A Pairing Guide for Booze and Radiohead - April 12, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

A Pairing Guide for Booze and Radiohead

Thom Yorke (Credit: Christopher Victorio)

Ranking Radiohead tracks is a thankless task. Not only will no one agree with you — which is symptomatic of how many incredible songs the band has put out in their 30-year career — but with nine albums to their name, there is simply no way to choose one Radiohead track over the next. Each album represents a reinvention of their sound, which is why a new Radiohead release is always treated as headline news. Furthermore, these aren’t songs that are meant to be digested in one listen, nor do they lend themselves to be taken out of the context of the albums they appear on.

One could argue the same rules apply to alcohol. You might, for instance, love Fernet-Branca, or you may believe it to be the devil’s cough syrup. You may start by hating whiskey only to realize down the line that it’s the only spirit you’ve been drinking for years.

In the interest of offending the least number of fans possible, the list below is not a ranking. It is not even a selection of what one might arbitrarily call the “best” songs by Radiohead, who are playing Berkeley’s Greek Theatre on Monday, April 17. Rather, it is a pairing of booze and of songs from a band whose gloomy, elegant music can often leave listeners in need of a drink.

Old Fashioned
Ingredients: Sugar, bitters, whiskey, and a twist of citrus.
Radiohead song: “Daydreaming” (A Moon Shaped Pool)

The second single on Radiohead’s latest release — 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool — swirls around a pensive piano line. One can easily imagine listening to the track on repeat with an Old Fashioned in hand — a marriage of the cold and the complex. Thom Yorke’s majestic voice is the sugars dissolved into something dark and bitter, which helps make everything harsh go down just a little bit easier.


Bloody Mary
Ingredients: Vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, horseradish, celery, olives, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and celery salt.
Radiohead song: “High and Dry” (The Bends)

Any drinker worth their (margarita rim) salt knows that with the sun often comes regret. Bloody Marys have always been one of the few drinks to transcend nighttime hours and be acceptable breakfast fare, just as “High and Dry” has transcended the more eclectic, difficult offerings in Radiohead’s catalog. This fairly straightforward Bends single showcases Yorke’s voice as he laments about the ugly realities of seeking fame. This song is proof positive that even when Radiohead veers toward the mainstream, they’re still in a class all their own.


Dark ‘N’ Stormy
Ingredients: Dark rum and ginger beer
Radiohead song: “Idioteque” (Kid A)

Long suspected to be a comment on climate change, “Idioteque” is one of the few songs that even the most casual Radiohead fan is likely to recognize. Anchored by mechanical drums, Yorke’s voice is a dire warning in a sea of masterfully crafted electronic sound. Whether the song is truly about a coming climate apocalypse is up for debate, but the atmosphere it conjures is unquestionably one of storm clouds and black horizons.  


Irish Coffee
Ingredients: Hot coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar, and topped with thick cream.
Radiohead song: “No Surprises” (OK Computer)

Sometimes we just need something warm and nourishing. Musically, that’s what “No Surprises” delivers, a hushed track of tinkling keys and measured guitar work. The words are existential in nature, but you’re the one who ordered a spiked coffee, right? Even on the chilly grass of Berkeley’s Greek Theatre, the temperature is sure to rise a degree or to if Radiohead opts to play this classic.


Ingredients: Fruit juices, liqueurs, and various rums.
Radiohead song: “We Suck Young Blood” (Hail to the Thief)

While your odds of seeing “We Suck Young Blood” live are about the same as a vampire going for a tan — according toSetlist.fm, the band has only performed the song  30 times on stage — perhaps no song goes better with a drink named for the undead than a song that begins with eerie handclaps and unearthly backing vocals. A frantic flurry of piano halfway through is also sure to spook anyone. This underrated Hail to the Thief track is Radiohead at their full-fledged spookiest.


White Russian
Ingredients: Vodka, coffee liqueur, and cream served with ice.
Radiohead song: “Reckoner” (In Rainbows)

For folks that like a little cream in their booze, “Reckoner,” off 2007’s immaculate In Rainbows, is about as sweet as they come from Radiohead. While by no means a “happy” song, Yorke’s falsetto dares to approach an almost hopeful note in this ethereal ballad. Paired with a touch of cymbals, tight guitar work, and a comparatively soft pace, “Reckoner” is a bit of a dessert before dinner, or an ideal drink for anyone at the bar with a sweet tooth.


Straight Shot of Absinthe
Ingredients: Absinthe.
Radiohead song: “Everything in Its Right Place” (Kid A)

Starting with a spine-tingling piano line and Yorke’s distorted vocals, “Everything in Its Right Place” is one of the more danceable Radiohead tracks, if only because it begs to put its listeners into a trance of spiritual proportions. A pleasing shot of beauty for the ears, if you need to take down a gulp of absinthe (or three) to get you in the right space to truly lose yourself to this gem, which often closes Radiohead’s sets, start drinking.


Gin and Tonic
Ingredients: Gin and tonic water.
Radiohead song: “Paranoid Android” (OK Computer)

It only makes sense to pair “Paranoid Android” with one of the most classic cocktails you can order because the song is a staple in Radiohead’s discography. Though it begins with an ominous slow-build that feels right at home with ‘90s rock, things get heavy in a hurry around the three-minute mark. Just how the first couple of gin and tonics go down smooth before the third one knocks you on your ass, so too does “Paranoid Android” lull you in before exploding into something truly magnetic in the song’s final moments.


Long Island Iced Tea
Ingredients: Tequila, vodka, light rum, triple sec, gin, and a splash of cola.
Radiohead song:  “My Iron Lung” (The Bends)

Why do we order Long Island Iced Teas? Probably because we just need a hit of everything at once. “My Iron Lung” pivots from a shimmering guitar line to utter chaos and back again several times throughout the course of its 4:36 runtime. From those first joyful sips to the epic hangover that awaits you around the corner, “My Iron Lung” is a perfect encapsulation of the fall from control to turmoil that comes with drinking Long Islands.


Ingredients: Champagne
Radiohead song: “Creep” (Pablo Honey)

Why must we always write about the one song Radiohead has little interest in revisiting? For one: It’s the track that launched their career. Two: This song finds Johnny Greenwood’s guitar work at its distorted, delightful best. And three: We always want what we can’t have. The fact is that Radiohead almost never plays “Creep” live, but a Portland audience was treated to a performance of it just this month, so maybe it is time to dust off the bubbly.

Catch Radiohead on Monday, April 17, at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. More info here.