In each episode of "Fake Plastic Podcast" I interviewed a music journalist, musicologist, or musician to dissect a song in Radiohead's discography. Notable guests included Pitchfork senior editor Ryan Dombal, Rolling Stone reporter Andy Greene, and former NPR host Christopher O'Riley (left). Fake Plastic Podcast quickly became the highest rated show about Radiohead on Apple Podcasts.
"Creep" / What Might Have Been
To discuss the evolution of Radiohead, we must contend with their first hit-single, "Creep." It was the song that catapulted them to stardom and to this day remains their most streamed and most recognizable song. Although scorned by numerous Radiohead fans and even by the band itself, "Creep" is inescapable. In this episode we'll focus specifically on the reception of "Creep" on MTV — at their MTV Beach House performance in 1993 and on an episode of Beavis and Butthead. But before that: a little history behind "Creep."
"Like Spinning Plates" / The Science of Radiohead
"Like Spinning Plates" might be one of the most experimental tracks Radiohead has produced. It appears near the end of their fifth studio album, Amnesiac. The tracks from Amnesiac were produced during the Kid A sessions. But rather than release a 20-track LP, the band decided to release the other songs a year later as a separate album. Brad Osborn, assistant professor at the Kansas University School of Music and author of Everything In Its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead will take us on a musicological exploration of "Like Spinning Plates." We'll discuss its bizarre origin story, how it follows the theme of memory on the album, and most of all, its distinct timbre.
On the Origin of Radiohead
Today's episode isn't about a specific song, but it does serve as a belated preface to the theme of our first season: Radiohead and the press. This season I'm interviewing journalists, authors, and musicologists. People on the outside looking in. And Barney Hoskyns's Present Tense: A Radiohead Compendium encapsulates this theme. It's the story of Radiohead from the critic's perspective—an anthology of profiles, reviews, and other journalistic pieces about the band, their work, and their various solo projects. Like the book, this episode starts with the group's early performances in Oxford, tracing their efforts through each album cycle until the present day. This is Radiohead for beginners.
"Paranoid Android" / OK Some Humor
With a few exceptions, like "Lotus Flower" or "15 Step," all Radiohead songs are a bit sad in their own way. But that's not to say that they're only sad. In this episode, Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic will uncover the unexpected humor of "Paranoid Android" and explain why identifying the humor is essential to fully understanding Radiohead's work.
How Radiohead Bridges Genres / Q&A with Christopher O'Riley
In our second episode, we learned about the various timbres Radiohead uses to craft a unique sonic landscape. From the chunky guitar riff of "Creep" to the eerie synth of "Like Spinning Plates," Radiohead is purposeful in the instruments and effects they choose to convey a message. So what happens when you boil all of those timbres into one instrument?
The answer is Christopher O'Riley. Through his albums True Love Waits and Hold Me To This, Christopher weaves the distinct instrumental voices of Radiohead into one solo piano interpretation. The result is mesmerizing.
In this interview he shares what he learned from transcribing Radiohead's music for piano and why he believes Radiohead's music, like that of the classical greats, will stand the test of time.
In Defense of "The King of Limbs"
After the tremendous success of In Rainbows, Radiohead fans expected an explosive follow-up record. Instead they received 37 minutes — the band's shortest yet — of synthesized loops, rhythmic layers, and restrained vocals. For that and other reasons, The King of Limbs is often found near the bottom of fans' "Best Of" lists. But Deepcuts creator Oliver Kemp argues that the album is beautiful and inventive in its own right, and that The King of Limbs: Live from the Basement brings this innovation to the forefront.
This broadcast was released about ten months after The King of Limbs and includes performances of all eight tracks from the record — as well as a few singles. Modeled after their previous live video album for In Rainbows, the sessions were produced by Nigel Godrich and televised internationally. Clive Deamer of Portishead joined Phil Selway to execute the album's complicated polyrhythms, while a horn section was added to fill out the sound of songs like "Bloom" and "Codex." Together, they breathed new life into these oft-maligned songs.
Between the Lines: Analyzing Radiohead's Lyrics
In this episode, Ken Partridge (senior editor at Genius) and I dissect the song "The Bends" — untangling the various meanings of its title and discussing how its past may change your interpretation. And then we'll hear from pianist David Bennett, who analyzes Radiohead's music and lyrics on his YouTube channel David Bennett Piano. He'll offer a fan's perspective on the lyrics of "Subterranean Homesick Alien" from OK Computer. Because some of the greatest lyrical interpretations I've heard have stemmed from fans who simply analyze Radiohead for fun.
"Nude" / A 10-Year Evolution
Whether they know it or not, fans who attend Radiohead performances are witnessing music history as it is being written. And I'm not just saying that because I'm obsessed enough with Radiohead to make a podcast about them. I say that because Radiohead often tests unreleased or in-progress songs through their live performances. Sometimes those tracks surface in the very next album — like "The Bends," which we discussed in our last episode. But sometimes they don't appear until several years later.
In this episode, we'll explore the history of "Nude" — the third track on the band's beloved seventh record, In Rainbows. We'll compare its early live performances to the final studio version and discuss what this tendency, to not release a song until the arrangement is just right, says about Radiohead as a band.
Sonic Allusions in "Idioteque" and "Pyramid Song"
In this episode we'll learn about the layers of musical history embedded in Radiohead's work from the Kid A sessions. Bob Fink, chair of the Music Industry Minor at UCLA's Herb Alpert School of Music, will discuss the musical influences that formed "Idioteque" and suggest how Kid A as a whole precursors contemporary music.
Then we'll hear from another musicologist from the UCLA School of Music: Jessica Schwartz. She'll examine "Pyramid Song," which was also developed during the Kid A sessions. Although recorded during the same period as "Idioteque," it was not released until the following year on the band's follow-up record, Amnesiac. And in contrast to the electronica of "Idiotque," "Pyramid Song" bears a greater resemblance to the music of jazz greats like Charles Mingus.
"Daydreaming" / Radiohead Come Full Circle
In this episode Pitchfork Senior Editor Ryan Dombal and I will explore A Moon Shaped Pool's reckoning with the past through the "Daydreaming" music video. Although this video spawned numerous fan theories, we'll condense these ideas into three distinct lenses of interpretation. We'll discuss why this open-endedness is one of the video's greatest strengths and what it reveals about Radiohead's attitude towards their fans.