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They Talk In Maths(?)

In the summer of 1997, Radiohead released an album that many consider the best album of the 90’s and the past 25 years, OK Computer. 10 years later, they released In Rainbows, an album notable for its unique release, as well as marking the band’s departure from major labels.

There is an interesting connection between the two albums involving binary code, leading some to believe Radiohead planned to combine OK Computer and In Rainbows into one large playlist. The internet wasted no time discussing it. Music site Puddlegum.com first broke the story back in 2007. Recently, Cracked.com breathed new life into the debate. Continue after the break and see if the jigsaw really falls into place.

In Rainbows was released on October 10th (10/10). Coinciding with the digital release was the last of 10 emails sent by Radiohead to members of W.A.S.T.E., their online store. Leading up to the release, the emails were graphical codes alluding to songs on the album. The album has 10 songs. The title has 10 letters. They released 10 alternate pictures to accompany the songs, I think. Sadly I can no longer find them. If anyone can, please comment, tell me I’m not crazy (in this instance) and put my brain to rest. On the album artwork, the “io” in “Radiohead” is separated and resembles the number 9. Just kidding. 10. It looks like a 10. The icing on the cake – they released the physical copies to stores on January 1st (01/01).

Blink your eyes. One for yes. Two for no. Code. Code. Code.

Clearly, Thom Yorke and crew planned the heavy use of 1’s and 0’s. Neat marketing. Yet, why did listeners draw a connection to OK Computer? The album has 12 songs. So…case closed. The conspiracy theorists are nut cases. Perhaps, but maybe not. There are interesting things to investigate.

Most obvious are the titles. OK Computer also has ten letters. Both titles have the same form – a 2 letter word followed by an 8 letter word. Also, as many Radiohead fans know, the working title of OK Computer was Zeros and Ones. By this point the Puddlegum playlist should be considered. At the very least you’ll listen to a bunch of great songs you purchased and presumably like since you’re still reading this.

The playlist proposed by fans to Puddlegum is simple. Start with OK Computer and alternate songs with In Rainbows until you reach Karma Police. At this point, follow with Fitter Happier and continue. Fitter kicks off the second movement of sorts. Like so:

1. Airbag (OK Computer)
2. 15 Step (In Rainbows)
3. Paranoid Android (OK Computer)
4. Bodysnatchers (In Rainbows)
5. Subterranean Homesick Alien (OK Computer)
6. Nude (In Rainbows)
7. Exit Music (For A Film) (OK Computer)
8. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi (In Rainbows)
9. Let Down (OK Computer)
10. All I Need (In Rainbows)
11. Karma Police (OK Computer)
12. Fitter Happier (OK Computer)
13. Faust Arp (In Rainbows)
14. Electioneering (OK Computer)
15. Reckoner (In Rainbows)
16. Climbing Up The Walls (OK Computer)
17. House Of Cards (In Rainbows)
18. No Surprises (OK Computer)
19. Jigsaw Falling Into Place (In Rainbows)
20. Lucky (OK Computer)
21. Videotape (In Rainbows)
22. The Tourist (OK Computer)

After FAR TOO MANY HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS of trying to perfect it through countless tweaks, I have come up with a SLIGHT variation that solves some of the problems. Many on the internet say to use a crossfade of 10 seconds on everything. (Look, another 10!) They are partially right in my opinion. Rather than making one playlist, make two. The second playlist starts with Fitter Happier. This gives you two playlists, or a double album, of 11 songs each. (MORE 1’s!) That idea can be found on a message board somewhere. I combed through too many to count. However, I don’t think I ever came across this idea – apply the 10 second crossfade to the first playlist, but not the second. Try it on both, but I feel the first notably benefits from using it, while the second does not. That also exposes another binary connection. One on, one off. 1-0.

