Although frontman Thom Yorke was not in attendance due to prior commitments, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne was in the building to formally induct the band. It was a rather fitting choice given that Radiohead’s name is derived from the Talking Heads 1986 song “Radio Head”.
In his glowing speech, Byrne said he was “flattered” when he learned Radiohead named themselves after one of his songs. He went on to share anecdotes from Radiohead’s lengthy career, including their decision to cease playing “Creep” and the belief by Capital Records that their album OK Computer would be “career suicide.” He also cited Kid A as his personal favorite album, noting that it proved “music fans, sometimes, are not stupid.” You can read Byrne’s full remarks below.
Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien and drummer Phil Selway were on hand to accept the honor on the band’s behalf. “Radiohead can be an awkward and challenging band to be in,” Selway remarked. “We may not be the greatest musicians around, and we’re certainly not the most media friendly of bands. But we have become very adept at being Radiohead, and when that connects with people it feels amazing.” Selway said “each new song has been a blessing” and their albums “act like a chart of our learning process.”
O’Brien gave a nod to the rest of the band, saying, “We’ve been doing it for 34 years and are still doing it. I want to thank them for their integrity, their authenticity, their commitment. None of these things you should take for granted. I also want to thank them for the musicians they are. That thing when we play together; that collective sound that we make. Some of the nights we have in the rehearsal studio where they’re like transcendental moments. I thank them for that. But most of all I want to thank them for this deep, deep friendship.”
RADIOHEAD IS INDUCTED IN THE ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME!! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 I’m beside myself with love and happiness. ❤️ Thank you to the legend, David Byrne, for a great speech! #RockHall2019 pic.twitter.com/R76jVkgyIb
— JoAnne is #WaitingForHS2 (@JoAnneHnyc) March 30, 2019
Yorke’s absence from the ceremony wasn’t entirely surprising, given what he describes as a “very blasé” attitude “about that stuff.” “We don’t want to offend anyone. We just think that we just don’t quite understand it,” Yorke explained, upon learning of Radiohead’s induction into the 2019 class.
“We’ve had it explained to us, so it’s cool. But we don’t really understand it as English people. I think our problem is essentially that every awards ceremony in the UK stinks. We grew up with the Brits, which is like this sort of drunken car crash that you don’t want to get involved with. So, yeah, we don’t really know what to make of it.”
Because of the absence of Yorke, guitarist Jonny Greenwood, and bassist Colin Greenwood, Radiohead did not perform during the Rock & Roll Hall Hall of Fame ceremony.
Pick up all of Radiohead’s vinyl releases by heading here.
This year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class also includes The Cure, Stevie Nicks, Janet Jackson, Roxy Music, Def Leppard, and The Zombies. Find our full coverage of the ceremony here. The event will receive a TV broadcast on HBO on Saturday, April 27th.
Transcription of Byrne’s full speech introducing Radiohead:
Thank you. I was surprised and very flattered when Radiohead stated they named themselves after a song that I had written. I did ask myself, “Why that song?” I still haven’t been able to figure it out, and in a certain way I don’t want to know. This was kind of a goofy Tex-Mex song that I’d written. Maybe we’ll find out, who knows.
Thankfully, I’m a huge fan of the group. They richly deserve this honor for two reasons: the music, the quality and constant innovation in the music, but equally for the innovations in how they release their work and how they market it and get it to the public—things that have changed the entire music business, and there’s quite a few people in the music business in this room tonight. They’re creative and smart in both areas, which is a rare combination for artists—not just then or now but any time.
OK here’s a tidbit: Radio 1, that’s in the UK, refused to play their song “Creep” because they found it too depressing. Then it started getting played in lots of other places all around the world and the rest is, well, you know.
Here’s another tidbit—sorry if there’s anyone here directly affected by this one—Capitol Records felt that what many consider to be their masterpiece, OK Computer, was career suicide and adjusted their release and marketing plan accordingly. It eventually went to No. 1 in the UK. “Paranoid Android” from that album was considered the new “Bohemian Rhapsody”, whatever that means. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie, and seeing who will play Thom.
For me, their record after that, Kid A, was my conversion moment. The record joined together electronics with song forms blew me away. I’d never heard anything like it. There are elements and influences of Can and Miles Davis’s electric period, but this was very different.
What was really weird and very encouraging was that it was popular. It was a hit! It proved to me that the artistic risk paid off and music fans sometimes are not stupid. Some of that will be attested to by those in the music industry in the room tonight. As experimental as it was, it went to No. 1 in the U.S. Business-wise, they were already innovating. This was in the year 2000, with an app that you could stream music on and access things.
Now a few records later, with In Rainbows, the music that at one point sounded radical and on the edge now felt completely natural. And at that point they took the radical leap of selling the record for the price of “pay what you wish.” You could pay zero or one cent. You could pay the price that records were going for that year. It turned out most people did pay the going rate, and some people actually paid more. Which was, I thought, an incredible thing. They showed trust in the audience, trust in the public. They trusted them to place value in the music and say: You tell us what you think it’s worth. And the audience responded and said: We think it’s worth something. This was a wonderful social experiment, not just an experiment in the music business.
Further release innovations: They released the rejected Bond theme “Spectre,” which was never used, on SoundCloud. And musically, they keep changing. Their last record, A Moon Shaped Pool, sounded very cinematic, sounded like a movie in your head. They’ve both changed our idea of what popular music can be and how it can be released and marketed to us. For those things, I am honored to induct Radiohead into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.