Ian Dury once said “Sex and drugs and rock and roll.” Though underrated at the time, this quote has become synonymous with the rock and roll industry. Artists from Elvis to The Rolling Stones and even The Beatles espoused sexuality at different times of their careers. Rick James described his persona as “wild and crazy, sex, drugs and rock and roll.” Though not all artists embraced this medium as much as others, sexuality certainly pervaded rock and roll music from the sixties till today.
One of the most important bands to reject this image and medium today is Radiohead. However, rather than conforming to the conceptions that people have about rock and roll artists, Radiohead has separated itself from rock and roll stereotypes. Through their disregard for one of mankind’s basest needs, they present themselves as artists, visionaries, and often as weak and vulnerable in ways that Keith Richards never could. This has allowed them to depict societal pressures, the sterilization of human existence, to embrace electronic elements, as well as involving orchestral influences in their music, keeping the band on the cutting edge for most of its career.
To better understand this concept one should look at a particular quote by Jonny Greenwood: “Our guitars are more clitoris substitutes than phallic ones, we stroke them in a nicer, gentler way.” Though this quote on the surface can be merely taken as an example of Mr. Greenwood’s inherent weirdness and repressed sexuality, this quote can be taken a step further and be used as a metaphor for what the band is attempting to do with music. Put succinctly, Radiohead does not thrust itself upon the listener. They show none of the swaggering bravado of Steven Tyler or Sid Vicious. Instead, this band remains aloof, encouraging the listener to come to them, to be patient and careful. They wish to be regarded as artists, not merely as a rock and roll band, and in so doing the members have decided to avoid attempting to create a forceful band image that might stick out for its edginess. Instead, they quietly release albums, update their website Deadairspace.com, and search for new musical innovations that will only further emphasize their talent.
This lack of sexuality can be seen throughout the bands catalogue of music. Even starting with Pablo Honey, which is their most blatantly poppy and sappy album, there is little talk of sex, or traditional masculine characteristics. Once OK Computer is released, the bands sexuality really begins to take form. From songs such as “Karma Police” to those such as “Exit Music for a Film,” there is little discussion of sex. Thus, as base desires are put in the backseat, the band can highlight more complex desires and needs as most clearly illustrated on “Fitter Happier.” Described as the most depressing thing that Thom Yorke ever wrote, this song deals with the sterilization of society. The absence of humanity in human life. How society has given us a list of thoughts that we must think. In this world there is little room for sexuality.
As other bands pay attention to the basest of all human desires, Radiohead looks beyond. It is this fervent attention to the deeper motivations of human beings and their interaction with society that has so solidly cemented Radiohead’s place as one of the greatest rock and roll bands to ever play.