|Song by Radiohead|
|from the album Kid A|
|Released||2 October 2000|
|Recorded||January 1999–April 2000|
|Kid A track listing|
"Idioteque" is a song by the English rock band Radiohead, the eighth track from their 2000 album Kid A. Although (as with all other songs on the album) it was never released as a single, it has become one of the band's most popular songs, and played at nearly every concert since 2000. The song is listed at #8 on Pitchfork Media's top 500 songs of the 2000s, and ranked #56 on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the 2000s.
Background and recording
According to Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, "Idioteque wasn't my idea at all; it was Jonny's. Jonny handed me this DAT that he'd... he'd gone into our studio for the afternoon... and, um, the DAT was like 50 minutes long, and I sat there and listened to this 50 minutes. And some of it was just "what?", but then there was this section of about 40 seconds long in the middle of it that was absolute genius, and I just cut that up and that was it...". Musically, "Idioteque" is driven by a repeating electronic beat and a four-chord synth progression sampled from an experimental computer music piece Mild und Leise recorded by Paul Lansky in 1973.
Lyrics and imagery
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"Idioteque" contains some of Thom Yorke's most heavily analyzed lyrics. Yorke does not directly explain them, but "Idioteque" has been described by others as an "apocalyptic" song, with possible references to natural disaster, war and technological breakdown. Many fans interpret "Idioteque" as having something to do with climate change, an issue on which Yorke is outspoken and has admitted inspired subsequent songs, such as 2003's "Sail to the Moon" and those on his 2006 solo album The Eraser.
Several of the "Idioteque" lyrics (as well as those of certain other songs from the period) are audibly different in live performance. Some of the lyrics, like others on Kid A, were created from cutting up phrases and drawing them from a hat.
The song opens with the lines: "Who's in a bunker, who's in a bunker?/ Women and children first, and the children..." Yorke has not explained the reference, but has said other songs, such as 2003's "I Will" and "Sit Down. Stand Up." from the album Hail to the Thief were about civilians killed in military conflict and genocide ("I Will" had originally been written before Kid A. Its lyrics also reference a "bunker").
In the second chorus, a sample of Yorke's previous lyrics are rearranged so that he seems to say "the first and the children" in 5/4, creating a grouping dissonance against the original 4/4 chorus. However, when Yorke sings the song live, it varies between "the(re's) fathers and the children," "this one is to the children," "this one is for the children," or "if I asked you to kill me."
The lyrics are paralleled in the visual artwork for the album Kid A by Stanley Donwood and Thom Yorke, under the pen name "Tchock". Donwood's paintings depict a wasteland covered by sheets of ice and snow, with fires in distant forests and genetically modified bears and other mysterious shapes taking control of human civilization.
The cover of the band’s 2000 album Kid A, Donwood says, was inspired by a Guardian front page photograph he saw during the Kosovo war. "It was of a square metre of snow and it was full of the detritus of war, all military stuff and fag stains. I was upset by it in a way war had never upset me before. It felt like it was happening in my street."
Many official Radiohead shirts sold during their 2001 tour featured a melting iceberg with the lyrics "This is really happening", taken from the lyrics of "Idioteque" written underneath.
"Idioteque" contains two credited samples of experimental 1970s computer music. The first is several seconds of Mild und Leise, a piece by Paul Lansky, forming the four chord progression repeated throughout the song. Mild und Leise is 18 minutes long and through composed. The portion sampled by Radiohead is only heard once in the original piece, very briefly. Also sampled is "Short Piece" by Arthur Kreiger, now a professor of music at Connecticut College. Both tracks were compiled on the 1976 LP First Recordings — Electronic Music Winners, which Radiohead instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood stumbled upon while the band was working on Kid A.
Paul Lansky approved Greenwood's sampling and has since written an essay on "Idioteque", found in the book The Music and Art of Radiohead. Lansky noted that, while Radiohead's song may hinge on a sample from his work, the Mild und Leise chord progression they used was itself "sampled" by Lansky using the Tristan chord. On the original album release, the song was credited as having been written by Radiohead with an additional credit for the samples used. On the group's later album I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, the songwriting credit is given to "Radiohead & Paul Lansky".
In his essay "My Radiohead Adventure" in The Music and Art of Radiohead, Paul Lansky includes the following musical example, showing that the chord progression consists of four different spacings of an E flat major seventh chord, with B flat and E flat in the right hand and G and D in the left, then D and G in the right and E flat and B flat in the left. The next chords are inversions of the first two, with E flat and B flat in the right, then G and D. Finally, this chord progression also includes two high B flat harmonics on the 2nd and 4th chords.
- Thom Yorke - vocals, backing vocals
- Jonny Greenwood - programming, sampling
- Ed O'Brien - guitar effects, backing vocals
- Colin Greenwood - keyboards, sampling
- Philip Selway - additional programming
The official video features Radiohead playing the song inside a studio. However, this version differs from the album version as the key is transposed slightly. Another video which is most likely unreleased features a 3D model of the band's bear mascot walking towards someone else. The official video for "Idioteque" would mark the last time the entire band would be featured in a music video until the 2007 video for "Jigsaw Falling into Place". Though there was a music video, no official single was released.
The song has inspired a wide array of covers. Levi Weaver covered it live on his 2006 tour supporting Imogen Heap, using multiple loop pedals to build a layered effect. A studio version is also on his 2008 album You Are Never Close to Home, You Are Never Far from Home. In July 2010 Amanda Palmer released it as the first single from her Radiohead covers album; her cover was National Public Radio's Song of the Day for January 11, 2011. In 2010 Yoav also used a loop pedal to build a layered acoustic version. It has also been covered by The Crown Vandals, We Versus the Shark, Vienna Teng, and Calico Horse.
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- "100 Best Songs of the 2000s". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
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- Osborn, Brad (2016). Everything in its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead. Oxford University Press.
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- "Stanley Donwood - The Guardian interview". ateaseweb.com. 2006-11-22. Retrieved 2009-04-18.
- "Bear Over a Swimming Pool by Stanley Donwood". slowlydownward.com. Retrieved 2010-02-11.
- Arthur Kreiger, Sylvia Pasternack Marx Associate Professor of Music
- "Radiohead - Idioteque (Blinking Bear Version)". YouTube. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
- on YouTube
- Review: Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele » Cover Me
- Butler, Will (January 11, 2011). "Amanda Palmer: Radiohead For Four Strings". National Public Radio.
- Consequence of Sound Presents…Best Fest Covers » Cover Me
- Cover News: January 2, 2010 » Cover Me
- Full Albums: Radiohead’s Kid A » Cover Me
- The Uncoverable » Cover Me
- Radiohead » Cover Me