Radiohead’s sophomore release marks its 20th anniversary this month, and although it may now be overshadowed by the records they recorded in the years that followed, The Bends was the album that saved the Oxford band from being just a footnote in ’90s rock.
The reaction to The Bends in 1995 can be seen as the exact opposite to debut Pablo Honey: their US record label worried there was no stand-out single like the now archived then wildly popular ‘Creep’, and there are rumours that an American release was very nearly shelved.
Instead of being a flash-in-the-pan, the album just stuck around – forcing the public and critics to pay attention with a stream of great singles and a whole record to back it up.
Although lacking some of the clinical finesse of the seminal follow-up OK Computer, The Bends was as much of a break-out moment for the band as Kid A was perceived five years later. Escaping those ‘Nirvana-lite’ comparisons whilst tactfully avoiding the nostalgia-fest that was the Britpop scene of the time.
To celebrate the album reaching its twenties, we’ve put together 20 facts you may not know about the record. We’re also willing to send the band a cake, but Thom’s not given us a forwarding address. Just the list it is then.
1. ‘Planet Telex’ featured an inebriated Thom Yorke
The album opener was one of the only tracks not to be written before the sessions began. According to the band themselves, the recording of ‘Planet Telex’ followed a heavy session of wine consumption, which resulted in Thom Yorke recording the vocals whilst lying on the floor.
2. John Leckie had bigger fish to fry
Radiohead had enlisted the magic touch of producer John Leckie for their follow-up to Pablo Honey as the band felt he was an especially good omen. Leckie, having worked with the likes of John Lennon, Syd Barret and Public Image Ltd, was naturally a sought-after man. When he was asked to do some ’emergency’ production work for ’90s shoegazers Ride, Radiohead had to postpone their studio sessions. The Ride album in question, Carnival Of Light, went on to receive a heavy critical panning.
3. The Bends is dedicated to comedian Bill Hicks
The band dedicated their album to firebrand comedian Bill Hicks, who had died a year before The Bends was released. A cult-figure in the UK but a stand-up that proved a little too near-the-knuckle for the mainstream US market – perhaps Radiohead saw some similarities, after 1994’s My Iron Lung EP failed to appeal to the same demographic that had latched on to ‘Creep’ in America.
4. The White Chocolate Farmboys
The album cover was the first to be designed by long-term artwork collaborator Stanley Donwood, who Yorke had met during his days as a art student in Exeter. The artist was 24 when he worked on The Bends front cover, which he has described as a time of ‘extreme poverty’ in his life, and the process involved filming footage of a CPR-doll on a very old video camera. Yorke’s collaboration on the artwork was credited under the moniker ‘The White Chocolate Farm’.
5. Why they called it The Bends
The medical definition of ‘the bends’ or decompression sickness, is described as an illness where deep sea divers rise too quickly to the surface – causing sore joints, paralysis or even death. It has been speculated that The Bends was named after the condition following the band’s quick ascent to the top following Pablo Honey and a degree of fame that the Oxford four-piece weren’t ready for. This theme could be followed through to the video for OK Computer single ‘No Suprises’ and even Phil Selway’s solo track ‘Coming up for Air’.
6. ‘High and Dry’ was dismissed for sounding too ‘Rod Stewart’
‘High and Dry’ had initially been recording two years before, with interviews suggesting that none of the band were particularly into it, Yorke even went on to state in a interview: “We didn’t even listen back to it; we finished it and just said, this is fucking dreadful”. Guitarist Ed O’Brien commented on the creation of the track, saying: “I played the opening bit acoustic, which we thought was hilarious. Colin and Phil laughed, ’cause they thought it sounded like Rod Stewart.” The song was picked by the production team, who felt it fitted into The Bends and the track ended up being the second single release and a huge fan favourite.
7. ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ was inspired by seeing Jeff Buckley live
One of the album’s stand-out moments is the touching ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, and Yorke’s breathy vocals for the song were recorded immediately after the band had gone to see Jeff Buckley perform live at the Garage in London. After the recording, the Radiohead frontman broke down in tears.
8. ‘Just’ desserts
The iconic video to ‘Just’ gained heavy rotation on MTV due to the enigmatic story of finding a man lying in the middle of the road for some apparently unspeakable reason. Director Jamie Thraves was handpicked by the band after they saw a number of his short films. This breakout moment led to him creating music videos for the likes of Blur, The Verve, Coldplay and more recently Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’.
9. ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ was initially called ‘Three Headed Street Spirit’
The album’s bleak closer (and final single release) has been described by the band as one of their darker moments and hinted at the direction that they would be moving in the following years. The track had been put together a number of years earlier and had initially been titled ‘Three-Headed Street Spirit’, as seen in this extremely quiet clip from Canadian television.
10. B-side success
‘Street Spirit’ was a massive success in its own right, however the single’s B-side ‘Talk Show Host’ reached a far wider audience when it featured on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s cult classic Romeo + Juliet, starring a fresh-faced Leonardo DiCaprio.
11. Some American kids inadvertently feature on the title track
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Radiohead you know, there were occasional parades! The title track to the album features a 13-second noise intro, which is apparently down to Yorke’s obsession with recording everything at the time. In an interview he explained:
“The sound at the beginning comes from this caterwauling mayhem outside this hotel in the States. There was this guy training these eight-year-old kids, who were parading up and down with all these different instruments. The guy had this little microphone on his sweater and was going: ‘Yeah, keep it up, keep it up.’ So I ran out and taped it.”
12. Dorian Lough just couldn’t get over it
British actor Dorian Lough was left scarred from his time in the video for ‘Just’ – but not because of the mise en scene or eerie tone.
“I think I had a dodgy wrist for about seven years after spending the day tripping over the actor on the floor as we filmed it so many times!” he told Q magazine in 2007 “Initially we used a crash mat but Jamie (Thraves) moved it as it was in the way so I was landing on concrete.”
13. ‘Sulk’ had the last line changed due to Kurt Cobain’s death
‘Sulk’ was one of the band’s earliest songs written for The Bends and had been inspired by the Hungerford Massacre of 1987. The original concluding lyric to the song, ‘just shoot your gun’, was changed before the recording in 1994, as the suicide of Kurt Cobain was still fresh in people’s minds. The band, who were looking to shake off their own Nirvana comparisons, didn’t want people to misconstrue the line as a reference to Cobain. The song hasn’t been played live in over a decade.
14. ‘Planet Telex’ was originally ‘Planet Xerox’
The opening track to the album was initially titled ‘Planet Xerox’ but had to be changed due to copyright issues. You wouldn’t see modern-day Thom cowering to ‘the man’ like that.
15. It’s the band’s all-time lowest US charting album
Despite eventually going triple-platinum in the UK and getting some college radio play across the Atlantic, The Bends failed to make much impact on the US Billboard charts. The album hit the dizzying heights of number 88 on the top 100 and is still their lowest US album entry to date, despite the apparent lack of commercial appeal of Kid A and Amnesiac.
16. Tracks from The Bends have been sampled by Scroobius Pip and Joe Budden
Radiohead songs seem to be a popular source of material for samplers and tracks from The Bends have popped up in strange locations. Dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip used the opening of ‘Planet Telex’ for their track ‘Letter From God To Man’, whereas US hip-hop star Joe Budden sampled ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ on his 2009 track ‘Never Again’.
17. It marked the debut of the Radiohead font
One for the typography nerds out there: the artwork collaboration with Stanley Donwood spawned the ‘Radiohead font’ which has adorned various album covers, tour posters and accompanying artwork ever since.
18. Phil Selway didn’t particularly enjoy recording The Bends
Despite the band’s insistence that The Bends was not as angst-ridden as the press and public were led to believe, drummer Phil Selway commented that it “was an introspective album … There was an awful lot of soul searching. To do that again on another album would be excruciatingly boring!”
19. Not all reviews were good reviews
Despite becoming something of a ‘critic’s band’ following the album’s release, not all reviews were of the glowing variety. Music writer Chuck Eddy of Spin Magazine gave the album a score of 5 out of 10 saying ‘it mostly reminds me of Suede trying to rock like Sparks but coming out like U2’.
20. The Bends tour resulted in a Japanese Phil Selway fan club
Saving the best till last. The Japanese leg of the tour for the album revealed some good news for drummer Selway. The band found out that Radiohead enthusiasts (and a few EMI Japan employees) had formed a Phil Selway fan-club in honour of the drummer ironically nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’ due to his polite nature. The club would apparently wear ‘Phil is Great’ t-shirts to their concerts, but they decided to disband after some of the members worried the Selway favouritism would offend the rest of the band.
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