Radiohead’s Kid A saw a change in direction for the Oxford five-piece. Released in 2000, and sandwiched between OK Computer and Amnesiac, it’s probably fair to say it had a little influence from both of these albums. With less of an obvious rock influence than OK Computer but not quite as far-out and experimental as Amnesiac, it regularly tops music publications’ ‘best of’ lists.
The opener is Everything in its Right Place, which has been covered by Alarm Will Sound, Robert Glasper and Brad Mehldau, remixed by Gigamesh, Tensnake and Paul Oakenfold and sampled by Marcel Fengler and SBTRKT.
Thom Yorke composed the song originally on the piano before taking it to the studio. He cites losing interest in guitar music as a major influence for this album, and he’s fairly disparaging about his keyboard abilities too, saying:
I totally lost interest in playing guitar… it just didn’t do it for me any more… I started playing the piano, I’m a terrible piano player so that was kind of good… everything was a novelty… I wrote a lot of stuff on piano… the less you know about an instrument the more you get excited about it.
The whole song is really just three chords, with a fourth thrown in briefly during the verse, so it’s a nice, easy piece to get your fingers around.
The chords for the intro are C, Db∆7 and Eb6 (if you’re unfamiliar with chord naming conventions, have a read of this). The chord are simple triads with a note of C, so C E G C, Db F Ab C and Eb G Bb C, with the left hand following the root of the chords in octaves.
The time signature flits between 6/4 and 4/4. What Yorke originally intended is a mystery as the percussion that kicks in later is a solitary kick drum on each quarter beat, not giving anything about the meter away. You can think of it as 10/4 if that helps you count, but either is perfectly acceptable.
Our key signature is Ab, which is slightly spurious considering Ab’s relative minor is C minor and our first chord is a C major, but the three chords have an element of dissonance when taken together so it’s hard to approximate a key.
Interestingly these are the same chords (albeit in a different key) as Pyramid Song from Amnesiac, released a year later.
I’ve contextualised the examples with a kick drum now, a simple blip from Logic’s Ultrabeat. It’s the same pattern as the intro, only with an added F chord right before the C, a 2nd inversion (C F A) which leads nicely to the C.
The bridge employs the same chords as the intro, just in a different order: Db∆7, C then Eb6. The time signature is a little harder to follow here as there’s a bar of five, a bar of four, a bar of six then a bar of four again; the best solution is to follow the melody (which is a static C note “Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon…”).
Wikipedia has this to say about the chorus’s bleak lyrics:
The line, “Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon”, apparently refers to the face one makes in reaction to a lemon’s sourness. Yorke revealed in an interview that while promoting OK Computer, he was told he frequently exhibited a sour-faced look.
Editing in its Right Place
The main keyboard part is often attributed to a Fender Rhodes or a Prophet 5, however neither sound quite right to me. The Rhodes typically has more character and bite in the top end where as a Prophet 5 has only one sine wave oscillator, so I’m not sure if it’s either of those (though if anyone has any proof one way or another I’d be interested to see/hear it!).
I’ve recreated the sound using Logic’s ES-2, but really any multi-oscillator subtractive synth will do. Starting off with our oscillator section, I’ve tuned two sine waves to -12 semitones and detuned them slightly. The third sine wave is tuned normally, with the volume reduced slightly:
I’ve run the oscillators into a low-pass filter. Now, normally sine waves have no harmonics to filter out but after adding one and using an envelope to shape it, I found it added a very subtle amount of movement to our patch.
Next, moving on to the envelopes themselves. I’ve used all three available to the ES-2: Env 1 with no attack and a short decay doing a very small amount of pitch modulation; Env 2 controlling our low-pass filter (notice the release value is on max so as not to choke the amplitude’s release) and; Env 3 hardwired to our amplitude, with a small amount of attack to reduce the “clicky-ness” of the sound:
Finish the sound off with some unison detune (six voices in my case) and restart the oscillator’s phase on gate trigger. I’ve also added some ‘Analog’, which apparently randomises the tuning to some degree. Seemed to help.
You can download my crack at the patch here.
There isn’t actually any guitar in this song, but I took the liberty of transcribing a tab for it. It’s not perfect, as these close voicing chords are hard to get on the guitar, so the fifth of each chord (G, Ab and Bb) is lost but this doesn’t affect the overall tonality. Here are the three parts in order:
I’ll leave you with Robert Glasper excellent cover/mashup with Maiden Voyage that really pushes the harmonic possibilities with this framework.