Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Happy 10th Birthday, OK Computer

Ten years ago, this summer, I was living at my parents' house in Charlotte, NC, waiting to start senior year of college, and working a part-time gig at Blockbuster. I also was in a phase where I was watching way too much MTV, but this was pre-"My Super Sweet 16"-era MTV, when they were still a music based network with only a few reality shows (not that I'm complaining - those shows keep many of us employed - but I do miss music videos).

Anyway, one day, I was watching and I caught this video just after it started:

I was totally freaked out: crazy fucking video, insane song, haunting vocals. Before the ending credits came on, I knew it was Radiohead. I had "Pablo Honey," but the whole album was a bit mediocre, and friends of mine had "The Bends," but I hadn't listened to it. Can't say I was a huge fan at that point.

As soon as the video for "Paranoid Android" ended, I wanted to hear it again, and again, and again, and again. But I had to wait. Radiohead's new album, "OK Computer," wasn't coming out for another two weeks. I kept watching MTV, hoping just to catch a glimpse of that video, and I did here and there. But it wasn't enough. Finally, the day arrived and "OK Computer" came out. I really was just wanted to play "Paranoid Android" over and over again.

So during a break at work, I wandered from Blockbuster to Ernie's Records, a small, family-owned record store around the corner in the same strip mall. I used to go in there a lot whenever I was home from college. Not just for the music, but because my sister worked there and could hook me up with discounts. I had to dig around Ernie's for "OK Computer" because it wasn't a "big" enough band to justify space on the "New Arrivals" shelf. I kinda felt like I had a secret treasure in my hand.

That night, I was on the late shift and was part of the closing crew at work. For closing, you had to straighten up and clean the store for the next morning. And to keep us entertained, every night, we'd either put on a movie or a CD and blast it through the store's sound system. I asked if my co-workers minded if I played my new Radiohead CD. No one had heard of them, but they didn't seem to mind. I popped it in and turned up the volume:

As the opening strains of "Airbag" blared out of our system, my coworkers all turned and looked at me like I was crazy: "What the fuck is this shit?" But right away, I knew it was something great. We kept the CD on for a the cleaning, but I missed half of it because I had to vacuum the front of the store.

I rushed home and put it in my CD player and put on my headphones and listened and listened and listened. I don't think it left my CD player that entire summer. I would often sit outside, during the humid Carolina nights, listening to the CD, drinking a beer, and reading Donna Tartt's "The Secret History," a book that seemed to fit the spooky vibe of "OK Computer" perfectly.

It was my summer record, and it carried over into senior year. I don't think my girlfriend at that time was a big fan of it. Yet I always insisted that it was good for her to listen to, mainly because I felt she needed to expand her musical tastes beyond James Taylor, Phish, and Dave Matthews. I don't think it worked (although I do take pride in getting her into Lou Reed's 1989 classic song, "Dirty Blvd," but that's another story for another day.)

Blake and I were talking about "OK Computer's" tenth anniversary sneaking up on us. It's still an amazing record and holds up as well as it did ten years ago. It's easily my favorite record of the 90's...yes, better than Nirvana's "Nevermind." (I love "Nevermind," but this had more of an impact on me, and, it didn't bring about as many crappy clone bands like Seven Mary Three or Candlebox. Thanks for that crap, Nirvana!)

For Radiohead, it's seen as their burden. Everything they do will always be compared to it, fairly or not. But for me, it's really just a great record, that I can listen to at any time. It does take me back to that summer of '97. There was a sense, back then, that the record was something special, but that not enough people knew about it. I'm glad that ten year later, it's still special, but not just to me - to a lot of other people too.

A little bonus for those who like the album:

You can find a really cool tribute to the album at Stereogum, who actually got a number of artists to cover the album and write about their songs. Plus, you can download it for free. Some covers are better than overs, but it's free, so stop whining.

And hypeful.com has put together this compilation of covers they had.

1 comment:

Blake said...

Blake's 6 Perfect Albums from the 1990's:

1. Pearl Jam - Vitalogy - Released 12/06/94
2. Radiohead - OK Computer - 7/1/1997
3. Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain -2/14/94
4. Built to Spill - Perfect From Now On - 1/28/97
5. Guns N Roses - Use Your Illusion I & II - 9/17/91
6. Nirvana - In Utero - 9/21/93