m just trying to open it up. I’d say Wilco deserves the same consideration; it’s kind of amazing to me that Modest Mouse has been going strong for 15+ years; Green Day has proved remarkably resilient; and so forth. These are bands whose longevity (and devoted fan base and critical acclaim over that period) means we need to start thinking about them differently, historically, than maybe we have been doing so far.

To use a baseball analogy, it’s a little bit like looking at Albert Pujols’ stat sheet and saying, “wow, I always knew this guy was amazing, an all-star, probably the best hitter in baseball — but if he stays healthy, he might end up being the best first baseman in history. Better than Lou Gehrig.” Which, at least, for me, is kind of a “holy shit” moment to have with a player who is two months younger than me.

Eugene Chan says…

What about Van Morrison? Brown Eyed Girl in 67 to Celtic New Year in 2005.

Maybe not so much on the radar, but he keeps making albums.

I think there’s a simple criterion: has a long-lived act become a tribute-band version of itself, or not? Do concert goers only want to hear the oldies, or is the new stuff yielding ovations too?

By that measure, you can separate Radiohead and U2 and Green Day from the Stones, AC/DC, and what’s left of the Who. I think there’s also a difference between a band and a solo act. As long as they don’t die or retire, acts like Eric Clapton or Snoop Dogg can keep going and going. They may still be their own cover acts, but maintaining a band is a much bigger effort and achievement.

Walter McGrain says…

The only problem is, most people don’t even know who Radiohead is, but most people know who the Beatles are even though they haven’t been around for 40 years.

Sure, Radiohead is big amongst a certain set of people (the SWPL crowd) must many people don’t even know a single one of their songs (other then perhaps “Creep” which even the band has tried to distance itself from.)

Tim Carmody says…

I don’t think you can write Radiohead off as a hipster/Stuff White People Like thing. Okay, maybe mostly. But if you had to pick a prototypical hipster band, I don’t think it’d be Radiohead, but maybe more like Vampire Weekend, LCD Soundsystem, etc.

You can’t discount that, like Wilco, Flaming Lips, The White Stripes, and The Arcade Fire, Radiohead has got a significant dad-rock crossover audience exactly because they sound enough like classic rock touchstones like The Beatles and Pink Floyd, and alt-rock touchstones like The Pixies, etc. If you’re a 55-year-old looking for a “cool” contemporary band to get into, Radiohead is a natural choice. I really think that’s a big part of their wide appeal, and why they’ve been able to keep their heads above a lot of their indie rock contemporaries.

M.G. Stevens says…

While I love Radiohead (and came late to the party, only a few years ago..) using the words “bigger than” and “Beatles” in the same sentence can’t be justified on any level – for any pop/rock music act. Pick an area: hits, sales, influence, output, relevance, impact, staying power… Just can’t make that case work no-how. I agree that to keep the same crew together and to continue to evolve and make compelling music over almost 20 years gets them into a rare club, but come on… Are you just bored and looking to stir the poop, or what?

I just did the download of The King Of Limbs and am waiting for about half of it to grab me – I recall not getting all of In Rainbows on the first listen, either. So, no slag on the Oxford boys, but The Fabs can still kick their collective asses – and half of them are dead!

Of course, it’s not a competition, is it? It’s art!

Tim Carmody says…

Yeah, like I said above, I responded to the “Radiohead > Beatles” tweet from Patrick LaForge pretty quickly with “I don’t know if Radiohead > The Pixies.” And really, I don’t.

But while I know exactly where I’d come down in that argument — and I think 99% of people would agree with me — the fact of making the comparison no longer seems inherently ridiculous to me. They’ve put up the goods at a high enough peak for a sufficiently long period of time that they’re part of a very select club now.

Bryan says…

I’m a little late to the discussion, but I would say the comparison has been pretty valid at least since In Rainbows came out. Purely from the perspective of sheer song quantity/quality, Radiohead are competitive with The Beatles. At this point, they have 7 very high quality albums and a pretty vast array of b-sides from throughout their career that by and large are of a quality with the a-sides.

