This article was originally published in 2013. It is being re-published today to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Radiohead’s appearance on MTV Beach House.
There’s no denying that we’ve reached a fairly nostalgia-heavy point in our shared timeline. We can’t be blamed for our collective obsession with reminiscing, though; there’s a sense of inescapable joy about turning our gaze back 10, 15, or 20 years ago and amusing ourselves with questions of, “Oh boy, what what were we all thinking?” The 1990s are a perfect period for just such recollection, when angst filled the air, young people contemplated early retirement to havens like Portland or San Francisco, and popular music was acid-washed and covered in flannel.
For example, does anyone remember when Radiohead wasn’t the biggest and best band in the world, but just another collection of noisy droogs densely packed on the overstuffed alt-rock bandwagon? Because they totally were.
For proof, just look at their 1993 performance of the Pablo Honey standout “Anyone Can Play Guitar” at the MTV Beach House. Just a few years shy of their official ascent toward becoming the smartest, most innovative band in the land, Radiohead were still dishing out delectable noise pop with nary a synthesizer in sight. The entire video package is a fitting slice of vintage MTV: a chaotic, ADD-addled reminder of the type of slight Avant garde performance clips that used to run on the network around the clock.
Still, the craziest reminder of just how much has changed over the past 18 years comes by watching Thom Yorke. These days, Yorke is practically a poster child for self-seriousness, which makes watching him scream like a man possessed around the 2:30 mark so utterly jarring. Then, of course, he went for a dip in the pool, after which he reportedly almost electrocuted himself by reaching for a microphone that someone luckily kicked away. Thankfully, modern-day Yorke avoids such possible catastrophe via the safety of interpretive dance.
The whole surreal experience is a reminder of a younger, wilder Radiohead that long ago got choked out by maturity and over-sized ambition. It’s kind of like when someone tells you your parents once stole a car or got arrested as teenagers. It’s hard to get your head around, because it runs counter to everything you’ve come to expect from this pair of levelheaded and insightful adults.
But while the ’90s are largely a closed book for Radiohead, it’s refreshing to know that before they set out to be the most accomplished band in the world, they were plenty content with just having fun. Still, probably a good thing Yorke learned a lesson about water and electrified mics.