Why has Radiohead never scored an Australian #1 album?

radiohead

UPDATE! (Necessitated by OK Computer’s 20th anniversary edition —  file renamed as OK Computer: OKNOTOK 1997-2017 — reentering the ARIA Australian Albums chart on 3 July 2017.)

ORIGINAL STORY:

The above tweet was sent out four days after Radiohead’s ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool debuted at #2 on Australia’s ARIA Top 50 Albums chart. This result was based purely off digital purchases and preceded five weeks of steady decline till, the week after its delayed release in physical formats, it rebounded 46 places back to #2. One week later, it dipped to #5. Unless Thom Yorke drops dead, triggering Bowiesque/Princely posthumous purchasing, AMSP will be Radiohead’s sixth album in a row to peak at #2. The Oxfordshire electroexperimentaprogrockers — mainstay favourites of the Australian musicloving politic — have never topped the chart, and this second tweet attempted to put this historical oddity into its shameful context:

From the moment Creep first gained radio play in 1993, eventually peaking at #6 on the ARIA Singles chart and coming in at #2 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 (more on that curse here), Radiohead has enjoyed rare critical and commercial success in Australia. Their cultural cachet is without peer, with sold out tours and lotsa radio airplay, perhaps skewing to the back catalogue on commercial stations but still plenty of coverage of new content on youth network Triple J, especially when one considers the average age of the five heads is 47. When was the last time you heard fellow 69er Marilyn Manson on the radio?

Over the course of 9 albums, Radiohead has secured 11 places in annual Hottest 100s…

1993 — #2 Creep
1997 – #7 Paranoid Android
1997 — #9 Karma Police
1998 — #55 No Surprises
2000 — #42 Everything In Its Right Place
2001 — #36 Pyramid Song
2001 — #74 Knives Out
2003 — #48 There, There
2003 — #49 2 + 2 = 5
2007 — #94 Jigsaw Falling Into Place
2011 — #61 Lotus Flower

…and three Grammy noms for Album of the Year…

1998 — OK Computer (losing to Time Out Of Mind by Bob Dylan (!))
2001 — Kid A (losing to Two Against Nature by Steely Dan (!!))
2009 — In Rainbows (lowing to Raising Sand by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss (!!!))

…and professional critical analysis bordering on apotheosis…

(album ratings in chronological order)

Allmusic: 3/5 stars, 5, 5, 5, 3.5, 4, 4.5, 3.5, 4 for a combined 37.5/45
Rolling Stone: 3/5 stars, 3.5, 4, 5, 4.5, 4, 5, 4, 4.5 for a cumulative 37.5/45
Guardian (sans Pablo Honey and, curiously, “#2 album of the 2000s” Kid A): 4/5 stars, 4, 4, 3, 5, 4, 4 for a total of 28/35

…so even though the lads once came in second to an Asshole and were thwarted to the apicular Grammy by three albums I’m confident nobody has ever listened to, they remain, in short, hugely popular and very good.

And that makes their inability to secure an Australian #1 album all the more peculiar. The purpose of this post is to look back at the albums and artists that have prevented Radiohead for scoring a charttopper, to discover if the band has been a victim of circumstance, bad timing or lamentable taste by the Australian music buying public. We start in 1993…

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#86 Pablo Honey (exact date unknown, likely to be December 1993)

Although Pablo Honey was released in February 1993, it wasn’t until Creep crept onto radio in October that Australians first started paying attention to Radiohead. The single entered the ARIA Singles chart at #39 on Halloween and spent six weeks in the Top 10 across the Christmas and New Year period. Because Pablo Honey never entered the Top 50, and I can’t find historical Top 100 charts to locate the exact week PH peaked out at #86, I can only speculate that it was around Yuletime — a popular time for angels that make our skin cry — that it reached its zenith, low though it may have been.