The truth is that The Beatles are put on a fairly lofty pedestal that no modern group can hope to live up to simply due to how much the music culture has changed (as someone else mentioned above). But it also makes music discussion less interesting, because the shadow of The Beatles is always hanging around. No one will ever be as popular/influential/etc. as they were and that’s just a fact of life, but that shouldn’t stop us from taking seriously (i.e., without being utterly scandalized) the opinion that some bands are better. There are a hell of a lot of great bands out there, and no reason to let one that hasn’t been around for 40 years cloud every discussion.

The real magic of Radiohead, for me, is the way that they turned the corner from being a quintessential one-hit-wonder band on Pablo Honey (which is a terrible album) to earning a career on The Bends. Not many acts do that. (Stone Temple Pilots in a parallel universe might be a similar example–where Core was largely considered a Pearl Jam ripoff, and then they did something different on Purple, except that Core is actually a pretty solid album, which hold up every bit as well as Ten, if not better, and I think Purple, etc. sound much more dated.)

I’m really not sure that Radiohead lives up to the Stones at their best, and I’m not a huge Stones fan, but The Bends holds up. As simple as it is, there’s not much they’ve done since then that doesn’t have its roots in 1995.

TomSawyer says…

I’ve been listen to Radiohead since I was 31, and still get the tingles when I hear ‘that noise’ from Creep, anything from OKC or KidA, and mostly anything Thome feels like singing.

But I’ve been listening to RUSH since I was 12 or 13, and they have been changing their sound while still being RUSH for 37 years now. Listen to some of the musicians interviewed about them for the documentary “Beyond The Lighted Stage”, and you’ll see the influence and love for those 3 amazing musicians, The Holy Triumvirate of Heavy Rock. Not to be confused with the Texas Triumvirate, ZZTop certainly deserves mention, even though their music hasn’t strayed too far from R&B Rock, their live shows ARE a show, and they’ve been doing it their way for a few decades.

Radiohead and Rush have both been trailblazers, and neither is all that worried if the rock press, or the nominal hall of fame, ‘gets it’.
I can’t even fathom if those 2 bands merged for a project, so much talent and musical imagination in one place, whatever came out of that would be damn hard to dance to, but I’d want it along for a mission to Mars, or a visit with Syd Barrett.

Time and space prohibit me from listing Bands Better than The Beatles here, many have been named above, and more will likely be named below…

and any fans of classical piano will know of “True Love Waits”,
Christopher O’Riley Plays Radiohead. It just shuffled up on the pod, seemed it wanted a mention. check.

A lot of prog rock/classic rock fans despise Radiohead, particularly the King Crimson-Rush-guitar-cock-gymnastic fan. While Radiohead is kinda prog-ish, they’re pretty minimalist. Their songs rarely go over 7 minutes. Paranoid Android, which is their most “prog-ish” is 6:23. I’m making this point of prog rock and length because if you take away the pastiche lyricism, the odd time signature (Phil Seway is a machine of a drummer) and the blippy bloppies of intelligent electronica, they just make interesting pop music and that’s why they have a broader appeal and have endured.

Tim Carmody says…

I’m using “prog” in a pretty loose way, thinking of the more psychedelic/experimental pop, less roots-rock side of classic rock: Pink Floyd, The Beatles’ White Album, Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers, Can — like Radiohead, they all hit that sweet spot.

And yes — it’s the overlap of all of those styles, of all of those audiences, that makes it work.

I’m thinking about something Dave Grohl said in a long-ago VH1 special about hard rock: “you could be a punk rock kid with a Mötörhead patch on your jacket.” Some bands have that crossover appeal, and Radiohead is one of them.

Sean V. says…

Radiohead is definitely a band that has evolved with time, but more so, they’ve adapted to *the times* they are living in. While “The Bends,” “OK Computer” and “Kid A” were all incredible albums, it was “In Rainbows” that was the game-changer, for the fact that they did something no other band did or attempted to do: let people pay whatever they wanted to for the album. It generated a buzz like no other.

Before “In Rainbows,” there was little fanfare for “Amnesiac” or “Hail to the Thief.” You could say that the “pay whatever you want” was a gimmick, but the thing is, “In Rainbows” is an amazing album. As a result, up until the release of “The King of Limbs,” we were all left wondering, “What are they gonna do next?” — it’s an element of surprise that no other band these days can really claim to have.