I’ll admit my playlists are not perfect, but the songs do go together well, extremely well in most cases. It could just be because the music is from the same artist. The fact that they structure albums similarly to certain classical music could also make it a coincidence. If the songs on multiple albums are arranged in the same pattern, it makes sense that they could flow, to a point. Although, mashing Kid A and Amnesiac together doesn’t sound as good. Considering they were recorded together, one could assume those have a great chance of blending also, but not really. Not like OK Computer and In Rainbows. The keys blend wonderfully. Certain songs fade together like a dream. The tones and the feel of the newly neighboring songs simply mesh great!

There are a few points I still consider broken. Most obvious is the transition between Paranoid Android and Bodysnatchers. These two tracks do not flow as well as the other transitions. Considering the notes of the overlapping guitar parts, they should work somehow. Unfortunately, the way it stands now, they do not.

Some people say the themes of the songs fit together. Some tracks off of In Rainbows did originate around the time of OK Computer, but I can’t say I see it on a song by song basis. Perhaps thematically as a whole, though. I’ve always thought OK Computer is from the perspective of someone who is struggling to communicate and live with the world around him. In a way, In Rainbows is the opposite. There is a certain amount of clarity to the lyrics, as if the same person figured out some of their complications. It’s almost a voice of reason. I guess it comes around full circle. It’s hard to say.

Did Radiohead write In Rainbows this way on purpose? Doubtful, although I suppose it is possible. They have a great track record of thinking outside the box. It seems unlikely when using conventional thought, but when has “conventional” been used to describe Radiohead? The part that gets my nerdy little heart warm – I don’t think we will ever get a confirmation from Radiohead, be it positive or negative. We can only hope WikiLeaks will divulge the information soon.

Let’s assume they did do this on purpose. Why would Radiohead orchestrate such a secretive plan? Why stretch the metaphor of a computer language to two albums? The answers to these questions are elusive to me. Past the artwork and marketing, I struggle to see the significance of binary code pertaining to the theme of In Rainbows.

Whether you buy into the myth or not, I highly suggest listening to these albums this way. It truly sounds awesome! Please, discuss this in the comments. Who knows what kind of ideas people will think of to improve the combination of these two wonderful albums, purposeful or not.

Special thanks to @MadeHaste for turning me onto this mystery and Harmony Ellington for supplying the image at the top.

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33 comments

  • If you read about Faust and Mestopheles first, then read through the lyrics from song to song, there is seemingly a story centered around the protagonist that makes it hard not to see it as intentional. The second part is haunted! Considering that double albums tend to suck, I think this was actually, if they did do intend it, a brilliant way to make a solid double album. They recognized two albums worth of songs does not a successful double album make.

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  • Judging from the release dates of the digital (10/10) and physical (01/01) copies of the “In Rainbows” album, I’m beginning to wonder if the “hidden message” Thom Yorke meant to convey was simply that the top-down, music industry-centric physical distribution medium of music (01) was going to be flipped on its head and replaced by the independent “level playing field” of digital distribution (10). One could argue that each is the reserve of the other (01/10).

    As for “crossfades”, I too noticed some just don’t seem to work… in fact, they seem to get more haphazard in tempo/sync as the album goes along. I’m working on a theory that has the first crossfade (between “Airbag” and “15 Step”) be 10 seconds, with each successive crossfade diminishing by 1 second until the end of “Karma Police” is reached (having 0 seconds of crossfade with “Fitter Happier”). From there on, each successive crossfade gains in length by 1 second, until there is 10 seconds of crossfade between “Videotape” and “The Tourist”. In fact, I’m trying it tonight. If anything, it makes for an interesting album, without having to resort to locating visual material such as, say, “The Wizard of Oz”. Wish me luck.

  • Going through the playlist one more time and realized yet another “coincidence:” OK Computer starts with 0 and In Rainbows Starts with 1. Look at the albums names on your playlist and read down—you’ll see the binary code once again.

  • What about the CD2 of In Rainbows? The album itself was sold in stores as a single album, but I pre-ordered it and it came with the In Rainbows’ second CD. (MK1 / Down Is The New Up / Go Slowly / MK2 / Last Flowers to the Hospital / Up On The Ladder / Bangers & Mash / 4 Minute Warning)

    Has anyone tried to put the second disc among the Kid A/In Rainbows compilation?

