Harry Patch (In Memory Of)
|"Harry Patch (In Memory Of)"|
|Single by Radiohead|
|Released||5 August 2009|
|Radiohead singles chronology|
"Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" is a song by the English alternative rock band Radiohead. The band wrote and recorded the song as a tribute to the British supercentenarian Harry Patch, the last surviving soldier to have fought in the trenches during World War I. The song was self-released on 5 August 2009 as a downloadable single and sold for £1 from the band's website, with all proceeds donated to The Royal British Legion.
Recorded in an abbey shortly after Patch's death, the song consists of Thom Yorke's singing and a string arrangement composed by Jonny Greenwood, absent of Radiohead's typical mix of rock and electronic instrumentation. The lyrics are from the perspective of a soldier in the First World War, and include modifications of quotations from Patch. While reception to the song was generally positive, with many critics praising the song's message, others panned the song as overly sombre. The Patch family voiced their approval of the song's message and the band's charitable use of the proceeds.
Recording and music
Audio sample featuring the prominent orchestration in the main section and the beginning of the song's bridge.
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According to a post by Yorke on Radiohead's blog Dead Air Space, "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" was inspired by a "very emotional" 2005 interview with Harry Patch on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. Yorke wrote that "The way he talked about war had a profound effect on me." The song was recorded live in an abbey, only a few weeks before Patch died on 25 July 2009 at the age of 111. Along with follow-up single "These Are My Twisted Words", "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" represents the earliest releases from the recording sessions that would result in Radiohead's next album, The King of Limbs, although neither song is included on that album.
The track has no standard rock instrumentation, and instead comprises an orchestral string arrangement composed by Jonny Greenwood and Yorke's vocals. Strings introduce the song with a series of repeated arpeggiated notes, which continue as Yorke's singing begins. There is a bridge described as a "grim, delicately furious peak" halfway through the song. Pitchfork Media's Mark Richardson compared the track to Gavin Bryars' 1971 composition Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet and Samuel Barber's 1936 Adagio for Strings. Critics from Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, and The Daily Telegraph drew comparisons between the song's string arrangements and the score to the film There Will Be Blood, primarily composed by Greenwood; however, Jim Fusilli of The Wall Street Journal believed that the two works "[bear] no resemblance" to each other. Andrea Rice of American Songwriter simply noted that the song's style was far removed from "anything emblematic of Radiohead".
While Radiohead has expressed anti-war sentiments in the past—including a contribution to the 1995 War Child charity compilation The Help Album—"Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" marks the first time that a Radiohead song explicitly refers to war in its lyrics. For this reason, the song marks a departure from Yorke's typically abstract writing. The lyrics are from the perspective of a soldier in the midst of First World War trench warfare. Several of the lines, including "Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves" and "The next will be chemical but they will never learn", are adapted from quotations by Patch. Both Luke Lewis of NME and Simon Vozick-Levinson of Entertainment Weekly compared the lyrics to Wilfred Owen's First World War-era poem Dulce et Decorum est. Rice referred to Yorke's voice in the song as an "innocent and youthful falsetto" and the NME said his singing is "subdued to the point where you really need to read the lyrics".
"Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" premiered on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on the morning of 5 August 2009, one day before Patch's burial. It became available for purchase later that day on Radiohead's online store W.A.S.T.E. as a download for £1, or US$1.68 at the time of release. All proceeds from the song are donated to The Royal British Legion, a charity supporting those who are serving or have served in the British Armed Forces. The track can also be streamed from the Today section of BBC Online, where it was posted along with a description and the lyrics. Based on internet traffic data for Radiohead's website taken from Alexa Internet, The Guardian's Chris Salmon believed that if the single had been released conventionally it would have likely cracked the UK Singles Chart's top ten.
