Let’s go back to 1980, Ozzy Osbourne’s solo debut “Blizzard of Ozz” was released, featuring “Crazy Train”, one of Ozzy’s most enduring songs. Whether you were a music fan at the time and remember “Crazy Train” and it’s sheer fury and how it was a bit scary, or if you came to know it later in life, it endures as a great song.
It’s ingrained into our collective musical psyches, even if you don’t think you know the song, you do; you’ve heard it a hundred times without trying to, at a sporting event, in a movie or TV show, or blaring out of a Camaro’s windows.
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Fast forward to 2011, the song was used in an a capella capacity in a commercial for the Honda Pilot minivan. That menacing song, though used effectively—probably by a former metalhead copywriter/creative director—had been defanged for all intents and purposes to sell a car. What was once revolutionary is now mainstream.
Back to October 2007, Radiohead, after fulfilling their contractual obligation to EMI, were a band without a label, essentially, the world’s biggest unsigned band, free to make their own music on their own terms. They took the ball and ran with it, releasing ‘In Rainbows’ themselves at the then-revolutionary ‘set-your-own-price’ model. Media response was overwhelmingly positive and sales were robust. Some paid a penny but a lot paid what they felt was fair market value. Of course, few bands would’ve been able to pull such a maneuver, but Radiohead did.
It was a line-in-the-sand moment that paid off but may have been the last gasp of a fanbase actually paying for a solely digital product, as a physical version of the album wouldn’t come out until a few months later; people were paying money for a download of a Radiohead record. And likely, many fans would shell out cash for the actual CD or LP, with various levels of packaging, when that came back and likely will in a decade when it’s inevitably released on whatever format is de rigueur.
And here we are in the fourth paragraph of this overview with nary a mention of the actual music on ‘In Rainbows’, which is a damn shame because as Radiohead albums go, it’s in their top tier. Ten years after its release, the music still sounds revolutionary, even if the way it was released seems quaint today (people paying for music, at ANY price).
A decade on, 3-4 songs from ‘In Rainbows’ still get regular airplay, not just at 88Nine but at other like-minded stations as well. The follow-up, ‘The King Of Limbs’, never quite approached the ‘In Rainbows’ level of commercial of ‘In Rainbows’ and time will tell where ‘Moon Shaped Pool’ will fall in the pantheon of Radiohead albums.
This much we do know, a band who still make waves with nearly everything they do, made a profound statement with ‘In Rainbows’, both musically and how they released the album and that seismic effect can still be felt today, even if that once revolutionary rollout of the album is now outmoded.