Song of the Day #44: ‘Exit Music (for a film)’ – Radiohead

I go back and forth on Radiohead.

On the one hand, I believe they are quite talented and have put out two albums (The Bends and OK Computer) that are excellent from start to finish and worthy of the lavish praise they’ve received.

On the other hand, just about everything they’ve put out since then has been an artsy jumble of prog-rock crap, yet praised by critics and fans alike as world-changing stuff. In Rainbows was a nice return to form, but I’d rather repeatedly hit my head with a hammer than listen to Kid A, Amnesiac or Hail to the Thief. And stupidly, I bought into the hype machine and purchased each of those albums only to have the same unpleasant experience listening to them. It’s only because they offered In Rainbows for free that I discovered it’s actually quite good.

But getting back to the good stuff, I’ve always felt that two songs in particular really capture what Radiohead can do better than anybody else. The first is ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ from The Bends and the second is today’s Song of the Day, ‘Exit Music (for a film)’ from OK Computer.

The song is quite literally titled, as it was the end credits music for Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet, and the lyrics could be about those star-crossed lovers or any modern young couple.

It’s a hugely melodramatic song, which is appropriate given the subject matter. A pair of adolescent lovers try to flee their oppressive lives and spew venom at the adults who seek to keep them apart.

It’s a very slow builder that begins an amazing crescendo with the line “And you can laugh a spineless laugh” before exploding with emotion then crashing to a halt with the final, aching lines.

It’s triumphs like this that keep me going back to the Radiohead well years later.

Wake from your sleep, the drying of your tears
Today we escape, we escape.
Pack and get dressed before your father hears us,
before all hell breaks loose.

Breathe, keep breathing, don’t lose your nerve.
Breathe, keep breathing, I can’t do this alone.
Sing us a song, a song to keep us warm,
there’s such a chill, such a chill.

And you can laugh a spineless laugh,
we hope your rules and wisdom choke you.

And now we are one in everlasting peace,

we hope that you choke, that you choke,
we hope that you choke, that you choke,
we hope that you choke, that you choke.


12 thoughts on “Song of the Day #44: ‘Exit Music (for a film)’ – Radiohead

  1. Dana says:

    I know they are critically praised, but they do nothing for me, not in the mellow phase, and certainly not when they go heavier.

  2. Amy says:

    Isn’t this the band that I feared would destroy Maddie’s as yet unborn ears when they were the opening act for REM all those years ago? If not, I’ve wrongly contined to dismiss them because of that unpleasant experience. If so, I have correctly continued to dismiss them. What’s funny is that I’ve seen Luhrman’s film a dozen times over the years and have no recollection of this song. I often do let the closing credits play while I talk over some point or another with my class. This song must simply inspire me to hit the mute button. That said, and I’m shocked to write this, as I listen to the first half of the song, it reminds me of “Falling Slowly’ from Once. Of course, in short order that comparison is blown to pieces, but the fact that I even felt it for a second intrigues me.

  3. Clay says:

    Interesting reactions. While I am no Radiohead defender (as the post above points out), I must say that I find this song to be singularly excellent. Perhaps it is a grower, or perhaps just another example of the “get it’ factor — as in, some do, some don’t, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    I certainly find it more effective than ‘Falling Slowly,’ though I like that song a lot.

  4. Dana says:

    More effective than Falling Slowly??? You, sir, are ignorant and insane:)

  5. Clay says:

    This is a weird position for me, defending a band I often dismiss as being wildly overpraised, but… OK Computer is widely considered one of the finest albums of the last 20-30 years (just look on any critics list), so while I can certainly understand somebody not liking it, to do so is far from “ignorant and insane.”

    I’m right with the critics on Radiohead through OK Computer, but they lost me in the several albums that followed.

  6. Dana says:

    And so the collective praise of this band’s entire album or body of work leads to the notion that this particular song is better than Falling Slowly? Not sure I get that.

  7. Clay says:

    No, I’m not saying that… just that it’s not as if I said I prefer ‘The Chipmunk Song’ to ‘Falling Slowly.’ I agree, that could be viewed as ignorant and insane.

    But preferring one of the best-loved songs on one of the best-loved albums in recent memory isn’t such a stretch, whether or not you share the opinion.

    (Of course, I now see you put a smiley at the end of that sentence, so I’ll assume it wasn’t meant literally!)

  8. Amy says:

    Boy, I’m sorry I ever mentioned “Falling Slowly” in the same sentence as Radiohead. Meanwhile, was this the band that opened for REM? I still don’t know.

  9. Dana says:

    well yes, I was using hyperbole, but I still think Falling Slowly kicks this song’s ass.

  10. Dana says:

    oh, and critical acclaim does not equal best loved, of course.

  11. Clay says:

    Yes, Radiohead opened for REM when you were pregnant with Maddie.

    I think this song kicks ‘Falling Slowly’s ass, though I do like ‘Falling Slowly’ quite a bit. So there! 🙂

  12. Dana says:

    Maddie, in vitro, could tell that “Falling Slowly” kicks anything by Radiohead’s ass. Nuff said.

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