Last week, Radiohead issued a surprise release of “Burn the Witch,” the first single from their brand new album. How does it measure up with their previous lead singles? From worst to best, here's one take on how the first singles from each of Radiohead's albums stack up.
9. Optimistic (from Kid A, 2000)
Radiohead's masterpiece of weirdness, Kid A, actually didn't have an official single. But American radio stations decided to play “Optimistic,” making it the de facto single. “Optimistic” is a quality rock song, so it really doesn't deserve its spot at the bottom of this list, but something has to rank last. And since it wasn't a true single to begin with, “Optimistic” pulls up the rear on this countdown.
8. Lotus Flower (from The King of Limbs, 2011)
The mesmerizing syncopated drum punches made “Lotus Flower” memorable, but they weren't enough to sustain the track for a full five minutes. The song was just fine as an album track, but as a lead single, it underwhelmed. Then again, releasing it as a single allowed Thom Yorke to dance around like a maniac in the promotional clip, which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Music Video.
7. Jigsaw Falling Into Place (from In Rainbows, 2008)
The acoustic guitar intro to “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” briefly recalled “Paranoid Android” before the song veered in a different direction with its busy drums and Yorke's humming. In Rainbows was seen as something of a return to form for Radiohead, and its lead single reminded listeners that the group could be melodic and even borderline fun at times.
6. Burn the Witch (from A Moon Shaped Pool, 2016)
The band announced its long-awaited comeback this month with “Burn the Witch,” a track built around staccato strings that give the song an underlying urgency which never relents. The paranoid lyrics are classic Yorke – “Abandon all reason / Avoid all eye contact / Do not react / Shoot the messengers / This is a low flying panic attack,” he sings – and the track fades out with perhaps the greatest string buildup since the Beatles' “A Day in the Life.”
5. Pyramid Song (from Amnesiac, 2001)
As a single, “Pyramid Song” didn't make much sense. Its bizarre arrangement (fans have argued for years on message boards about its true time signature) and slow pace ensured that it would never get played on rock radio, and it got very few spins on MTV after its premiere. But there was something beautifully haunting about the ballad and Thom Yorke's falsetto cooing.
4. There There (from Hail to the Thief, 2003)
Hail to the Thief remains a vastly underrated album, and its lead single is no exception. “Just cause you feel it doesn't mean it's there” was Radiohead's catchiest hook in years. That, along with with the booming drums, helped make “There There” one of the group's most popular songs.
3. Creep (from Pablo Honey, 1993)
For years, Radiohead distanced themselves from their breakthrough hit, believing it wasn't the best representation of their music. But there's a reason “Creep” remains their biggest success on the U.S. charts. The angsty lyrics and that explosive, crunching riff made it one of the most unforgettable rock songs of the grunge era.
2. High and Dry (from The Bends, 1995)
When “High and Dry” came out, some people were surprised that the band behind “Creep” was capable of creating a song with such beauty. But this was merely one of several gems from The Bends. Yorke once said he thought “High and Dry” was a “very bad” song. He's completely wrong. Driven by acoustic guitar, “High and Dry” was simply a gorgeous rock song.
1. Paranoid Android (from OK Computer, 1997)
Often referred to as Radiohead's “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Paranoid Android” was the centerpiece of the landmark OK Computer album. The supreme ambition is on display in the sprawling nature of the track, ranging from the guitar opening to the creepy-voiced mid-song breakdown to the electric guitar bursts that close out the track. Remarkably, the song was once more than 10 minutes long before the group edited it down for the studio album version. “Paranoid Android” reigns as the best lead single from any Radiohead album.