Probably the most innovative songs in the world: ‘In Rainbows’ by Radiohead

February 21, 2011 at 4:34 pm 1 comment

By Sophie Byrne

Like Alan Lockey I am ignoring the basic concept of this blog series. I want to talk about ‘In Rainbows’, the seventh studio album of the alternative rock giants Radiohead, not an individual Radiohead song. I know Radiohead fans could spend many an hour arguing about which of Thom Yorke’s creations is the most innovative in its own right… but let us not go down that road.

In October 2007 Radiohead announced the upcoming release of a new album, the first since the end of their contract with EMI back in 2003, on their blog Dead Air Space:

“Hello everyone.

Well, the new album is finished, and it’s coming out in 10 days;

We’ve called it In Rainbows.

Love from us all.” 

At that point the music industry had an inkling that Radiohead might produce and distribute this album ‘off-label’, perhaps distributing the music through an online music store. Little did they suspect that Radiohead had much bigger, more radical plans.

‘In Rainbows’ was release by the band as a digital download via, the band’s website, not an online music store. The ‘industry’ was entirely cut out of the equation. You simply logged on to their website, added the songs to the ‘shopping basket’ and off you went to the ‘checkout’. As if that weren’t enough to seriously ruffle the feathers of A&R executives, Radiohead also decided to allow fans to decide how much they thought the music was worth, by allowing them to pay as much or as little as they wanted. You could even decide to pay nothing at all, and that was ok.

So no record label and no recommended retail price.   

The true impact of Radiohead’s innovative distribution method is not entirely clear yet, but it was certainly a gamble on Radiohead’s part. Although the album was a huge commercial success and was critically acclaimed (receiving a 2009 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Rock Album) it could easily have been a financial disaster.  Thankfully, fans paid an average of £4.00 for the album and without a distribution partner to cut into the band’s profits, Radiohead made a tidy packet.*

For the music industry the radicalism of the release of ‘In Rainbows’ can not be underestimated, and it was certainly another nail in the coffin of an ailing industry. If Radiohead – one of the most successful bands in the world – are happy to give their music away for a nominal sum, it doesn’t bode well for an industry that’s business model relies on people spending a tenner on the albums of much less credible and talented musicians.

Since 2007 we have seen artists, who were once able to rely on the income from album releases, coming up with new ways to create money. The importance of touring, especially doing the summer music festival circuit, has become a much more prominent part of being a (financially) successful musician, for example.

The music on the album is, I think, Radiohead at their best and although the way they went about releasing it was innovative, hopefully the album will be remembered for the music it contains. Listen to songs from the album here:

15 Step


You can also watch the new Radiohead music video for Lotus Flower, where Thom Yorke is pulling some truly surprising moves, in a bowler hat, for about 6 minutes. It has been ‘trending’ on twitter over the weekend. Guardian passnotes describes it as “Like a combination of mime artist Marcel Marceau, Napoleon Dynamite and a toddler with a bee next to its ear. The overall impression is of a very, very drunk friend refusing to leave a nightclub.”

*Radiohead subsequently licensed the music to record labels, who released the physical album, as Yorke was concerned that not all fans would have access to the technology to download the online version.


Entry filed under: Just for fun, Most innovative songs in the world, Uncategorized.

Closing date for intern applications is this Friday Inspiring picture from the middle east

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. alecpatton  |  February 23, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I think the Guardian’s description of his dancing is well-observed, but a bit unfair. I thought he was a surprisingly spry and funky dancer. I onlyhope it inspires a raft of youtube imitators, a la ‘All the Single Ladies’


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