So here it is. An absolute classic from the 1997 album OK Computer:
For me, the most distinctive element of this song is the descending bass line that supports the haunting melody in the verse:
|Chord:||B minor||F# major||D major||E major (add 9)|
|Lyrics:||Wake from your||sleep, the||drying of your||tears|
There’s another moment of really engaging subtlety in the conclusion to the verse at which time the key is temporarily shifted from B minor to B major:
|B minor||F# major||B major (sus4)|
|Today, we es-||-cape, we es-||-cape|
Another third striking element of the piece is the shift in the second section from B minor to A minor:
|A minor||E major||B minor||F# major|
|Breath, keep||breathing.||Don’t lose your||nerve|
When you first hear this transition, it sounds jarring and unsettling but, after lots of listens, seems just right. I can remember a similar experience listening to some of the more adventurous Beatles songs in the late 1960s. At first, you think there must be some sort of mistake but many plays later you can’t imagine anything else working. There’s a lesson here for contemporary songwriters. Don’t just do what everyone else does because, in music, all rules are there to be broken. In fact, we must test the boundaries; otherwise, we end up with songs that are no more than nicely-produced clones of each other.
There’s been speculation that Exit Music For A Film is influenced by this rather wonderful piece of piano music from Chopin:
Sprout Wheel Switch Music went as far as to mash up the two pieces:
When you look at the two pieces in detail, you soon find there are major dissimilarities. In fact, only the first two bars (that’s Bm to F# in the Radiohead piece and Em to B in the Prelude) have a great deal in common. Chopin’s piece carries on with the descending bass line from beginning to end, whereas Radiohead follows a more conventional song structure. However, both do have the same insistent chord accompaniment to a plaintive melody line that is never harmonised. These pieces have a very similar feel. They are also both great examples of the emotive power of music.