  • I think the biggest argument that there might be something to this is how similar these two albums sound despite the fact the band completely departed from this sound immediately after OK Computer, and how they went right back to that newer sound after In Rainbows.

  • I recently discovered the wondrous world of Radiohead and I must say I believe a great portion of what you have presented, all of you. Given my interest and study in the liberal arts, primarily psychologly I conclude that these “coincidences” are completely capable of having happened for a reason, whether Thomas Yorke was aware of these coincidences, I cannot say. I can say that the mind is quite a powerful organ that affects us both consciously and sub. It is capable of anything. I’m definitely going to look into this.

  • I am a self-described Radiohead fanatic, and to this day visit the forums several times per week to join the rh discussion. As such I am well aware of this conspiracy theory and have been one of the major opponents to it on the messageboards. Though I love any excuse to revisit their past work and making rh playlists is something of an art and hobby of mine, where I part company with my fellow fanbois is at the suggestion they had any intention of building the records to be alternated track-by-track, especially with a 10sec crossfade. There is no doubt of a relationship between the two records, and interviews with the band before In Rainbows’ release alluded to that. I think the author was right when he said In Rainbows is like the opposite of OK Computer, written by a person with a clarity of voice and purpose as opposed to OK Computer’s fear and loss in the technological abyss. But beyond the superficial there is no deeper design to the relationship. It’s like the people who insist Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is meant to be aligned with the Wizard of Oz. A great theory, a fun experiment, but merely an exercise in demonstrating that given a large enough set of data one can find coincidences in any two disparate elements.

  • What about KID 17?
    Play 2 copies of Kid A 17 seconds apart. It seems more purposeful than this connection. Kid 17 is mostly due to the drum machines and sequencers used on each track. They all sync up at 17 second intervals.

  • I’m not sure I buy the whole thing, I was intrigued when I first heard about it. Personally, I am always skeptical about things like this, albums taking on secret lives of their own. Dark side of the Rainbow was cool, but I have a hard time believing it was intentional. The one thing I do know, however, is that if you do alternate the songs from OK Computer and In Rainbows, you will have the best single session of music you have ever experienced. That makes the whole thing regardless. The only better time you can have with your ears is possibly Neutral Milk Hotel, or the Nerdist podcast. Thanks.

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    @Chris You just made my brain jizz. There are plenty of people on boards saying to try all the albums, but they never presented a reason. I never thought of the significance of colors and the number of albums. Time to play.

  • Maybe “In Rainbows” implies that there’s more than two layers. There are 7 colors in the rainbow and 7 Radiohead albums (coincidence?). Has anyone tried weaving more Radiohead albums into the mix?

  • Thank you for that.

    I love Radiohead and I too will be rediscovering these albums. I just wanna say that I love Nerdist.com. I listen to your podcast every week and more than once. Continue the great work and I hope Chris will be doing stand up in Montreal soon.

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    IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: I just realized I didn’t make a double rainbow joke. Given the prime opportunity, I have failed each and every single one of you. My apologies. I hope we can put this behind us. Time heals all wounds.

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    @Kurt It’s all good. Make sure to give my variation a listen. It is only slightly different, but I think it is better.

    @Brad I’d be glad to help. I’ll assume you are using iTunes. Click on iTunes in the menu bar, preferences, playback, and checkmark crossfade. Then drag the meter to the tenth hash mark. Click ok and enjoy!!!!

  • Love this idea, definitely never would have thought it up. Just from flipping through the tracks, it would seem that the first playlist makes for a much better listen, as far as cohesion’s concerned. But I’m excited to rediscover these albums in this way. By the way, does anyone know how to set a crossfade?

  • Cracked mentioned this in their “10 Mind-Blowing Easter Eggs in Famous Albums” article. Starting with Airbag, you alternate between the two albums and then stop after ten songs. Also, you set the crossfade to ten seconds. It’s supposed to be intentional, and allegedly Thom Yorke was a little peeved that people didn’t figure it out on their own.