The album under most Christmas trees that year, including mine (thanks Mum!), was So Far So Good by Bryan Adams, a greatest hits compilation that came packaged with the CD single for his contemporaneous #1 Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman. Also popular that year was Flesh And Wood by Barnesy, Then Again… by Farnsy and Duets by Franksy. Actually, the pointy end of that chart is stacked to the meniscus with talent: Beatles, Stones, Billy Joel, Meat Loaf, Pearl Jam, Madonna and U2 are all in the nascent Radiohead’s way, and that doesn’t even take into account Michael Bolton at #22, Doug Mulray at #32 (a comedy album called Nice Legs Shame About The Fez, including a song titled Janie’s Not A Nun — btw I haven’t looked that up or factchecked it and am simply relying on my memory for that factoid) and Peter Andre at #35. It is a plangent chart to revisit, considering the erstwhile vital occupations of Wacko Jacko at #20, Hester’s Crowded House at #21, Hutchence’s INXS at #29, Prince at #27, Bowie at #49, Whitney at #50. Hard to believe we’ve lost them all and yet the precious light of Doug Mulray continues to shine.

Who in Australia owns Pablo Honey? I don’t. Creep was on 100% Hits Volume 10 (again, thanks Mum!) and on the first Hottest 100 double album — both insanely popular compilation brands — meaning fans of both mainstream/commercial airs and the more alternate genres sourced ownership of the track by musical osmosis.

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#23 The Bends (20 August 1995)

The Bends is the only Radiohead album to not enter the Australian Top 50 at its eventual peak (This sentence was true at the time of writing but, as per the UPDATE! up top, The Bends shares this distinction with OK Computer.). Promoted by the preceding single My Iron Lung and the complementary double A-side High And Dry / Planet Telex, The Bends limped in at #50 before shooting to #28 and #23 over the next fortnight. Its final two weeks in the chart were spent at #32 and #44. None of the singles from this album cracked the Top 50, though Fake Plastic Trees and Just both had crazy good music videos that are now iconic of the mid-90s alt-Brit revival; receiving lotsa airplay on Rage.

Despite the success of Creep in a mainstream sales-based sense, there was still a feeling that Radiohead was a tad inaccessible from an album perspective (and this a decade before Amnesiac!), meaning only the most hip denim-on-denim, unconventionally pierced (non-ear rings were the tatts of the late Keating/early Clinton years) shoegazer was investing $29.95 to purchase their albums. But they were buying some CDs — 22 were more popular than The Bends that winter’s week — qualitatively ranging from immortal beloved (#19 Grace by Jeff Buckley) to execrable aural detritus (#12 Painted Desert Serenade by Joshua Kadison). In between these cultural antipodes were a brilliant soundtrack (#14 Pulp Fiction) and a ho-hum one (#18 Batman Forever), greatest hits albums from Bon Jovi (#13 These Days) and The Doors (#16 The Best Of…), two albums by Chris Isaak (#3 Forever Blue and #22 Wicked Game), several divas of capricious listenability (#2 The Colour Of My Love by Celine Dion, #4 Don’t Ask by Tina Arena, #6 The Garden by Merril Bainbridge {she had that mouth song}, #15 Post by Björk and #21 Tuesday Night Music Club by Sheryl Crow) and Wacko Jacko’s part new stuff, part old stuff, part enormous humanoid statue publicity stunt (#10 HIStory: Past, Present And Future — Book 1).

The #1 album in Australia during The Bends’ paragon was Throwing Copper by Live, a band that didn’t much forecast the importance of search engine optimisation when choosing its moniker. One of my rules of thumb in music fandom and journalism is that if you have to ask if they are a Christian rock band then you already have your answer. Live was a phenomenon in 1995: Lightning Crashes peaked at #13 on the singles chart, which is an incredible achievement for a song about a miscarriage (even popularity’s Ed Sheeran only hit #14 with his Small Bump, while Brick by Ben Folds Five, which is about a termination, also peaked at #13); Selling The DramaAll Over You and Waitress were played ad nauseum across the radio dial; and we as a national populace loved I Alone so much we voted it into two Hottest 100s (#27 in 1994 and #34 in 1995). Throwing Copper spent 117 weeks in the Top 50, 7 at #1. Ed Kowalczyk was sanctified as some kinda post-grunge outre conflation of Vedder’s sincerity, Weiland’s charisma and Cobain’s diffidence, but somehow with more credibility. He shaved his head before Corgan. He scored a guest spot in Fight Clubfucking Fight Club — the film that has become a byword for post-structural anti-capitalist cool. And yet right now you find yourself wondering: was Live a Christian rock band?

