Hysterical and Useless

I’m going to have to update my CV, specifically where it lists my hobbies.

I’ve realised lately that a hobby of mine seems to be discovering an old song, or album, years, or sometimes decades after it was released, or sometimes years after I actually first bought the album, and then becoming rather obsessed with it. Obsession lasts to the point where it’s a fine line between pleasure and pain: I catch the song/album  playing in my head while I’m at work, for example, and feel sick to death of it, and yet as soon as I get the opportunity, I’m listening to the album one more time.

At the moment, that album is Hail To The Thief, by Radiohead.

Now of course, it’s cool to discover albums by revered musicians, decades after they were released. It’s kind of the opposite of cool, though, to get into an album about 3, 4, 5 through to 10 years after it was released. After all, cool, as we know, means, fashionable, hip – that you lead the pack in your thoughts, tastes, ideas and influences.

Getting into an album about 5 years after its released suggests the opposite. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that you waited until you were convinced by everyone around you that the album was good before you dared to form an opinion yourself, and even then you waited another 4.5 years before taking that final, decisive step and buying/downloading/illegally burning it.

When it comes to Radiohead I admit quite freely that I missed the boat. I bought a second-hand copy of OK Computer in about 2000, approx 3 years after it was released and was a commerical and critical success worldwide. It was not their first album, either, but according to Wikipedia,

OK Computer is often acclaimed as one of the landmark records of the 1990s[1] and one of the best albums of all time.[2][3

I guess that seemed a good enough recommendation to take a punt on.

Seriously, the only excuse I can think of for why they escaped my attention until 3 years after the release of an album that was a landmark of the 1990s, is that maybe the album was too commerically successful to get airplay on the independent radio station I listened to. But I could be totally making that up. In the mid-to-late 1990s my most listened-to genres of music were British Trip-hop and techno (Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, The Prodigy etc) or Australian rock and post-rock (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Dirty Three, The Cruel Sea, The Surrealists, etc), and somehow the whole Radiohead explosion passed me by.  It was about 2000 when I decided I needed to find out more about them and deliberately set out to find a second-hand copy of OK Computer. It was possibly one of the first things I ever bought on eBay. I liked it, but not enough, apparently, to rush out and purchase any more Radiohead albums straight away.

Some time later –  let’s say about 5 years after its release – I picked up a copy of Kid A, thus keeping with the pattern of being very un-coolly behind the 8 ball when it came to Radiohead albums. Looking at my Radiohead collection, I find that I now have Pablo Honey, Hail To The Thief, and In Rainbows as well, although I have no idea when I got them. Most were picked up at second hand stores, (except In Rainbows which exists only on iTunes), so it seems I’ve never actually felt compelled to run out specifically to purchase a Radiohead album.

From this I think we can safely summarise the relationship between myself and and Radiohead thus: we have a very casual relationship, where I pick up their albums only if/when I happen to spot them for $5 at the local charity store, and they take no notice of me at all. So far this relationship has been working fine for all of us.

So Hail To The Thief has been in my CD collection for I-don’t-know how long – maybe 6 months, maybe 6 years. Maybe more. (it was released in 2003, so maybe 12 years??). What we can deduce, however, is that I have barely, if ever, listened to it. Until now.

What has changed now? I hear you ask. Good question, dear reader. Well, in a related incident, about 4 years ago one of my brothers gave me a book about Radiohead, called Radiohead – Hysterical and Useless, by Martin Clarke.

Radiohead bookAs is obviously my usual pattern, I put the book in our book shelves, where it sat with approximately 2000* other books  I am slowly working my way through at the average rate of about 1 book per month. (At that rate I estimate that in 150 more years I will have read them all.)

Recently I had a sudden hankering to read that book, and located it amongst the piles (of books). I read about the formation of the band, and the release of their early albums, which the author takes the time to describe track by track.

While reading descriptions of each track on Pablo Honey, I felt a strong inclination to listen to the songs being examined. I searched unsuccessfully for the album around the house – I couldn’t find the CD (we have nearly as many CDs as we have books). I had neglected to copy it into iTunes, so that attempt to synch my music listening with my reading was a failure, but while searching I discovered an album I’d completely forgotten about – Hail To The Thief! What do you know?  I popped it on to accompany my reading. (After all, it seemed likely that I’d get up to the release of Hail To The Thief sooner or later.) The next thing I knew, I was addicted.

