The National Anthem (Radiohead song)

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"The National Anthem"
Radiohead The National Anthem Promo.png
Belgium promotional single cover
Song by Radiohead
from the album Kid A
Released2000 (2000)
  • 1997
  • January 1999 – April 2000

"The National Anthem" is a song by the English rock band Radiohead, released on their fourth album, Kid A (2000). The song is moored to a repetitive bassline, and develops in a direction influenced by jazz.

Background and recording[edit]

Radiohead's singer, Thom Yorke, wrote the "National Anthem" bassline when he was 16.[2] In 1997, Radiohead recorded drums and bass for the song, intending to develop it as a B-side for their third album, OK Computer (1997). Instead, they saved it for their next album, Kid A (2000).[3] Yorke played bass on the studio recording.[3]

Jonny Greenwood added Ondes Martenot and sampled sounds from radio stations,[3] and Yorke's vocals were processed with a ring modulator.[4] In November 1999,[5] 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.[6] Yorke said: "The running joke when we were in the studios was, 'Just blow. Just blow, just blow, just blow.'"[7]

An early demo of "The National Anthem" was included in the special edition of the 2017 OK Computer reissue OKNOTOK 1997 2017.[8]


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

The free jazz section was described as "a brass band marching into a brick wall" by one reviewer.[7] 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".[9] Cam Lindsey of Exclaim! wrote that the song is a "radical jazz-rock fusion".[10] David Fricke of Rolling Stone called the song "crusty funk".[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 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".[13] Lorraine Ali, writing for Newsweek, described the song as "annoying pileup of squawking instruments".[14] 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".[15]

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".[16] 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."[17] Cam Lindsey of Exclaim! cited it as the album's standout track.[10]

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."[8]

Live performances[edit]

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.[18]

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.[19][20] Ayurveda (band) and Umphrey's McGee covered the song on live performances.

The Jazz Passengers did an instrumental version on their album Reunited.[21] A "marvellously squalling version" by the University of Arizona marching band was praised in the Guardian.[22][23] Lupe Fiasco used a sample of the song on the mixtape Enemy of the State: A Love Story in the song "The National Anthem".[24]



Additional personnel[edit]

  • Nigel Godrich – production, engineering, mixing
  • Gerard Navarro – production assistance, additional engineering
  • Graeme Stewart – additional engineering

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 Kirkman – trombone
  • Mike Kearsey – bass trombone
  • Mark Lockheart – tenor saxophone


  1. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2 October 2015). "How Radiohead's 'Kid A' Shocked the World". Rolling Stone.
  2. ^ Fricke, David (2 August 2001). "Making Music That Matters". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 20 April 2006. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  3. ^ a b c Nic, Harcourt (12 October 2000). "Radiohead – Morning Becomes Eclectic". Morning Becomes Eclectic (Interview). Jonny and Colin Greenwood. KCRW.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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 19 November 2014. 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.
  6. ^ Zoric, Lauren (1 October 2000). "Fitter, Happier, More Productive". Juice Magazine. Archived from the original on 9 March 2016. Retrieved 19 May 2007.
  7. ^ a b Loder, Kurt (1 October 2001). "Radiohead: Ice Age Coming". MTV. Retrieved 3 March 2009.
  8. ^ a b Atkins, Jamie (22 June 2017). "OK Computer – OKNOTOK 1997-2017". Record Collector. Retrieved 23 June 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2 October 2000). "Classic Reviews: Radiohead, 'Kid A'". Spin. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  10. ^ a b Lindsay, Cam (1 November 2000). "Radiohead - Kid A review". Exclaim!. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  11. ^ Fricke, David (12 October 2000). "Kid A". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 27 January 2021.
  12. ^ Hornby, Nick (30 October 2000). "Beyond the Pale". The New York. p. 106. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  13. ^ Beaumont, Mark (11 October 2010). "Radiohead's Kid A: Still Not Much Cop". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  14. ^ Ali, Lorraine (5 November 2016). "Radiohead, 'Kid A': Newsweek's Original Album Review". Newsweek. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  15. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2 October 2015). "How Radiohead Shocked the World: A 15th-Anniversary Salute to 'Kid A'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  16. ^ Downer, Adam (27 February 2006). "Radiohead - Kid A (album review)". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  17. ^ Kane, Siobhan (20 June 2016). "Radiohead live review: an exploration of their musical universe". The Irish Times. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  18. ^ "The Colbert Report". Comedy Central. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  19. ^ Laskin, Tom (17 February 2006). "Vernon Reid & Masque". Isthmus. Archived from the original on 9 April 2016. Retrieved 7 November 2015 – via HighBeam Research.
  20. ^ Westergaard, Sean. "Vernon Reid & Masque: Other True Self". AllMusic. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  21. ^ Collins, Troy (6 October 2010). "The Jazz Passengers: Reunited (2010)". All About Jazz. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  22. ^ Salmon, Chris (December 2006). "Trombone's Got the Bends". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  23. ^ Layman, Will (18 January 2011). "The Jazz Passengers: Reunited". PopMatters. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  24. ^ Vozick-Levinson, Simon (1 December 2009). "Lupe Fiasco raps over Radiohead's 'National Anthem'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 23 October 2015.