The song's unconventional release, carried out "in classic Radiohead fashion" according to Mehan Jayasuriya of PopMatters, was praised by The Guardian's John Harris: "Welcome, once again, to the future of popular music: no need for albums, or marketing campaigns, or grand announcements—just a song by Radiohead, recorded mere weeks ago, premiered on yesterday's Today programme, and now available to download." Caleb Garning of Wired noted the song's "abrupt creation" and the sudden announcement of The King of Limbs as part of Radiohead's move towards an unpredictable release schedule for new recorded material. In a feature for The Quietus, Wyndham Wallace argues that the track's release is in line with broader music industry trends towards "instant gratification", kick-started by the digital release of Radiohead's previous album In Rainbows.
Critical reception was generally positive. Jim Fusilli of The Wall Street Journal referred to the song as "a masterly achievement", highlighting Yorke's "eerie" vocals and Greenwood's "elegant" arrangement, and concluding that "with Radiohead, the unexpected isn't merely a ploy. It's a new approach to modern music that's often thrilling." Dan Martin of The Guardian described the song as "a desolate lament over bleak, circling strings that build as the song progresses" and wrote that "considering the solemnity of the subject, the song finds Radiohead at their most understated and serene". Vozick-Levinson of Entertainment Weekly called the song "a gorgeous anti-war ballad" and said that "Needless to say, it's very much worth any Radiohead fan's pound, regardless of the exchange rate." NME named the track as one of the ten best tracks of the week and called it an "elegaic", "affecting, slow-burn statement" that "rather than hectoring, [...] states simply the horrors of war that Patch spoke so movingly about".
Critic Allan Raible of ABC News compared the song to earlier Radiohead songs "How to Disappear Completely" and "Pyramid Song" and called it "one of the most beautiful compositions Thom Yorke and company have ever released." Richardson gave the song a score of seven out of ten in Pitchfork's song review feature The Playlist, and wrote that while it could be criticized as "a noble but failed experiment, overly maudlin and sentimental even if it is surface-level pretty", the song's "simplicity and unsubtle affect, especially coming from this band, wind up being strengths." In a later column, Richardson would further defend the song from charges of excessive sentimentality and attributes the song's emotional success to its severe subject, death: "If these pieces were connected to thoughts of breaking up with a girlfriend or getting fired or lamenting cold weather or any of a million other of life's tragedies, they wouldn't work, at least not in the same way. They need that huge weight [of death] [...] on the other end to balance them out." Kyle Anderson of MTV.com called the song a "slow, florid affair" and placed its "typically dark" lyrics in the context of Radiohead's previous political activism, such as their participation in the anti-human trafficking MTV EXIT campaign.
Praise for the song was not universal. Rob Harvilla of Village Voice wrote that the track offered "nothing terribly earth-shattering" and thought that "the contrast between Thom's dolphin-soothing calm and lyrics like 'I've seen hell upon this earth/The next one will be chemical/But they will never learn' might just ruin your lunch." David Malitz of The Washington Post complained: "It's a little too Sigur Ros-y and doesn't really go anywhere" but acknowledged it "[s]till kept my interest for five and half minutes".
Patch's grandson Roger Patch voiced his family's approval of the song, saying:
"Our family is very touched that Radiohead has reached out to its followers and especially the younger generation through the single that echoes Harry's interview in 2005. Harry loved music and would be 100 per cent behind Radiohead in raising awareness of the suffering of conflict—not least the futility of it—in a way that can also benefit the Legion. It's a great idea which we support wholeheartedly."
Peter Cleminson, national chairman of The Royal British Legion, thanked Radiohead for their support and said "Radiohead has picked up the torch from Harry Patch to hold it high. [...] Radiohead uses Harry's own words to remind us of the horrors of war, and we believe Harry would be pleased."
In an interview with AOL's Spinner.com, Matthew Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces criticized the song's release, saying of Radiohead: "Fuck you! You brand yourself by brazenly and arbitrarily associating yourself with things that you know people consider cool. That is bogus. That's a put-on. That's a branding technique, and Radiohead have their brand that they're popular and intelligent, so they have a song about Harry Patch." The Fiery Furnace's publicist said that Friedberger confused Harry Patch, the veteran, with Harry Partch, the microtonal composer. Indeed, in the interview Friedberger mockingly asks "Is it 48 notes to the octave?" in reference to Partch's just intonation 43-tone scale. Friedberger defended his reference to the composer as deliberate "fooling around" rather than genuine confusion. In the same statement, Friedberger says he "would have much preferred to insult Beck but he is too afraid of Scientologists"; shortly thereafter, Beck released a song about Harry Partch, which Pitchfork referred to as either "directly related to Friedberger's remarks, or just one hell of a coincidence". Radiohead did not respond to Friedberger's criticisms.
