Released twenty years ago this month, Radiohead’s debut album is most well known for containing what became their iron lung; ‘Creep’. Three minutes and fifty-six seconds that was deemed “too depressing” by Radio 1 upon its initial release, college radio stations in America picked up the song a few months later. When the track was then re-released in 1993 it made it into the Top Ten in the UK singles charts and Radiohead went on to become one of the biggest bands in the world.
It still is an exhilarating song, but there’s far more to ‘Pablo Honey’ than ‘Creep’. The scream cried out by Thom Yorke during album opener ‘You’ is thrilling to this day, so too is the climax of ‘Ripcord’; all three guitars wailing away around Colin Greenwood and Phil Selway’s rhythm section.
One criticism leveled at ‘Pablo Honey’ is that because its influences are so easy to hear it’s hard to appreciate it as an original piece of work. When listening to ‘How Do You?’ or ‘Lurgee’, it would be hard to disagree. But nor would the band - Thom Yorke once said: “When I was at college, it was The Pixies and R.E.M. that changed my life.”
Radiohead started life as On A Friday, which is when they would meet to rehearse, but the Oxford band soon changed their name once they signed with Parlophone. Taken from the Talking Heads song ‘Radio Head’, other names up for consideration included Gravitate, Jude and Music.
After changing their name, recording a debut album and touring relentlessly, the band soon progressed from ‘Pablo Honey’, releasing ‘The Bends’ in 1994 and ‘OK Computer’ three years later; albums which defined them as one of the most important bands of the ’90s. But quickly as they progressed, quicker still was ‘Pablo Honey’ left behind.
In their celebrated 1997 Glastonbury headline set Radiohead only played two songs from ‘Pablo Honey’: ‘Creep’ and ‘You’. ‘Creep’ was then dropped from their set-lists during the ‘OK Computer’ tour and didn’t return for a couple of years. Despite the band’s famed disdain for the track only a few years after its release, their seeming antipathy for the album it came from is less commented on.
From 1997 onwards appearances of ‘Pablo Honey’ tracks were limited to ‘Creep’, ‘You’ and ‘Lurgee’. And the last known live play of a ‘Pablo Honey’ track that wasn’t ‘Creep’ was in 2008 (‘Blow Out’, at a show in Tokyo). ‘Creep’ is the only song from ‘Pablo Honey’ the band has played live in the last five years.
By ignoring ‘Pablo Honey’ in their live shows, Radiohead disappoint. Their debut album points towards everything that they would go on to be; its flourishes were the foundations they built upon when making ‘The Bends’, ‘OK Computer’ and the five subsequent albums they’ve released to date. And revisiting it in any way would be welcomed by many of their fans.
However, Radiohead manager Chris Hufford once said: “The band have never been happy with it, but it was a snapshot of them developing. Anyhow, first albums are usually rough around the edges, because that’s what people want.”
Which is both what makes ‘Pablo Honey’ a classic album and why you’re unlikely to hear it live any time soon.
Words: Tom Hasson
RADIOHEAD ‘PABLO HONEY’
Released: February 22nd 1993
Producer: Sean Slade, Paul Q. Kolderie
Musicians: THOM YORKE vocals, guitar JONNY GREENWOOD guitar, piano, organ ED O’BRIEN guitar, backing vocals COLIN GREENWOOD bass PHIL SELWAY drums
3. ‘How Do You?’
4. ‘Stop Whispering’
5. ‘Thinking About You’
6. ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’
9. ‘Prove Yourself’
10. ‘I Can’t’
12. ‘Blow Out’
1993: IN THE NEWS
Bill Clinton inaugurated as President of the United States.
Bomb explodes at World Trade Center, kills six.
IRA bomb explodes in Warrington, kills two children.
Buckingham Palace is opened to the public.
Jazz trumpeting legend Dizzy Gillespie dies, aged seventy-five.
1993: THE ALBUMS
Suede - ‘Suede’
New Order - ‘Republic’
Blur - ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’
The Verve - ‘A Storm In Heaven’
Björk - ‘Debut’