The National Anthem (Radiohead song)

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"The National Anthem"
Song by Radiohead
from the album Kid A
Recorded November 1997,[1] January 1999 – April 2000
Length 5:51
Songwriter(s) Radiohead

"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[edit]

An early demo of "The National Anthem" is included in the special edition of the 2017 OK Computer reissue, OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017.[2] Radiohead singer Thom Yorke wrote the song's bassline when he was 16, and played the bassline on the studio recording.[3] 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,[4] and Yorke's vocals were processed with a ring modulator.[5] 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'".[6]


The bass riff of "The National Anthem" was written and performed by Thom Yorke (pictured in 2010)

The free jazz-style wind section featured in the song, influenced by jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus,[6] creates a soundscape of chaos, and has been described as "a brass band marching into a brick wall" by one reviewer.[6] 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".[7] Cam Lindsey of Exclaim! wrote that the song is a "radical jazz-rock fusion".[8]

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.[9] Greenwood's usage of it was inspired by the music of Olivier Messiaen.[10] It also contains a brass section, recorded in 1999,[5] 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.[11]

Critical reception[edit]

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".[12] 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".[13] Lorraine Ali, writing for Newsweek, described the song as "annoying pileup of squawking instruments" and "bursts of arch, disjointed avant-garde".[14][15] 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".[16]

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".[17] 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."[18] Cam Lindsey cited it as "probably the standout track on the album".[8]

Live performances[edit]

"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.[19][20]

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.[21]

Uses and cover versions[edit]

"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.[22][23] Ayurveda and Umphrey's McGee covered the song on live performances.

The Jazz Passengers did an instrumental version on their album Reunited.[24] A "marvellously squalling version" by the University of Arizona marching band was praised in the Guardian.[25][26]

Lupe Fiasco has used a sample of the song on the mixtape Enemy of the State: A Love Story in the song "The National Anthem".[27]



Additional musicians[edit]

  • 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


  1. ^ "The National Anthem". Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  2. ^ Atkins, Jamie (22 June 2017). "OK Computer – OKNOTOK 1997-2017 - Record Collector Magazine". Retrieved 23 June 2017. 
  3. ^ Fricke, David (2 August 2001). "Making Music That Matters". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 20 April 2006. Retrieved 29 March 2009. 
  4. ^ Nic, Harcourt (12 October 2000). "Radiohead – Morning Becomes Eclectic". Morning Becomes Eclectic (Interview). Jonny and Colin Greenwood. KCRW. 
  5. ^ a b Swenson, Kylee (January 2001). "A Spy In the House of Music: Radiohead's Ed O'Brien Discusses Sonic Espionage". MC2 Magazine: 44–47. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  6. ^ a b c Loder, Kurt (1 October 2001). "Radiohead: Ice Age Coming". MTV. Retrieved 3 March 2009. 
  7. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2 October 2000). "Classic Reviews: Radiohead, 'Kid A'". Spin. Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  8. ^ a b Lindsay, Cam (1 November 2000). "Radiohead - Kid A review". Exclaim!. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  9. ^ Letts, Marianne Tatom (2010). Radiohead and the Resistant Concept Album: How to Disappear Completely. Indiana University Press. p. 66. ISBN 9780253004918. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  10. ^ "Radiohead: Cosmic Kid … Monte: Celestial Sex Music". The New York Observer. 2 October 2000. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  11. ^ Zoric, Lauren (1 October 2000). "Fitter, Happier, More Productive". Juice Magazine. Archived from the original on 9 March 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  12. ^ Hornby, Nick (30 October 2000). "Beyond the Pale". The New York. p. 106. Retrieved 27 October 2015. (Registration required (help)). 
  13. ^ Beaumont, Mark (11 October 2010). "Radiohead's Kid A: Still Not Much Cop". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  14. ^ Ali, Lorraine (16 October 2000). "Radiohead's Creepy Genius: A Ghostly Seduction". Newsweek. Retrieved 7 November 2015 – via HighBeam Research. (Subscription required (help)). 
  15. ^ Ali, Lorraine (5 November 2016). "Radiohead, 'Kid A': Newsweek's Original Album Review". Newsweek. Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  16. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2 October 2015). "How Radiohead Shocked the World: A 15th-Anniversary Salute to 'Kid A'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  17. ^ Downer, Adam (27 February 2006). "Radiohead - Kid A (album review)". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  18. ^ Kane, Siobhan (20 June 2016). "Radiohead live review: an exploration of their musical universe". The Irish Times. Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  19. ^ "Radiohead Tour Statistics: 2012 -". Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  20. ^ "Radiohead Tour Statistics: 2006 -". Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  21. ^ "The Colbert Report". Comedy Central. Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  22. ^ Laskin, Tom (17 February 2006). "Vernon Reid & Masque". Isthmus. Retrieved 7 November 2015 – via HighBeam Research. (Subscription required (help)). 
  23. ^ Westergaard, Sean. "Vernon Reid & Masque: Other True Self". Allmusic. Retrieved 7 November 2015. 
  24. ^ Collins, Troy (6 October 2010). "The Jazz Passengers: Reunited (2010)". All About Jazz. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  25. ^ Salmon, Chris. "Trombone's Got the Bends". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  26. ^ Layman, Will (18 January 2011). "The Jazz Passengers: Reunited". PopMatters. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  27. ^ Vozick-Levinson, Simon (1 Dec 2009). "Lupe Fiasco raps over Radiohead's 'National Anthem'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 23 October 2015.