They Talk In Maths(?)
by Matthew Burnside on January 11, 2011
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).
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.
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