First released: 1993
Highest UK chart position: 7
Highest US chart position: 34
Hailing from Oxford and taking their name from the title of a Talking Heads song on the True Stories LP, Radiohead have become one of the great success stories of the 1990s; an English guitar band that can hold its head up to the likes of REM and U2. "" was the song that broke them world-wide - one of the great loser anthems of our time that almost came about by accident and whose convoluted genesis from studio to chart-topper was almost as interesting as the song itself.
Like certain other rock icons, notably Kurt Cobain, Radiohead singer Thom E Yorke saw himself as a misfit, having suffered terribly from a paralysed left eye as a child and then been subject to bullying at the Abingdon school where he met the other members of the band. Having been signed to Parlophone, the quintet was busy recording their first album, Pablo Honey. The idea was to cut some numbers in a vaguely U2 vein, but once the tape machine was rolling Yorke began strumming a brand-new tune called "" on his acoustic.
Earlier songs like "Prove Yourself" had already singled him out as a master of self-loathing, and this latest vignette was no exception. It was a paean to unrequited love - Yorke once admitted that he'd never met a beautiful woman who was also "nice" - and was brutally to the point, with a chorus that grizzled "I wish I was special/You're so fucking special/I'm a creep". Jonny Greenwood, sensing that this latest offering was essentially lightweight, decided to sabotage the tune and unleashed a cataclysmic burst of howling, spine-tingling feedback-drenched guitar, that instead of ruining the effect, enhanced the despairing tone of the song to perfection.
However, when the cut was released as a single in September 1992, it was rejected by the all-powerful Radio 1 as being "too depressing" and faded from view at Number 78 in the UK charts. But that wasn't to be the end of the story. "" made the Top 10 in NME's Singles of 1992, while Melody Maker picked out the group as the one to watch in 1993.
The song also began to pick up airplay around the world, notably Israel where it became a Top 30 hit. Moreover, MTV put the "" video on heavy rotation: one of Thom's abiding memories of his first tour in May 1993 was waking up in a hotel room in Boston at seven in the morning, switching on MTV and seeing the "" video being broadcast!
The single rocketed up to Number 34 on the Hot 100. The universal acclaim prompted Parlophone to reissue it in the UK, something the band were initially reluctant to do. However, the single's second appearance exceeded all expectations and it crashed the Number 7 spot in the UK in September 1993.
But there was a downside to success. With Parlophone's parent company EMI baying for a follow-up hit single, sessions for the band's second album faltered - the pressures on Yorke were enormous - and eventually plans to record a new single had to be scrapped. For a moment it looked as if the song's notoriety would kill the band, but their tenacity won through and the John Leckie-produced second album, The Bends, re-established Radiohead's credentials. Now regarded as one of the great rock anthems of the decade, "" has gone on to be covered by acts as diverse as Mark Owen, the Pretenders and Tears For Fears!Reuse content