The National Anthem (Radiohead song)
|"The National Anthem"|
|Song by Radiohead|
|from the album Kid A|
"The National Anthem" is a song by the English rock band Radiohead from their fourth studio album, Kid A (2000). The song is moored to a repetitive bassline, and develops in a direction influenced by jazz.
Background and recording
Radiohead singer Thom Yorke wrote the "National Anthem" bassline when he was 16, and played bass on the studio recording. In 1997, Radiohead recorded drums and bass for the song, intending to develop it as a B-side for their third album, OK Computer; however, they decided to save it for their next album, Kid A (2000).
Jonny Greenwood added Ondes Martenot and sampled sounds from radio stations, and Yorke's vocals were processed with a ring modulator. In November 1999, Radiohead recorded a brass section inspired by the "organised chaos" of Town Hall Concert by the jazz musician Charles Mingus. Yorke and Greenwood directed the musicians to sound like a "traffic jam"; according to Yorke, he jumped up and down so much during his conducting that he broke his foot. Yorke said: "the running joke when we were in the studios was, 'Just blow. Just blow, just blow, just blow.'"
The free jazz section was described as "a brass band marching into a brick wall" by one reviewer. Simon Reynolds of Spin said: "the song is a strange, thrilling blast of kosmik highway music — combining Hawkwind's "Silver Machine" with Can's "Mother Sky" and throwing in free-jazz bedlam for good measure". Cam Lindsey of Exclaim! wrote that the song is a "radical jazz-rock fusion".
The song received polarised reviews from music critics. In his review of the album for the New Yorker, Nick Hornby mentioned the song as "an unpleasant free-jazz workout, with a discordant horn section squalling over a studiedly crude bass line". Mark Beaumont, who disparaged Kid A in Melody Maker on its release, wrote ten years later that the "free-form jazz horns" of "The National Anthem" produced a "mingus-in-a-tumble-dryer racket". Lorraine Ali, writing for Newsweek, described the song as "annoying pileup of squawking instruments". Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone said the horn section "was a cornier-than-usual art-rock cliché, trying way too hard for a way-too-obvious gimmick".
However, Adam Downer of Sputnikmusic said that "by the end of the song, you're in awe of such a jam session" and named it a "recommended track". In a review for a live performance of Radiohead, Siobhan Kane of The Irish Times praised the song: "it distills Radiohead's worldview, with those guitars and Yorke's evocative voice, all intelligence and deep emotion." Cam Lindsey of Exclaim! cited it as the album's standout track.
Reviewing the demo version released on OKNOTOK 1997 2017, Record Collector wrote that the song "could very easily have resembled the sort of latterday U2 track chosen to soundtrack Goal of the Month reels ... That Radiohead had the self-awareness to sit on it rather than go for the drive-time jugular says so much about their intuitive good taste, and the prolonged success it would bring them."
Radiohead has performed "The National Anthem" with a wind section in their 2000 performances in New York City (one of which was at Radiohead's taping for Saturday Night Live), a 2001 performance in London for the BBC's Later with Jools Holland, during a 2001 concert in Paris, and on The Colbert Report in 2011.
"The National Anthem" has been covered by numerous artists, including: Japanese shamisen duo Yoshida Brothers, on their album Prism; Meshell Ndegeocello, for the tribute album Exit Music: Songs with Radio Heads; Mr Russia, for the tribute album Every Machine Makes a Mistake: A Tribute to Radiohead; and Vernon Reid, for the album Other True Self. Ayurveda and Umphrey's McGee covered the song on live performances.
The Jazz Passengers did an instrumental version on their album Reunited. A "marvellously squalling version" by the University of Arizona marching band was praised in the Guardian. Lupe Fiasco used a sample of the song on the mixtape Enemy of the State: A Love Story in the song "The National Anthem".
- Henry Binns – rhythm sampling
- Andy Bush – trumpet
- Andy Hamilton – tenor saxophone
- Steve Hamilton – alto saxophone
- Stan Harrison – baritone saxophone
- Martin Hathaway – alto saxophone
- Liam Kerkman – trombone
- Mike Kersey – bass trombone
- Mark Lockheart – tenor saxophone
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I can't help but hear Björk influences on Kid A.
I think we've all been envious about the way Björk has been able to reinvent music. Also, I've been influenced by Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, and Autechre. They truly seem to be the pioneers of new sound at the moment. While the band format is still valid, the really exciting things going on in music now are created in people's bedrooms.
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