And announcing “The King of Limbs” the Monday before its release, then releasing it a day early (!), Radiohead showed that not only do they not need a record company, but as a result of that, they can be more interesting (also, none of this would be possible if there was no internet).

The trick for Radiohead was that early on, they established their rabid fan base, then later had the smarts to take advantage of technology. (The only other artist I can think of that’s done something similar is Kanye West with his “G.O.O.D. Friday” releases. But that’s whole other conversation… ) So while, yes, Radiohead has had longevity because of their music, they’ve also done so because of their ingenuity.

PS: @Gavin, I recently re-listened to “Pablo Honey,” and it’s not nearly as awful as I recall. Listen to “Blowout” and you’ll hear shades of what was to come from them…

Blow Out is still an amazing song. There’s a live version I came across that is absolutely one of the best guitar tracks I’ve ever heard. It’s a shame the song wasn’t saved for Ok Computer or The Bends, as their musical creativity from that era would have brought that song to ridiculous heights.

Motorhead 1975 till 2011, still going strong, new material, always relevant, many, many fans – worldwide.

And Lemmy could rip Thom York apart in a fist fight even at twice his age.

Marc says…

Good topic/conversation. I’m really interested in this question of what makes this band great and what sustains our interest for such a long time. I think its interesting how different our expectations and requirements are for music artist vs visual artists. If you look at Picasso in his later career, you’re not going to see too much of the more literal, easily digestible work he did earlier in his career. He took his art as far as he could and whether you liked his later work, the audience continued to appreciate him and hold him in esteem. He did not have to reshow his audience his ability to do the type of work he initially became famous for. And yet with bands, their longevity and success often appears to require them to revisit and restate their earlier work in order to maintain the love and support of their audience. I love In Rainbows, truly, but I love it for the same reason I love The Bends and OK Computer. I think it served a purpose to remind people of their ability to generate great popular work resembling their earlier work. If they had only focused on taking their music out to the extreme, I’m less sure of whether they would have maintained their large audience (kind of like Sonic Youth).

Another point. I think you correctly point to the “what”, i.e. longevity, popularity, but perhaps the “how” is as significant. In particular, I think there are certain artists that capture the zeitgeist (hate that word) of a generation. I think Radiohead’s lyrics and music both spoke to and created a musical environment that captures the isolation and complexities of the computer generation in a way no one else had/has. Further, they did so in many respects in advance of when it actually took hold within our society; so they end up with a “visionary” quality to them. Like the Beatles, they were not the first, but the first to capitalize on a new musical environment and a new world view. This catapults them into the same category. Like someone else commented, the fracturing of the musical community prevents them from having the same level of popularity/appeal, but they will be just as large a historical reference point.

nlander says…

While Radiohead has continually evolved and our conversations are often centered around how much they are evolving with each album they release, I really don’t think this is how they approach making music. They haven’t sat down to make an album and said to themselves, “Let’s really try and evolve our sound on this next one, guys.” Instead, they have just devoted themselves to releasing nothing less than the very best music they are capable of making. They haven’t limited themselves to either moving away from the styles of their previous albums or sticking to those styles. So while it’s fun as a fan to see how they have evolved, the more important factor in their staying power is their perfectionism. This can be frustrating for us devotees because it means Radiohead is much less prolific than many artists, but the payoff is ultimately worth it. I think everything Radiohead has released from The Bends to The King of Limbs is nothing short of perfect, and Pablo Honey isn’t too shabby either. Personally, Radiohead’s music speaks to my soul on a level deeper than any other music I have ever heard. That is why they will always remain my ultimate favorite band.

Though this is where my personal taste lies, I realize that other approaches to making music often yield incredible results. Many bands are much less perfectionistic, but produce music that gains much of its appeal from the raw, high energy feel. Imperfection in music can also make it great.

As for how Radiohead compares to other big names, I think it is really difficult to find a relevant factor for making these kinds of comparisons. Listening to music is ultimately a subjective experience, and the number of people who like or pay attention to a band will never change the way I feel about that band’s music. I may use information about who likes certain types of music in choosing what new music to listen, but the listening experience remains a very personal one.