Look, back in 95 The Bends woulda had to sell another 30,000 units to hit #1 that week — there were no digital streams and online gamifications to fudge the numbers — so it’s hardly worth lamenting 21 years later, but a naff Christian rock band kept Radiohead’s cool AF sophomore masterpiece off top spot on the ARIA Albums Chart. Just let that sink in for a moment.

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#7 OK Computer (29 June 1997)

On 26 May 1997 Radiohead released Paranoid Android and changed everything. Almost 6.5 minutes long and with no chorus, hook or overriding motif to link its four phases, this chaotic pastiche of fracturing genius, best received through the vector of its South Parky short film, acts as an invite into the world of alienation, disillusionment and despair. There is no way in whatever world this song lives in that it should have been a hit — but it was. Paranoid Android reached #3 on the UK Single Chart and #29 Down Under. In the most recent Hottest 100 Of All Time (2009), it was played out in full at #5, between fellow gamechangers Love Will Tear Us Apart and Bohemian Rhapsody, and it will continue to score high in those polls for as long as they are taken. No-one has ever heard the noise an unborn chicken makes and yet after listening to Paranoid Android you instinctively, intimately become privy to the poultry ululations torturing Thom Yorke. Listening/watching back as I tap this out, I can’t help but feel incredulous that 16yo Patrick did not hear Paranoid Android and immediately know that Princess Di was about to be crushed in a Paris tunnel, Britpop was about to flame out with the release of Be Here Now and Tony Blair would turn out to be a warmongering populist neocon Tory in disguise shaped disappointment. It was all there in Paranoid Android, the most zeitgeist piece of redolence for the misplaced optimism of a generation.

Paranoid Android was backed up by two more awesome singles, Karma Police and No Surprises, an EP for Airbag, some atmospheric fan favourites in Subterranean Homesick Alien and Exit Music (For A Film), the oddly prescient musique concrète intermission Fitter Happier and the glorious Electioneering. OK Computer was the first of five consecutive UK #1 albums for Radiohead, and it cemented their cracking of the hermetically sealed American market, something every British and Irish band seemed to spend an entire decade attempting. For all the fawning success and quaking awe percolated by Kid A, it was OK Computer’s inability to top the Australian chart — and it only managed #7 — that shocks the most. Two songs in the Top 10 of the Hottest 100, a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year, a supporting short film titled Meeting People Is Easy and a huge Australian tour. You could not open your ears and hope to avoid a straining Thom Yorke earworm.

A hermeneutical reading of the ARIA Albums chart the week OK Computer landed reveals the classically desultory nature of our music listening tastes. While the US charts tend to be dominated by one mastergenre — rap/hip-hop/R’n’B at the moment — and the UK by one archipelago (Britain and Ireland), the ARIA charts is a broad church.

Perhaps it is reflective of our cultural potpourri, borrowing traits and customs from myriad provenances, that the music we consume and consequently drive to the top of the charts is so hard to pigeonhole and so easy to dismiss.

At #6 and one slot ahead of OK Computer was Still Waters by prodigal sons Bee Gees; an album including the Top 10 smash hit single Alone. It boggles the mind to think the Brothers Gibbs, so past their prime in 1997, could return so triumphantly, especially when you consider the relative failure of all the different Beatles mutations that have occurred to the delight of only the superfans. At #5 was Spice by Spice Girls, anchored by Wannabe, a song now 20 years old and triggering its own series of nostalgic thinkpieces reflecting on missed penalties, films about sanguine coalminers and the charmingly quaint LGB rights movement. That Jon Bon Jovi’s solo record Destination Anywhere, a collection of songs that do no more than highlight the supreme contribution of the other member of Bon Jovi to that group’s consistently tolerable oeuvre, was itself debuting at #4 is a national embarrassment. That album has a song on it called Staring At Your Window With A Suitcase In My Hand and that tells you everything you need to know about my desolation that we as a developed civilisation saw fit to reward it with more sales than the genius that is OK Computer. Paul Kelly’s greatest hits album Songs From The South was at #3 and I can live with that. He is a national treasure, after all.

