Radiohead - The Bends

A classic album from a classic band

For the first album in Guitar Lessons London’s 5 Great Guitar Albums series of blogs, we’ve chosen Radiohead’s The Bends. When considering Radiohead’s extensive discography it’s difficult to choose one album to sum up the band’s guitar work. Their sound has changed significantly throughout the two and a half decades they’ve been a band. The early grunge of Pablo Honey turned into the sometimes delicate, sometimes thrashy, always-passionate guitar work of OK Computer, which subsequently became the intricate guitar playing on 2008’s In Rainbows, a critical and commercial success that could easily be featured in this list. However, we’ve chosen The Bends for a number of reasons - not because it exemplifies Radiohead’s musical style or even guitar playing style, but because the variety of guitar work on the album is so excellent, and produces so many fantastic tunes, that it’s certainly worth revisiting.

Street Spirit Single

Influenced by history, influencing the future

The Bends is a classic rock album, truly an album of its time, indebted to the grunge of bands like Nirvana and the guitar effects of R.E.M, whilst also signifying a more mature sound for Radiohead, a move away from their debut Pablo Honey. The mix of abrasive guitar tracks (The Bends) and softer, subtler tracks (Street Spirit), as well as a mix of the two (Fake Plastic Trees) shows their development towards future success and critical acclaim with OK Computer. Thom Yorke’s unique falsetto compliments both types of tracks, fitting perfectly over both clean strumming chords of High and Dry and distorted spiralling guitar lines of Just. The variety of guitar sounds is very noticeable – Ed O’Brien’s gentle, clean strumming or picking can immediately be overcome by Jonny Greenwood’s snarling, thrashing, distorted guitar in a variety of jerky rhythms. My Iron Lung’s lead guitar line can be likened to that of later Radiohead song Paranoid Android, proving the influence this album had on the band’s future material.


In fact, the album is frequently cited as one of the greatest albums of all time. Almost every song is a classic, with highlights including Just, My Iron Lung, Fake Plastic Trees and Street Spirit (Fade Out). Its influence proved far reaching, spawning bands such as Coldplay, Keane, and even singer-songwriters like James Blunt, heavily influenced by Thom Yorke’s spiralling, high-pitched falsetto. The album is x4 platinum with over 1.2 million certified record sales. Truly a great guitar record!

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