While clocking up a hugely diverse catalogue of albums, Radiohead have retained a level of musicianship and melodic knowhow that’s ensured they’ve remained peerless throughout their lengthy career.
The band’s cunning use of passing notes, inversions and slash chords have built up a formidable library of voicings that will have you reassessing your approach to chordal playing, and are sure to inspire a new song or two.
Each and every one is catalogued in the exhaustive Radiohead Complete songbook, which features every song the band has ever officially released - right up to A Moon Shaped Pool, Spectre and OK Computer’s 20th Anniversary tracks.
Before we dive in, we’ll point out that the voicings used are sometimes condensed versions of chords used by Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, and are designed to sound good on one guitar - and, of course, a few of these are piano transcribed to guitar, too.
So, without further ado, here are 20 of our favourite chords from the band’s extensive discography - read on and be inspired…
Radiohead Complete is published by Faber Music, and available to buy online (opens in new tab).
Song: Planet Telex
This chord, taken from The Bends’ opening track, appears at the end of each verse cycle, alternated with a regular A. It creates a sense of suspense in the build-up to the chorus.
Song: Fake Plastic Trees
An early example of Thom Yorke’s knack for freezing notes up top while changing the bass underneath, this one appears in the song’s verse, preceded by A.
Song: (Nice Dream)
Discordant and uneasy, this is one of (Nice Dream)’s closing chords - you’ll hear it on Thom’s fourth ‘nice dream’ in the final chorus. It showcases a cunning use of open strings to provide ambiguity.
Song: Talk Show Host
On the track, this chord is arpeggiated on keyboard, but transcribed onto guitar (with the added Ab on the low E string), it makes for a beautiful voicing.
This composite chord appears underneath Jonny Greenwood’s opening riff - shift it down a fret and it becomes a tasty A(add9).
Song: Paranoid Android
This sinister number is the middle chord of this OK Computer anthem’s chorus, sandwiched between a Gm6 and E7.
Song: Let Down
The first chord from Let Down is a bit of a finger-twister. Change the top note from the 5th down to 0 then the 4th fret to replicate the fragile opening refrain.
Song: Karma Police
In the song’s verses, every second Am is this fruity extended version.
Song: No Surprises
Pair this with a D major chord and you’ve got the basis of the rhythm part for the song’s eerie main hook - this is also the chord you’ll need for the chorus of Paranoid Android.
Song: Everything In Its Right Place
Thom Yorke opens Kid A with a C before hitting this exotic number, then landing on a Cm/Eb.
Song: Pyramid Song
Halfway through the verse, Thom pulls out this dreamy add9 - it’s a beauty on guitar, too.
Song: 2 + 2 = 5
You’ll need to tune to drop D and get your arpeggiation on for this one, which follows a common-or-garden Fm in the track’s intro.
Pairing a ‘regular’ chord with something slightly more unnerving is a Radiohead trademark.
Song: All I Need
You’ll find this chord in All I Need’s tumultuous outro, where the notes up top stay the same, and the lower C cycles to an E, then a G.
After Thom sings ‘Because we separate like ripples on a blank shore’ (lovely line, that), you’ll hear this bona fide stunner. Good use of the open E string there.
This chord is a smart amalgamation of Ed’s guitar playing on the track, as well as its background loops.
You can just about make this out following the track’s third verse. Again, it’s a Thom-tinkling-ivories special transcribed to guitar, and it’s just lovely.
Song: The Daily Mail
More evidence of the brilliance of piano chords transcribed to guitar comes courtesy of The Daily Mail, of all things.
Slide that 3-2-0 up to 4-3-1 (keeping the Eb on the B string the same) for a Dbadd9, before resolving to a standard Eb barre, and you’ve got yourself half the chorus.
Song: Burn The Witch
There’s not much guitar on A Moon Shaped Pool’s opener, but you can console yourself with this outrageously ambiguous chord, composed of the string section’s opening stabs.
The opening piano refrain of this one is proper jaw-dropping, as is this chord, which essentially takes an A(sus4) and sticks an F underneath. In fact, switch that lower F out for an A, and you’ve got the crux of Thom’s piano line.
Song: True Love Waits
Radiohead songs don’t get much more beautiful than this. The second and third verses feature this melancholy heartstring-tugger, preceded by Cmaj7 and Am7.