At #2 and in the 13th of 40 consecutive weeks in the Top 10, including 19 at #1, was Savage Garden’s eponymous debut, home to no fewer than five generation defining masterpieces (#4 I Want You, #1 To The Moon And Back, #1 Truly Madly Deeply, #7 Break Me Shake Me, #26 Universe). Savage Garden are kinda like commercial radio’s answer to Radiohead. Every strand of hair carefully out of place, a touch of the mysterious about Darren Hayes’ sexuality but nonetheless still accessibly harmless. Years later when I was at uni in Canberra I played pub trivia each Wednesday night at PJs on London Circuit and it was hosted by Daniel Jones’ brother Johnny Jones. He was a very good trivia host and a nice fellow and he had a pretty dim view of Darren. While researching this piece I tried to listen to Savage Garden (LP) in full and it was a tough slog. Sure, it’s miles better than any pop record being released these days but there will always be something more worthwhile to listen to than songs about chic-a-cherry cola.

And debuting at #1 that week was the self-styled album of the year Album Of The Year by Faith No More. This would be FNM’s first and only charttopping LP in Australia, and whilst not containing seminal #1 hits like Epic or the boys’ cover of Easy, it did include a cracking lead-off single in Ashes To Ashes and the decent Stripsearch. It’s easy to forget in the sea of Mike Patton’s 600 million side projects that Faith No More was a bona fide standard bearer of 1980s and 90s alt-rock. Even 20 years later it is not incongruous to see Album Of The Year lording it over OK Computer, though one further stat bears digesting: the former spent 21 weeks in the Top 50, the latter racked up an even 50.

(And for those playing along at home, yes, Throwing Copper by Live was still in the charts that week, at #36.)

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#2 Kid A (15 October 2000)

We now come to the start of Radiohead’s remarkable run of six straight #2 albums. Analysing these ‘failures’ should be a comparatively laconic exercise because there is only one album to wag our culturally elite finger at for each section. And the first object of our opprobrium is a doozy: Sydney 2000: The Games Of The XXVII Olympiad — Official Music From The Opening Ceremony.

I was a strapping young lad of 19 when the Olympics rolled into my home town so let me be clear that I had a blast watching sport, drinking Midori Illusions and eating Big Macs for Australia in an attempt to win some lacklustre prize. At the end of the fortnight I was hospitalised with extreme constipation. Seriously, you cannot make this shit up. But the Olympics were already two weeks finished when this compilation thwarted THE GREATEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME (excuse the hyperbole) for a third and final week on top.

Every Australian worth their appetite for Vegemite, Southern Cross tattoos and early onset melanomas knows one artist appearing on this album: Nikki Webster. Australia’s favourite ginger anthropomorphic bottle of ipecac contributed the ghastly Under Southern Skies to this 18-tracker, which also includes choice cuts from John Farnham & Olivia Newton John (who were your grandma’s favourite 16 years ago yet are still on a final tour or some other shit); Vanessa Amarosi (and not one of her better tracks); trumpeter James Morrison; and Human Nature, popping up with Julie Anthony to sing Advance Australia Fair, which must at least make Ray Warren happy.

It seems prosaic by Radiohead’s recent idiosyncratic approaches to album marketing, like letting customers pay whatever they want for In Rainbows, but at the time the band’s decision to not officially release singles or videos from Kid A, and instead rerelease all the singles from the three preceding LPs, along with short grabs of songs called blips distributed as Java applets, was considered revolutionary. It was regarded as a Hail Mary play by their American record label, which was in the throes of a mutable war with inchoate filesharing sites, of which Napster had become a synecdoche, but it worked. So successful was this tech-savvy approach to promoting mere snippets of Kid A’s composite songs, coupled with the cheval de frise the band constructed around copies for reviewers and radio stations, that Kid A debuted at #1 on the US Billboard 200. I guess we’ll just have to contend ourselves with experiencing the Best Olympic Games Ever.

Also on the charts that week were a couple of easily forgotten cultural touchpoints. The Polyester Embassy by Madison Avenue — they of dancing around a glass of water while singing a medley of intensely 2000-era nightclub bangerz — was new at #5, In Stereo by Bomfunk MCs was at #27 and What Are Rock Stars Doing Today by Magic Dirt was at #35. Dirty Jeans was one of the best songs that year.

