The Secret Rhythm Behind Radiohead’s “Videotape” Now Finally Revealed

“Video­tape” ends Radiohead’s 2007 album In Rain­bows, and like many of their albums, it tends towards the fune­re­al. (Think of the drunk­en “Life in a Glasshouse” from Amne­si­ac or “Motion Pic­ture Sound­track” from Kid A). And at first, it does sound very sim­ple, four plain­tive descend­ing chords and Thom Yorke’s high melody over the top of it.

But in this 10 minute video essay from Vox Pop: Ear­worm, the song’s struc­ture is peeled back to reveal a secret–that the chord sequence is not on the down­beat, but shift­ed a half-beat ear­li­er. Hence, it is a heav­i­ly syn­co­pat­ed song that removes all clues to its syn­co­pa­tion.

Advanced musi­cians out there might not be blown away by any of this, but for fans of Radio­head and those just com­ing to music the­o­ry, the video is a good intro­duc­tion to com­plex rhythm ideas. The fun comes from the back­wards way in which Vox and War­ren Lain–who devot­ed a whole 30 min­utes to explor­ing the song–came across the secret.

It starts with video of Thom Yorke try­ing to play a live ver­sion along to a click track, and then to Phil Selway’s drums. For some rea­son Yorke can’t do it. And that’s because his brain is want­i­ng to put the chords on the down­beat, the most nat­ur­al, obvi­ous choice. To play off beat, with­out fur­ther rhyth­mic infor­ma­tion, shows the band “fight­ing against not just their own musi­cal instincts, but their own brain­waves” as the Vox host explains.

There is much dis­cus­sion in the YouTube com­ments over whether these 10 min­utes are worth the analy­sis. It’s not that Radio­head invent­ed any­thing new here–check out the off-beat open­ing of some­thing like XTC’s “Wake Up”–but more that the band goes through the whole song (at least in the record­ed ver­sion) with­out reveal­ing the real rhythm, like play­ing in a cer­tain key and nev­er touch­ing the root note.

To sum up: Radio­head push them­selves in the stu­dio and take those exper­i­ments into the live expe­ri­ence and chal­lenge them­selves. Which is way more than the major­i­ty of rock bands ever do. And bless ‘em, Yorke and co., for doing so.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

The Hid­den Secrets in “Day­dream­ing,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s New Radio­head Music Video

Eight Radio­head Albums Reimag­ined as Vin­tage Paper­back Books

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Brad Bell says:

    ‘Creep’ by Some F*#king Peo­ple

    If you lis­ten very close­ly you can hear the syn­co­pa­tion of swoon­ing melodies against to a clock like rhythm of 40 years of eth­nic cleans­ing ;-) Polit­i­cal kitch, accord­ing to writer Milan Kun­dera, is the ‘denial of the exis­tence of shit,’ metaphor­i­cal­ly speak­ing. What some call ‘art­wash­ing’ is kitsch. Radio­head in Israel is kitsch. The event denies the human­i­tar­i­an, crim­i­nal hor­ror that exists a stone’s throw away. Radio­head are the jan­i­tors of apartheid.

    PS. This is my opin­ion based on human­i­tar­i­an law and human rights. I don’t mind Radio­head. I’m not try­ing to judge them. I am mere­ly mak­ing appar­ent the very real exis­tence of shit that a fan might not notice. And great satire, eh?

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.