Fake Plastic Trees
|"Fake Plastic Trees"|
|Single by Radiohead|
|from the album The Bends|
|Released||15 May 1995|
|Radiohead singles chronology|
"Fake Plastic Trees" is a song by the English alternative rock band Radiohead from their second studio 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. The song charted on the UK Singles Chart, the New Zealand Singles Chart, the US Modern Rock Tracks chart, and the Canadian Rock/Alternative chart, but it did not make a substantial commercial impact elsewhere.
Background and recording
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". 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".
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 vocals. Yorke performed three takes of the song and cried afterwards, according to guitarist Jonny Greenwood.
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". Surprised that the slow-paced "Fake Plastic Trees" was seen as a potential single to follow up "Creep", Yorke realised the label had remixed the track without the band's 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 keyboard 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".
Writing for NME in May 1995, John Mulvey opined that the song lacked substance, and drew comparisons with the stadium rock of U2. The song placed at number 385 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.
The song's 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, art director Stanley Donwood 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." Actor Norman Reedus, who was then a model, appears briefly as the young man playing with a trolley.
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. 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.
- "Fake Plastic Trees" – 4:52
- "India Rubber" – 3:26
- "How Can You Be Sure?" – 4:21
- "Fake Plastic Trees" – 4:52
- "Fake Plastic Trees" (acoustic) – 4:41
- "Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was" (acoustic) – 3:34
- "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" (acoustic) – 4:26
- 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
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||200,000|
sales+streaming figures based on certification alone
Notable cover versions
- Marillion covered it for their live album Unplugged at the Walls (1999).
- Show of Hands covered it for their album Covers (2000).
- Tanghetto covered it in a tango style for their album Más Allá del Sur (2009).
- Amanda Palmer covered it for her album Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele (2010). Palmer's cover was listed by Paste Magazine as one of their "20 Best Covers of 2010".
- Artificial trees used for Carbon dioxide removal § Direct air capture
- Black, Johnny. "The Greatest Songs Ever! Fake Plastic Trees". Blender.com. 15 May 2003. Retrieved on 10 March 2010. Archived June 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
- Randall, p. 158-59
- Randall, Mac (12 September 2000). Exit Music: The Radiohead Story. Delta. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-385-33393-1.
- "Fake Plastic Trees – Green Plastic Radiohead". Green Plastic. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
- Mulvey, John. "Review: Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees (Parlophone)". NME. IPC Media (May 20, 1995): 54.
- "Hottest 100 – Of All Time". abc.net.au.
- "radiohead discography" Archived 2006-12-10 at the Wayback Machine. greenplastic.com.
- Sam Coley (3 April 2010). "Dianne Swann / Radiohead Duet; "How Can You Be Sure"". Retrieved 23 April 2018 – via YouTube.
- "Top RPM Rock/Alternative Tracks: Issue 9034." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
- "Charts.nz – Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
- "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
- "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
- "Radiohead Chart History (Alternative Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
- "RPM Top 50 Alternative Tracks of 1995". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
- "British single certifications – Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 17 May 2019. Select singles in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Fake Plastic Trees in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
- Jackson, Josh (December 7, 2010). "The 20 Best Cover Songs of 2010". Paste Magazine.