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#2 Amnesiac (17 June 2001)

Radiohead was back within a year with Amnesiac, an all-but companion piece to Kid A that was recorded concurrently with the prenominate album, save one track: Life In A Glasshouse. Although unusual by almost all popular music conventions — and widely agreed to be Radiohead’s densest, least accessible, Gravity’s Rainbow of a record — the promotional juggernaut that accompanied Amnesiac’s release was largely straightforward. Four singles were released and four music videos were filmed; the band toured the album through North America. By dint of debuting at #25, Pyramid Song is officially Radiohead’s second biggest hit in Australia, after Creep. And being the first album released on the back of a runaway critical and commercial smash hit like Kid A, and soon enough that the glow can’t easily be forgotten, Amnesiac definitely should have debuted at #1 on ARIA Albums chart upon release.

But, just like Australia’s gnomic obsession with fencing, synchronised swimming and badminton from nine months earlier, Radiohead released an album right when we as a nation was in the grips of a brief but deeply catholic monomania. I need only type the words “where’s all my soul sisters, lemme hear ya flow sisters” to trigger your PTMR!SD (Post Traumatic Moulin Rouge! Stress Disorder).

Burlesqueing in a red blur across our sensory organs, Moulin Rouge! — complete with its own self-styled enthusiasm — overwhelmed the film and music charts in the middle of 2001. The film was a box office smash, especially by Australian cinema standards, grossing $57 million and change in the States; more than our Heath’s medieval blockbuster A Knight’s Tale (though still half that of Dr Dolittle 2’s returns). The lead single, a newfangled take on Labelle’s Lady Marmalade, which had already been updated for the kids by All Saints just four years earlier, conflated the incendiary talents of four extraordinary pop divas of the day: internal punctuation’s P!nk, Dirrty Disney’s Christina Aguilera, external punctuation’s Lil’ Kim and good memory’s Mya. Missy Elliott even popped up in the video. Lady Marmalade topped every chart that mattered, and the follow-up single, Our Nic and Their Ewan duetting on Come What May hit #10. The film abounded with reworks of familiar refrains by Nirvana, Paul McCartney, Corona and, particularly, David Bowie. It all added up to 11 weeks at #1, keeping new albums by Radiohead, along with Blink-182, Something For Kate and Shaggy from the apex. On the plus side, however, it also held firm against Human Clay by Creed. So, y’know, every cloud…

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#2 Hail To The Thief (22 June 2003)

The defining moment of a generation, perhaps several, happened three months after Amnesiac and significantly influenced the production, themes and marketing of Radiohead’s fifth album Hail To The Thief. Rather than being impacted directly by the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, Hail To The Thief is a musical response to a response: the Coalition of the Willing’s, nominally a triumvirate of George W Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard, decision to wage war on Afghanistan and, more scandalously, Iraq. While most would prefer to have any of the prenominate bellicose trio over for tea than Saddam — whose name backwards sounds out ‘mad as!’ — Yorke and Co’s opposition to this sempiternal struggle, best elucidated by the buzzword bingo adorning HttT’s sleeve, now seems cogent, lucid and remarkably prescient, especially in light of the Chilcot Inquiry’s damning conclusions.

The band’s own reflections on Hail To The Thief mirror the professional critics’: bloated in parts, too many songs, an undeveloped sound, and whatever attempt there was at a coherent storyline linking the tracks doesn’t fully come to fruition. It received middling reviews by Radiohead’s lofty standards but I demur: this is my fave Radiohead album; the one I return to most often to binge on.

Chartswise, Radiohead went head-to-head with the other poster child of the early naughties file sharing war: Metallica, and their long-awaited (six years) studio follow-up to Reload, St Anger. Metallica has an enviably record of #1 albums in Australia — 5 in toto — and it was no surprise that the otherwise instantly forgettable St Anger beat out Hail To The Thief to top spot. Of Radiohead’s six #2s, this is the least galling. It is easy to judge Metallica for their hideous recent output but when they were riding the lightning of Load, Reload, Garage  Inc and S&M they were an A-list primo band and a byword for consistency, any douchebaggery re Napster notwithstanding.

A wider perusal of that week’s chart reveals we were only 12 weeks into Delta Goodrem’s marathon and highly monetised vigil; in fact, Metallica and Radiohead bumped Innocent Eyes, an album with an unsurpassed five Australian #1 singles, all the way back to #3. Our old friends Live’s Birds Of Prey was a recent arrival at #6, Weird Al’s Poodle Hat (constipated to the tune of Complicated) was fresh at #27; and remember that awful manband Staind with that cockrock standard your bogun mate does at karaoke called It’s Been Awhile? Australia showed some sense by only granting followup LP 14 Shades Of Grey a sole week on the charts, at #35.

