Fake Plastic Trees

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"Fake Plastic Trees"
Single by Radiohead
from the album The Bends
Released 15 May 1995
Format CD, cassette
Recorded 1994
Genre Alternative rock
Length 4:52
Label Parlophone
Writer(s) Radiohead
Producer(s) John Leckie
Radiohead singles chronology
"High and Dry" / "Planet Telex"
(1995)
"Fake Plastic Trees"
(1995)
"Just"
(1995)
Audio sample
file info · help

"Fake Plastic Trees" is a song by the British alternative rock band Radiohead, from their second album The Bends (1995). It was the third single to be released from that album in the UK, but in the US, it was released as the band's first single from the album.[1] "Fake Plastic Trees" marked a turning point in the band's early career, moving away from the grunge sound of their earlier hit single "Creep".[2]

In 2008, the song was featured on Radiohead: The Best Of, a compilation album.

Origin and recording[edit]

This is a song about an area in east London called Canary Wharf which was landscaped with a lot of artificial plants.[3]

Radiohead singer Thom Yorke said "Fake Plastic Trees" was "the product of a joke that wasn't really a joke, a very lonely, drunken evening and, well, a breakdown of sorts".[2] He said the song arose from a melody he had "no idea what to do with". Unlike his usual approach of either keeping note "of whatever my head's singing at the particular moment" or forcing "some nifty phrases" he devised onto the melody, Yorke said that creating "Fake Plastic Trees" was the opposite. He said, "That was not forced at all, it was just recording whatever was going on in my head, really. I mean, I wrote those words and laughed. I thought they were really funny, especially that bit about polystyrene".[4] The song incorporates the melodic leap heard on the word 'high' in Rocket Man by Elton John.

The band were finding it difficult to nail this song and decided to take a break and catch a Jeff Buckley gig at Highbury. When they returned to the studio mesmerized by Buckley's set, Yorke sang the song twice before breaking down into tears.[3]

Guitarist Ed O'Brien described early attempts to record "Fake Plastic Trees" at London's RAK Studios as sounding "like Guns N' Roses' 'November Rain'. It was so pompous and bombastic". When recording sessions for The Bends resumed at Manor Studios in July 1994, producer John Leckie convinced Yorke to record a take of the song. Frustrated at being at the studio for a prolonged period that day, Yorke "threw a wobbly" in his own description, after which Leckie sent the rest of the band away while Yorke recorded a guide track for "Fake Plastic Trees" featuring only guitar and the singer's vocals. Yorke performed three takes of the song and then cried afterwards, according to guitarist Jonny Greenwood.[2]

One source of frustration for the band at the time was their US record label, Capitol, which wanted a strong track for American radio to follow the success of their previous hit single, "Creep".[5] Surprised that the slow-paced "Fake Plastic Trees" was seen as a potential single to follow up "Creep", Yorke ultimately realized the label had remixed the track without his approval: "Last night I was called by the American record company insisting, well almost insisting, that we used a Bob Clearmountain mix of it. I said 'No way'. All the ghost-like keyboards sounds and weird strings were completely gutted out of his mix, like he'd gone in with a razor blade and chopped it all up. It was horrible".[6]

Critical reception[edit]

Despite the song's popularity, not all critics were complimentary upon release. Writing for NME in May 1995, John Mulvey surmised that the song lacked substance, and drew comparisons with the stadium rock of U2.[7]

The song placed at number 376 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and at number 28 on Triple J Radio's Hottest 100 of All Time countdown.[8]

Music video[edit]

The music video, directed by Jake Scott, is set inside a supermarket, where the band are pushed around in shopping carts among several other characters, including clerks, children, an old man with a large beard who plays with toy guns, a woman in a large black hat, a bald man in basketball jersey who shaves his head with an electric razor, a young man playing with a trolley, etc. The director has said about the video: "The film is actually an allegory for death and reincarnation but if you can read that into it you must be as weird as the people who made it".[9] Norman Reedus, star of Boondock Saints and The Walking Dead, makes a cameo appearance as 'the young man playing with a trolley'.

Cover versions and other appearances[edit]

A cover version by Amanda Palmer, from her album Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele, was listed by Paste Magazine as one of their 20 best covers of the year 2010.[10] Another cover was done by Frank Ocean at a press conference for Spotify in December 2012. Lori McKenna also covered it on her 2004 album, The Kitchen Tapes. Marillion covered it for their live album Unplugged at the Walls.

The song is featured in the 7th episode of season 5 of Entourage, "Gotta Look Up To Get Down".

This song is featured in the film Something Borrowed where Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) is running through an unexpected rainfall.

The song featured in the 1995 film Clueless.[11]

The song was also featured in episode two of the British show, My Mad Fat Diary.

Track listing[edit]

Released over two singles, the b-sides accompanying "Fake Plastic Trees" include "India Rubber", a song in which Jonny Greenwood can be heard laughing, and "How Can You Be Sure?" which dates from the band's earliest On a Friday days. It is from the Shindig Demo and this finished version features backing vocals by Dianne Swann of the band the Julie Dolphin.[12] The B-sides on the second single are acoustic versions by Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood recorded live at the Eve's Club in London.

CD 1
  1. "Fake Plastic Trees" – 4:52
  2. "India Rubber" – 3:26
  3. "How Can You Be Sure?" – 4:21
CD 2
  1. "Fake Plastic Trees" – 4:52
  2. "Fake Plastic Trees" (acoustic) – 4:41
  3. "Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was" (acoustic) – 3:34
  4. "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" (acoustic) – 4:26

Personnel[edit]

  • Thom Yorke - vocals, acoustic guitar
  • Jonny Greenwood - electric guitar, Hammond organ
  • Ed O'Brien - electric guitar
  • Colin Greenwood - bass
  • Phil Selway - drums
  • Caroline Lavelle - cello
  • John Matthias - viola, violin

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved December 31, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c Black, Johnny. "The Greatest Songs Ever! Fake Plastic Trees". Blender.com. 15 May 2003. Retrieved on 10 March 2010.[dead link]
  3. ^ a b [1]
  4. ^ Randall, p. 158-59
  5. ^ Randall, Mac (12 September 2000). Exit Music: The Radiohead Story. Delta. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-385-33393-1. 
  6. ^ "Fake Plastic Trees - Green Plastic Radiohead". Green Plastic. Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  7. ^ Mulvey, John. "Review: Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees (Parlophone)". NME (IPC Media) (May 20, 1995): 54. 
  8. ^ "Hottest 100 - Of All Time". abc.net.au.
  9. ^ "radiohead discography". greenplastic.com.
  10. ^ Jackson, Josh (December 7, 2010). "The 20 Best Cover Songs of 2010". Paste Magazine .
  11. ^ http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=5062
  12. ^ Musical Chairs: Dianne Swann" produced for Radio New Zealand. First broadcast: Sept. 2004

External links[edit]