Just to make sure everyone in the Snarkmatrix here understands that I was *not* kidding about Stereolab, a couple details:

* Super-Electric (the band’s second EP) was released in 1990 (21 years ago by my count), and if you’ve ever been to a Stereolab show, you know that old-timers like me still shout out requests for the titular track of that particular production.

* In that 21 years, Stereolab has released 10 studio albums and 7 compilations of their countless singles and b-sides and crazy colored vinyl 7-inches commemorating certain tours, etc.

* I once paid $2 to see Stereolab at Loeb Student Center at NYU (in the mid-90s, before it was replaced with some sort of Mr.-Burns-blocks-out-the-sun structure). This was an amazing $2.

* I have worn the crap out of every Stereolab t-shirt I ever bought, except for the ones that were WAY too small (stupid pre-hipster sizing in late 1990s NYC). That orange one from the Emperor Tomato Ketchup tour? I wore it until the armpits and collar were both totally ripped open.

* The day Radiohead’s Kid A came out, I was sitting at the counter at my favorite vegan restaurant in New York when the indie-pre-hipster dude serving me my unturkey club sandwich put it on. After the first 15 seconds played, I asked him, incredulously, if it was a new Stereolab record.

Fairuz says…

Thom did listen to at least Emperor Tomato Ketchup between 1997’s OKC & 2000’s Kid A, as mentioned in w.a.s.t.e. 11.

“Diagonals” by Stereloab remains the best song to listen to in the morning evah.

Here’s how I was thinking about this: I get a bit irrationally irked when people say the reason Shakespeare has remained so relevant is because of the inherent genius in his work. Part of the reason for the veneration of Shakespeare is because the value system within which Shakespeare ‘is a genius’ gets reproduced generation after generation. That’s not the only reason he’s revered, of course; but it’s an aspect that gets overlooked.

So what if we looked at this the other way round? What set of values find their clearest expression in Radiohead, such that they have remained relevant and contemporary and ‘good’ for so long?

Is it their intellectualism? Or that their smarts are just nebulous enough not to be pinned down to a particular political ideology? Or is it aesthetic: that their forays into electronica have remained ‘grounded’ by a guitar, bass and drums? Or? I don’t really have any clear theories here.

Last point: I got into Radiohead late because I was too into grunge as a teen, but I feel like I’m alone in thinking that In Rainbows is their best. Anyone else?

Really interesting discussion you’ve generated here. I will be up front: I am an intense lover of music, and I still go out of my way to find new stuff to listen to, but I can’t put more than one or two bands in the same category. I also recognize that I’m not being objective about this; I love their stuff, and I’m a total sucker for it.

That said, I don’t think it’s subjective to say that bands like Dave Matthews, Green Day, or Ben Folds belong in the same discussion. I know dozens of people who have revered Radiohead for nearly 2 decades, and I don’t know ANYONE who feels that those bands have kept up to snuff over that time. They still record, and still may sell out some shows, but no one thinks they’re pushing music.

I can’t comment much on Sonic Youth. I haven’t given them a fair shot because I saw them perform an absolutely awful set at Lolapalooza in the mid 90s and have had a bad taste in my mouth since then. One thing is for sure: no one has asked me in at least 6-8 years “have you heard the new Sonic Youth?”

On the other hand, I will say that I’d bet that most people writing on this board are between 25 and 35 years of age, and I think that’s important. If you loved music and were 20 or 25 in the time of the Beatles, chances are you’ll never believe that anyone is as good. Also, when we were in our formative years, say 1995-2005ish, the American economy was pretty cushy (brief blip of suck if you were in tech in 2001ish), and I think that’s likely part of it too. Music is about experience, and if you were having the experiences that shaped you as a person to a soundtrack of Radiohead, you’re probably a fan. Same could be said for a lot of bands cross the chasm from good to great.

Tim Carmody says…

I think you may be right about the generational thing — I alluded to it a little bit when I said “when that album [Pablo Honey] came out, I was 13; now I’m 31.”

Radiohead emerged at a time when I was primed to be a fan of their brand of alternative, cerebral pop. I bought OK Computer right before I went to college. Was there a better/more stereotypical album to buy?