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#2 In Rainbows (13, 20, 27 January 2008)

Up to this point in Radiohead’s run of running-up, its albums had entered the chart at #2 and then commenced a steady and irreversible decline. Contrarily, In Rainbows hung around at #2 for three weeks, all of them behind Timbaland Presents Shock Value by Timbaland and an assortment of friends including Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, Dr Dre, 50 Cent and Nicole Scherzinger.

This very much was the Time of Timbaland, not unlike our current Diplo Epoch or our shortlived, though not short enough, Age of Guetta. Having relaunched Nelly Furtado’s post-Avian career and dabbled with Madonna and Jamie Foxx, the great Timothy Mosley, age 36, was ready to unleash his first record as lead artist since 1998’s Tim’s Bio: Life From Da Bassment (actual track title: Lobster & Shrimp, featuring Jay-Z, no less).

Shock Value spawned two Australian #1 hits. The first was The Way I Are (sic) with Keri Hilson, which spent two weeks on top at the end of 2007, but the album didn’t really take off until the release of a remix of then little-known Colorado band OneRepublic’s song Apologize. Now credited to Timbaland Presents OneRepublic (rappers can be vain), Apologize was the surprise hit of the season, spending 8 weeks at #1 in Australia. This opportunism would pay dividends for Timbaland, gifting him five weeks atop the chart, during which he also saw off Lost Highway by Bon Jovi.

In Rainbows’ three weeks at #2 is testament to this record’s broadly accepted brilliance. The lead-off video for All I Need is a cracking contrast of youth in a time of globalisation, while Reckoner has entered the Radiohead canon as a true classic. This one stings, and not just because Timbaland is such a straightfaced hipster doofus making obvious hits and keeping Ryan Tedder in bottles of Coors Lite. This is the one where Radiohead was swinging for the fences: accessible, traditional promotion, not overtly political and, as discussed earlier, the barest of price signals at the point of purchase. The band was clearly miffed at missing out once again and revanchism clearly took root…

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#2 The King Of Limbs (10 April 2011)

At a trivia night recently, shortly before the launch of A Moon Shaped Pool, the quizmaster asked ‘What is the name of the most recently released album by Radiohead?’. I wrote down my answer and then thought, ‘you could almost guess this one’. Mirth at Radiohead’s increasingly abstract titles aside, The King Of Limbs is the most challenging, least rewarding clutch of eight tracks, each one more unlistenable than the one preceding it. Still, after four #2s in a row it was impossible not be cheering the increasingly esoteric lads on…

…and how is this for fated to fail: Britney Spears has released eight studio albums, two EPs and seven greatest hits compilations, and only one reached #1 in Australia, and only for one week, and guess what: Femme Fatale — home to hits I’ve already forgotten like Hold It Against Me, Till The World Ends and I Wanna Go — delivered Britney her sole set of seven days at the apogee the same week that The King Of Limbs would otherwise shake off this bizarre curse and claim top billing. Truth be told, as a self-styled chart aficionado, I was surprised to learn Britney had to wait until Femme Fatale to score an Australian #1 album. Her debut record was essentially the soundtrack to my final year of high school (at my all boys boarding school), exploding with hits like …Baby One More Time; Sometimes; (You Drive Me) Crazy, which, incidentally, is my fave song about female masturbation; Born To Make You Happy; and From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart. There was no let up from the Louisianian, whose life was still fairly raveled at this point, dropping Oops!… I Did It Again mere weeks later. That produced the eponymous #1 single and Lucky, Stronger and Don’t Let Me Be The Last To Know. Britney’s most successful period came three years later — in between was her crazy adventure in cinema, Crossroads, which includes a female character aspiring to be a singer but that’s not Britney’s character (!) — when she dropped three consecutive Australian #1 singles from her comeback record after marrying Jason Alexander (not that one), Kevin Federline (yes that one) and snogging Christina and Madonna (no issue with that but at the time it seemed forced and redolent of deeper wounds). Me Against The Music, Toxic and Everytime are rolled gold pop gems and it’s mystifying how the album they are from, In The Zone, only reached #10 on the Australian Albums chart yet Femme Fatale would outperform it by nine places, wrecking Radiohead’s reveries for the eighth time.