Pic: Wikipedia

Hail To The Thief – album cover. Pic: Wikipedia

So now my problem is trying to stop listening to that album. I’ve finished the book (I’ve read a whole other book since then) but I can’t stop listening to the album. I catch myself out at home and work, with a track from the album playing in my head and feel tired of hearing it, but as soon as I have my iphone nearby I go straight to it for another listen.

And all I’ve told you about within this rapidly escalating word count is that I’m listening to this album, and how that came about. I haven’t even delved into what it is about the music, and the lyrics, on these albums that I find becomes quite compelling after a few listens. It’s the combination of melancholy, sometimes quite heart-breaking melodies, with scratchy, industrial sounding noise, beats, and lyrics that seem to be a mixture of nonsense and dark hints at bleak, futuristic worlds – suggestive of an apocalypse, or nuclear war, or a world taken over by computers.

What’s not to like?

As I round this off, I’ve noted a weird connection. This obsession has happened before with songs that I’ve had to listen to over and over again, and specific songs that I recall this happening on are This Mess We’re In, by PJ Harvey, and….How To Disappear Completely, by Radiohead.

In case you missed the connection, Thom Yorke (lead singer, and song writer for Radiohead) duets on This Mess We’re In with PJ Harvey.

In short – please help! I seem to have a propensity to become addicted to Thom Yorke’s songs.


 * regarding the number of books in our house, I asked my partner, who buys a lot of our books, (usually from charity stores) and seems to always know where they all are, and he thought about it for a while and said “probably about 4000.” But I don’t think he’s good at estimating numbers, that can’t be right. We live in a small house!

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  1. I prefer to think that I don’t rush out and buy albums straight away because I’m not a sheep who buys stuff because it’s “cool”. I require 4-5 years to decide for myself that it’s worth my money 🙂

    My big thing with music is to buy an album, listen to it once, then decide I don’t like it because the band/artist has matured, say, and it’s not exactly the same as the previous album. Then after a couple of years I listen to it again and decide it’s amazing. Tara Blaise’s second album and Evanescence’s third album are recent examples of this behaviour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, that’s probably what I did with Hail To the Thief! On the plus side it does mean that you can scour your own album collection and sometimes discover things you didn’t even know you liked!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never been a fan of bands or what was once more accurately described as “pop”, i.e. music whose quality meant that it had a definite sell-by date. I’m not a snob, by the way (Oh yes, you are – Ed.) but I do know what I like and the sort of music you describe isn’t it.

    With that preamble out of the way, I will go on to say that I do know the annoying tune-in-the-head that won’t go away. A term has been coined for this: it is called an “ear worm”, a designation that seems appropriate as it suggests parasitism detrimental to the unwilling host. Tigger’s musical taste differs radically from mine, being more like yours, I suppose, which means that when I get an ear worm it is almost always some tune that she has been listening to and that I dislike intensely. Double whammy.

    What do you do about it? More specifically, how do you make the intruder go away? The solution I am working on currently is called Fighting Fire with Fire. I choose a piece of music I do like and when the ear worm begins again, I start imagining and even humming my preferred replacement, repeating “treatments” as necessary. Does it work? Well, it seems to. I have by this method chased away several irritating ear worms and the strange thing is that the replacement doesn’t seem to turn into an ear worm itself. (I think that to become an ear worm a tune has to sneak in under the filter of consciousness.)

    Now, of course, my mind may not work like yours and my method may not work for you. If it did, though, it might be an useful discovery.


    • Thank you SilverTiger, I appreciate you taking the time to respond, despite not liking the same kind of music. My partner has a very large collection of Baroque, Classical, folk, and jazz music, most of which I would never voluntarily listen to, (although some of it is quite nice), and there is only a small portion of my music that he voluntarily listens to, so I’m certainly aware, when I write about music, that my taste is not everyone’s taste. I’m appreciative of anyone who is willing to engage with the ideas in a post despite the fact that the music mentioned is not to their liking.

      I have heard that term “ear worm,” but not put into context, so now I know what it means, and I agree it is very apt. I have tried the tactic of listening to other music, and find that for me it works in the short term, but often in a few days the ear worm is back.


      • My tastes in music would be closer to your partner’s. They weren’t always, though: I was brought up in a more “easy listening” culture. My mother’s favourite singers were Donald Peers and “Gigli” (Beniamino Gigli). I “discovered” Classical music for myself and was also enchanted by Trad Jazz.

        I have to say that these days I appreciate more and more the pleasures of silence and when I am on my own take out my “dolbies” (hearing aids).

        Liked by 1 person

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