Let’s reverse the frame. I’m a pretty big Sonic Youth fan, but I didn’t mention them immediately in the thread. Is it possible for me to think of Sonic Youth the same way when their best, most defining work — I’ll say EVOL, Sister, and the incomparable Daydream Nation — came out when I was in grade school with no indie rock cred at all?* Did I mention REM and U2 because I actually did hear them on the radio then? Do I unconsciously think of Springsteen as a little washed-up because when I was getting serious about music in the early 90s, it seemed like he was?

* I should say that in the late 80s, while I had no indie cred, I had an absurd amount of hip-hop cred, going nuts over RUN-DMC, Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, N.W.A., LL Cool J, and (yes) a lot of pop/R&B stuff like Bobby Brown, Bell Biv Devoe, and Janet Jackson.

Also (this is kind of funny), I signed up for the Columbia Tape & Record Club, which was this very popular swindle where you got a bunch of cassettes cheap and then you had to buy a bunch more, and if you didn’t mail a letter back, they just sent tapes you didn’t want to your house and bill you for them. Anyways, they didn’t have a rap/hip-hop category, it was all lumped into R&B, so I wound up with a ridiculous amount of mature soul music for people in their 40s: Anita Baker, Freddie Jackson, the Levert family’s various post-O’Jays projects, Al B. Sure. Sometimes I still find myself singing those songs, just out of nowhere.

mdh says…

The only band to fairly compare them with is Pink Floyd. I’d say theyre almost there.

sloaner says…

U2’s only real ding before the last album was Pop. And I think the cred you talk about them losing has more to do with age and popularity more than anything else. I will agree that Radiohead has been on the leading side of the cutting edge in a way U2 hasn’t, but U2 did reinvent themselves a number of times in a way nobody ever has — including Radiohead.

Interested to see where Radiohead goes when they hit 50 like U2. Am I lucky that my 2 favorite bands have incredibly longevity or are they my favorite bands because of said longevity?

This, from Tim, is the key: “It isn’t completely about longevity, or quality, or even popular success, but the intersection of the three.” There are bands/artists that make absolutely brilliant music that garners incredible popular+critical acclaim, but fall off after one or two albums; bands/artists that have been consistently making excellent music for decades but that only a small sliver of the populace has heard of; bands/artists that have been selling concert tickets by the millions since before I was born (I’m 23) but who’s music really isn’t all that good (probably fewer of these, but they’re there). Radiohead is a band that has made consistently amazing music, for nearly two decades, and is adored by the majority of fans and critics alike, and they do all these things at a level probably unparalleled today.

Now, are they better than the Beatles? I feel the premise of the question is misguided. As has been said above, *so* much about the music industry has changed since then. A godfatherly (guardian after parents’ death, not “what have I done to deserve this”) figure in my life, who was alive during Beatlemania and may have actually seen them in the Cavern, explained to me that a very significant part of what enabled the Beatles to cast such a massive shadow over all popular music henceforth was that they were The First. Granted, their music was consistently excellent, and they were consistently loved by pretty much everyone with ears. But everyone before them, even figures as large as Elvis, got on a boat and crossed the ocean. They got in a rocket and went to the moon.

Has Radiohead also gone to the moon? Almost certainly. Again, the level at which they have achieved quality, longevity, and popular success with their music is matched by an incredibly select group of musicians, dating back through the 20th century. But I personally feel that they can never be “better” simply because it’s the Beatles’ flag sticking out of the rock, planted in 1964, with the words “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Given all that, though, like Tim also said above, “the fact of making the comparison no longer seems inherently ridiculous.”

Anathem says…

It’s funny, I grew up listening to the Beatles and remember playing Sgt. Pepper almost to death because nothing had ever sounded like it before. Then in the formative years that you people talk about, punk and New Wave appeared and it was cool (in a very destructive sort of way). None of those bands had legs though. Individual artists did survive though, and continue to do excellent work. You’ve mentioned David Byrne (cue snoring), but what about Tom Waits? And nobody here has even mentioned the amazingly talented Nick Cave (who I’ve seen probably a dozen times, both here and in Europe where he’s better known). These guys have been producing great work for over thirty years, but the crucial difference between them and Radiohead is that Radiohead sells. I realized when I saw them at that sold out show in Golden Gate Park and felt the palpable excitement of the crowd, that I was seeing this generation’s Beatles. Let’s all look forward to whoever the next generation spits out as a game changing band is.

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