#3 that week really dates this chart: Glee: The Music — Season Two, Volume 5 (gosh, that seems like an age ago). While at #4 is 21 by Adele, an album that had yet to spend any of its 32 impending weeks at #1. The Experiment by Art Vs Science, a band I went to high school with, was at #35.

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#2 A Moon Shaped Pool (22 May, 3 July 2016)

Now to the ninth of Radiohead’s nine studio albums, and their sixth #2. As we’ve seen through this exegesis, Radiohead is no stranger to whimsical release strategies, and so it was that the band deleted all their social media postings and reset their online presence in speedy advance of semisurprise LP A Moon Shaped Pool. Backed by two radio-friendly singles — Burn The Witch is almost melodic — and a high concept video for Daydreaming, anticipation was high for another swig from Radiohead’s thermos of progrock philtres; surely the hex was to be lifted and they would be parachuted into #1?

But someone gave the Ripcord to Keith Urban. Keith Urban. Take some time to digest this info. Keith Urban. More Australians put down their hard earned for Keith Urban than for Radiohead. Incredulity doesn’t begin to describe it. He’s a New Zealand-born Australian American-accented country musician whose name means city. Don’t think that’s incongruous enough? His wife’s name, Kidman (she’s the one from Moulin Rouge! — stymieing Radiohead seems to be a family affair), is a prototypical oxymoron. The whole concept of Keith Urban is one big fucking paradoxical enigma.

As a function of A Moon Shaped Pool being rushed to market, there was the original digital release, gazumped by Our/Their Keith, and then a secondary physical release for the old people who buy CDs and the young people who buy vinyl. This is a substantial crosssection of the Radiohead fanbase, large enough to propel A Moon Shaped Pool back to #1 in the UK (up 84 spots), and a similar wave was expected locally. It did eventuate: A Moon Shaped Pool eclipsed 46 places after copies hit stores, climbing from #48 to #2, behind supergroup Red Hot Chili Pepper’s 11th studio album The Getaway. How unlucky can you get?! This RHCP release might not be as celebrated as the brilliant Californication or the audacious Stadium Arcadium but it’s the Chili Peppers; few bands enjoy such a dedicated cohort of moneyed fans, virtually insuring that Anthony Kiedis could fart into a microphone and Triple M listeners would buy it into poll position.

One thing that struck me while researching this tome is how fleeting Radiohead albums exist in our consciousness. Consider this ranking of the nine albums by weeks in the Australian Top 50:

50 OK Computer
10 In Rainbows, A Moon Shaped Pool*
8 Amnesiac
7 Hail To The Thief
6 Kid A, The King Of Limbs
5 The Bends
n/a Pablo Honey
(* at the time of writing)

All told, Radiohead studio albums have only spent 96 weeks in the Top 50 — that’s 21 fewer than Throwing Copper by Live. Australia might love Radiohead to death but it’s an affection that burns very bright, bright enough for #2 anyway, and then fades almost immediately. Undoubtedly when the A Moon Shaped Pool tour hits the antipodes we’ll again be flush with excitement, but it won’t be the same kinda exuberance that repeatedly sees Coldplay’s discography reentering the charts: it will be more considered, less mercantile.

I hope you have enjoyed this 5,000-word exploration of Radiohead’s inability to score an Australian #1 album, and all the cultural touchpoints visited along the way. Thanks for reading — have some lists!

Patrick’s Top Nine Radiohead Albums

  1. Hail To The Thief
  2. OK Computer
  3. The Bends
  4. In Rainbows
  5. Kid A
  6. Pablo Honey
  7. A Moon Shaped Pool
  8. Amnesiac
  9. The King Of Limbs

Patrick’s Top Nine Radiohead Songs

  1. Let Down
  2. There, There
  3. Karma Police
  4. The Bends
  5. All I Need
  6. Everything In Its Right Place
  7. Fake Plastic Trees
  8. A Wolf At The Door
  9. Creep

One thought on “Why has Radiohead never scored an Australian #1 album?

  1. Pingback: Coldplay(ers): A Post-Structural Love Letter To The B(l)and Of My (Adult) Life, Work And Dreams | completepatrick

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