Radiohead set to steal the Beatles' crown

A survey shows the Fab Four face a serious challenge to their position as the kings of rock'n'roll
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

For over 30 years, The Beatles have ruled supreme as the definitive British rock band. But an authoritative poll to be published this week charts the emergence of public school educated Radiohead as the major pretender to the title of greatest group of all time.

For over 30 years, The Beatles have ruled supreme as the definitive British rock band. But an authoritative poll to be published this week charts the emergence of public school educated Radiohead as the major pretender to the title of greatest group of all time.

The new millennium edition of the Virgin All Time Top 1,000 Albums finds Radiohead and The Beatles going head-to-head with two records apiece in the top four. The Beatles retain the top spot with Revolver but Radiohead's The Bends is at number two and the group's OK Computer is at four. They are separated by Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in third place.

The Virgin poll is regarded throughout the industry as the most authoritative survey, not only for the size of its vote, but because this is the third time the exercise has been conducted in seven years. This means that, unlike other polls, it can track underlying trends and differentiate between the enduring and the ephemeral.

This "tracker" approach shows a dramatic rise in the fortunes of Radiohead since the last survey three years ago. At that time The Beatles occupied four of the top five places with The Bends at 10 and OK Computer at a modest 21. Now both Radiohead records have overtaken Beatles' classics Abbey Road and The White Album in the poll, which is based on 200,000 votes from musicians, industry professionals, critics, and fans.

No reputable survey has ever before seen The Beatles' dominance challenged so convincingly, and the results will only enhance anticipation for the latest Radiohead album, Kid A, due for release on 2 October.

The current issue of Billboard, the American bible of the music industry, talks about "Radiohead's rapidly-growing reputation as the saviour of British rock". The magazine describes the new album as "full of dark, schizophrenic moods" made up of songs "presented as one expressionistic suite of music".

But the Virgin survey shows that none of the other big acts of the Nineties associated with Britpop has anything like Radiohead's staying power. Oasis have suffered a dramatic decline and are now left without an album in the top 20. (What's The Story) Morning Glory is their highest entry at 21, but the group's Be Here Now crashes more than 400 places, from 36 to 459.

Blur also perform poorly, with Parklife falling 60 places to 95. The Verve's Urban Hymns, which was listed at 45 two years ago, drops out of the top 200, as does Prodigy's Fat Of The Land, which sinks from 54 to 269. The highest-placed new entries in the list are Air's Moon Safari (68), Performance and Cocktails by The Stereophonics (69) and Travis's The Man Who (75).

By contrast, the influence of cult albums from the Sixties and Seventies continues to grow. Love's 1967 classic Forever Changes jumps from 40 to 12 and Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica also climbs into the top 50. Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and The Velvet Underground are other non-mainstream cult artists whose albums are still making fresh converts among fans not even born when they were recorded 25 or more years ago.

"Most music magazines have produced their own polls and are all very similar. We claim that ours is the first , the biggest and the best. We polled as large an audience as we could physically handle," says Colin Larkin, who launched the survey in 1993. "The rise of Radiohead is phenomenal. No other band, not even the Pink Floyd, has ever come close to giving the Fab Four a run for their money."

Led by 31-year-old singer and songwriter Thom Yorke, Radiohead's five members first met at a private Oxfordshire boys' school. They started playing seriously in 1991, taking their name from a Talking Heads song, and released their first album, Pablo Honey, in 1993. They scored a top ten hit with the single "Creep" in the same year. Their second album The Bends appeared in 1995, peaking at number six in the charts.

Two years later OK Computer went to number one on the back of some of the most spectacularly enthusiastic reviews in living memory and the band have hardly ever received a bad notice in their career, although there have been some critical rumblings about the "miserablism" of Yorke's songs.

The Virgin poll also tracks the fluctuating popularity of different albums by the same artist.

For the first time Blood On The Tracks emerges as the most-acclaimed Bob Dylan record, jumping from 24 to seven and in the process overtaking Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited, until now widely regarded as his artistic peak. Similarly, Hunky Dory overtakes The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust as the most popular David Bowie album. The highest-ranked American album is REM's Automatic For The People at six. The top 100 shows 44 albums by American acts with almost all of the rest by British or Irish artists.

The Beatles and Miles Davis scored the most number of albums in the top 1,000 with 14 each , followed by Dylan with 13 entries.

Larkin promises the next poll in 2002 - by which time Kid A may well be battling it out with Revolver for the accolade of the greatest album ever.