- Yorke, Thom (2009-08-05). "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)". Dead Air Space. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- Lewis, Luke (2011-02-14). "Radiohead, 'The King Of Limbs' - What We Know". NME. Retrieved 2011-07-18.
- Jones, Lucy (2009-08-06). "Radiohead's tribute to Harry Patch strikes the right note". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- Barton, Chris (2009-08-05). "On Radiohead's 'Harry Patch (In Memory Of)'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- Richardson, Marc (2010-05-21). "Resonant Frequency #70". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2011-07-18.
- Kreps, Daniel (2009-08-05). "Radiohead Offer Up New Song "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)"". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- Harvilla, Rob (2009-08-05). "On Radiohead's New "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)"". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- Fusilli, John (2009-08-08). "Radiohead's Peace Anthem". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- Rice, Andrea (2009-08-11). "Radiohead’s Anti-War Eulogy "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)"". American Songwriter. Retrieved 2009-09-01.
- Lewis, Luke (2009-05-08). "Radiohead’s New Song, 'Harry Patch (In Memory Of)' - What Do You Think?". NME. Retrieved 2011-07-18.
- Harris, John (2009-08-06). "Radiohead's farewell to old first world war soldier in song". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- Judd, Terri (2009-08-05). "Radiohead release Harry tribute". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
- Vozick-Levinson, Simon (2009-08-05). "Radiohead surprises fans with new song, 'Harry Patch (In Memory Of)'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- "10 Tracks You Have To Hear This Week – Klaxons, Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead". NME. 2009-08-17. Retrieved 2011-07-19.
- "Radiohead: Harry Patch (In memory of)". BBC Online. 2009-08-05. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- Salmon, Chris (2009-08-14). "Click to download: Radiohead tribute hits purple Patch". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-09-01.
- Jayasuriya, Mehan (2009-08-05). "Radiohead - "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)"". PopMatters. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- Garning, Caleb (2011-02-24). "Review: With King of Limbs, Radiohead Deals a Deathblow to the 'Album'". Wired. Retrieved 2011-07-18.
- Wallace, Wyndham (2009-08-11). "Radiohead Versus The Release Schedule". The Quietus. Retrieved 2011-07-19.
- Martin, Dan (2009-08-05). "Radiohead: Harry Patch (In Memory Of)". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- Raible, Allan (2009-08-05). "Review And Commentary: Radiohead’s "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)"". ABC News. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
- Richardson, Marc (2009-08-07). "Track Reviews: Radiohead: "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)"". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
- Anderson, Kyle (2009-08-05). "Radiohead Releases New Song as Tribute to Soldier". MTV.com. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
- Malitz, David (2009-08-06). "ZoMG!!!!! New Radiohead Song!; VMA Nomineeds Announced; Seriously, New Radiohead Song!!!". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- "Thom Yorke: We must never forget heroes like Harry". The Sun. 2009-08-06. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- Smith, Lizzie (2009-08-07). "Radiohead surprise fans with song in memory of last WW1 veteran Harry Patch". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2011-07-19.
- Micallef, Ken (2009-11-03). "Fiery Furnaces Call Radiohead 'Bogus'". Spinner.com. Retrieved 2011-07-19.
- Breihan, Tom (2009-11-04). "Echo Chamber: Fiery Furnaces' Matthew Friedberger". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2011-07-19.
- Breihan, Tom (2009-11-05). "Fiery Furnaces' Matthew Friedberger Continues Radiohead Fight". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2011-07-19.
- Dombal, Ryan (2009-11-18). "Beck Writes Song About Harry Partch". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2011-07-19.
- Download page
- BBC Today programme page with link to the Harry Patch interview that inspired the song
- "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" at MusicBrainz