The National Anthem (Radiohead song)
|"The National Anthem"|
|Song by Radiohead|
|from the album Kid A|
|Recorded||November 1997, January 1999 – April 2000|
"The National Anthem" is a song by the English rock band Radiohead, and the third track from their fourth studio album, Kid A. The song is moored to a repetitive bassline, has a processed electronic production and develops in a direction influenced by jazz. The song was written by Radiohead, who co-produced it with Nigel Godrich. It has been played frequently at Radiohead concerts since the release of Kid A in 2000. It received polarised reviews by critics.
Background and recording
This song, featuring a horn section improvising over a repetitive bassline, demonstrates the band's increasing influence from jazz during this time period. Yorke cited Charles Mingus as his main inspiration here.
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An early demo of "The National Anthem" is included in the special edition of the 2017 OK Computer reissue, OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017. Radiohead singer Thom Yorke wrote the song's bassline when he was 16, and played the bassline on the studio recording. In 1997, Radiohead recorded drums and bass for the song, intending to develop it for an OK Computer B-side, but decided to save it for their next album. Greenwood added Ondes Martenot and sampled sounds from radio stations, and Yorke's vocals were processed with a ring modulator. The jazz musicians were conducted by Yorke and Radiohead multinstrumentalist Jonny Greenwood. Yorke said: "the running joke when we were in the studios was, 'Just blow. Just blow, just blow, just blow'".
The free jazz-style wind section featured in the song, influenced by jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus, creates a soundscape of chaos, and has been 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 also features an ondes Martenot, played by Jonny Greenwood, an early electronic instrument which was picked up by Greenwood for several songs on Kid A and subsequent albums. Greenwood's usage of it was inspired by the music of Olivier Messiaen. It also contains a brass section, recorded in 1999, 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.
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 the album in Melody Maker on its release, was unrepentant ten years later in the Guardian, describing the "free-form jazz horns of 'The National Anthem'" as "mingus-in-a-tumble-dryer racket". Lorraine Ali, writing for Newsweek, described the song as "annoying pileup of squawking instruments" and "bursts of arch, disjointed avant-garde". Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone said the horn section in the song "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 cited it as "probably the standout track on the album".
"The National Anthem" was the opening song for most Radiohead concerts in 2000–2001, and is the first track on the band's 2001 album I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings. It has been one of the most played songs from Kid A at concerts since 2000, but has seen a decrease in performances in recent years.
Radiohead has performed 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.
Uses and cover versions
"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.
- 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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