The 10 Most Depressing Radiohead Songs According to Data Science: Hear the Songs That Ranked Highest in a Researcher’s “Gloom Index”

One of my favorite music-themed com­e­dy sketch­es of recent years fea­tures a sup­port group of Radio­head fans flum­moxed and dis­ap­point­ed by the band’s post-Ok Com­put­er out­put. The sce­nario trades on the per­plex­i­ty that met Radio­head­’s abrupt change of musi­cal direc­tion with the rev­o­lu­tion­ary Kid A as well as on the fact that Radio­head fans tend toward, well… if not PTSD or severe mood dis­or­ders, at least a height­ened propen­si­ty for gen­er­al­ized depres­sion.

“Much of Radiohead’s music is unde­ni­ably sad,” writes Ana­lyt­ics Spe­cial­ist and Radio­head fan Char­lie Thomp­son. Rather than play some­thing “less depress­ing,” how­ev­er, as many an acquain­tance has asked him over the years, Thomp­son decid­ed “to quan­ti­fy that sad­ness, con­clud­ing in a data-dri­ven deter­mi­na­tion of their most depress­ing song.”

Now, pure­ly sub­jec­tive­ly, I’d place “How to Dis­ap­pear Com­plete­ly” in the top spot, fol­lowed close­ly by Amne­sia’s “Pyra­mid Song.” But my own asso­ci­a­tions with these songs are per­son­al and per­haps some­what arbi­trary. I might make a case for them based on lyri­cal inter­pre­ta­tions, musi­cal arrange­ment, and instru­men­ta­tion. But the argu­ment would still large­ly depend on mat­ters of taste and accul­tur­a­tion.

Thomp­son, on the oth­er hand, believes in “quan­ti­fy­ing sen­ti­ment.” To that end, he cre­at­ed a “gloom index,” which he used to mea­sure each song in the band’s cat­a­log. Rather than lis­ten­ing to them all, one after anoth­er, he relied on data from two online ser­vices, first pulling “detailed audio sta­tis­tics” from Spotify’s Web API. One met­ric in par­tic­u­lar, called “valence,” mea­sures a song’s “pos­i­tiv­i­ty.” These scores pro­vide an index “of how sad a song sounds from a musi­cal per­spec­tive.” (It’s not entire­ly clear what the cri­te­ria are for these scores).

Next, Thomp­son used the Genius Lyrics API to exam­ine “lyri­cal den­si­ty,” specif­i­cal­ly the con­cen­tra­tion of “sad words” in any giv­en song. To com­bine these two mea­sures, he leaned on an analy­sis by a fel­low data sci­en­tist and blog­ger, Myles Har­ri­son. You can see his result­ing for­mu­la for the “Gloom Index” above, and if you under­stand the pro­gram­ing lan­guage R, you can see exam­ples of his analy­sis at his blog, RChar­lie. (Read a less data-laden sum­ma­ry of Thompson’s study at the ana­lyt­ics blog Rev­o­lu­tions.) Thomp­son also plot­ted sad­ness by album, in the inter­ac­tive graph fur­ther up.

So, which song rat­ed high­est on the “Gloom Scale”? Well, it’s “True Love Waits” from their most recent album A Moon Shaped Pool (hear a live acoustic ver­sion up above.). It’s a damned sad song, I’ll grant, as are the nine run­ners-up, all of which you can hear in the YouTube and Spo­ti­fy playlists above). “Pyra­mid Song” appears at num­ber 5, but “How to Dis­ap­pear Com­plete­ly” doesn’t even rank in the top ten. From a pure­ly sub­jec­tive stand­point, this makes me sus­pi­cious of the whole oper­a­tion. But you tell us, read­ers, what do you think of Thomp­son’s exper­i­ment in “quan­ti­fy­ing sen­ti­ment” in music?

Here’s the top 10:

1. True Love Waits
2. Give Up The Ghost
3. Motion Pic­ture Sound­track
4. Let Down
5. Pyra­mid Song
6. Exit Music (For a Film)
7. Dol­lars & Cents
8. High And Dry
9. Tin­ker Tai­lor Sol­dier …
10. Video­tape

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Radiohead’s “Creep” Played on the Gayageum, a Kore­an Instru­ment Dat­ing Back to the 6th Cen­tu­ry

A His­to­ry of Alter­na­tive Music Bril­liant­ly Mapped Out on a Tran­sis­tor Radio Cir­cuit Dia­gram: 300 Punk, Alt & Indie Artists

A Free Course on Machine Learn­ing & Data Sci­ence from Cal­tech

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (11)
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  • Jay York says:

    Could­n’t agree more. “How To Dis­ap­pear Com­plete­ly” sure­ly ranks high­er, IMO and so does “Exit Music”. Inter­est­ing exper­i­ment, though.

  • Taj says:

    “Last Flow­ers” is one that gets missed here, I think. I can bare­ly lis­ten to that any­more, espe­cial­ly the ver­sions where Thom plays it solo on piano.

  • Han says:

    Love this article/the playlist. I would also put dif­fer­ent songs on the list. It seems that the Gloom Index is even­tu­al­ly all about songs with a lot of minor chords, but I might be wrong (pun intend­ed).

  • Siddharth says:

    No “nude”. I am per­plexed.

  • Coleyboii says:

    I was expect­ing to stum­ble into a beau­ti­ful for­est of Fake Plas­tic Trees on this list🌲🌲🌲

  • Nati says:

    What about “I Will” ? I find it extreme­ly sad.

  • Rob says:

    How I Made My Mil­lions.

    I’m not sur­prised no one has men­tioned it since there are a bunch of sad songs and this one is an obscure B‑Side. But in my opin­ion this is the sad­dest Radio­head song I’ve ever heard.

  • Roshan With disorder says:

    I think many peo­ple haven’t lis­tened to STREET SPIRIT or they don’t get the real feel. That songs is the sad­dest and most beau­ti­ful thing they have cre­at­ed. Thom Yorke accepts it.

  • James says:

    Sure­ly ‘Nude’ has to be there. Open­ing lines of ‘don’t get any big ideas. They’re not going to hap­pen’ or ‘There there’ , ‘just because you feel it, does­n’t mean it’s there.’ Both have that help­less­ly depress­ing sen­ti­ment of no mat­ter what you do you are doomed to fail­ure.

  • ainat neyugn says:

    what about ‘weird fishes/arpeggi’? it sounds uplift­ing upon the first lis­ten, but when you take a look at the lyrics…

  • Antony says:

    1. Pyra­mid song
    2. A Reminder
    3. I Will
    4. Video­tape
    5. Sail to the Moon
    6. I Want None Of This
    7. Exit Music For a Film
    8. Bish­ops Robes
    9. True Love Waits
    10. How to Dis­ap­pear Com­plete­ly

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