No. 73: Radiohead Scores The Year’s Strangest Top 40 Hit

In a year that’s seen the digital economy upend our notions of what a “hit” is—from songs leaping to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 before radio has even digested them, to acts turning every damned song on their albums into a momentary chart smash—it’s appropriate that the weirdest insta-hit of all was scored by the world’s best-known all-digital band.

Back in April, Radiohead scored their second-ever U.S. Top 40 hit with “Nude,” one of the least catchy songs on the catchier-than-usual In Rainbows. Given the band’s rabid fanbase, they probably could have accomplished the feat simply by putting out a remix of the song on iTunes with the smallest of tweaks. But they did better than that: they invited fans to tweak the song for them.

Released to iTunes on April 1 was “Nude,” broken into six parts: the full song, plus separate stem tracks for voice, guitars, bass, drums and synthesized strings. Each song fork sold separately, and fans had to spend up to six bucks to acquire all the pieces. The combined sales for all six pieces totaled just shy of 60,000, enough to push the song onto the Hot 100 at No. 37 for a single week—just three spaces below where “Creep,” the band’s first and only other U.S. Top 40 hit, peaked in 1993.

In my column last spring, I whimsically predicted that a mainstream act would try to replicate Radiohead’s experiment on a larger scale. But so far no one has done anything quite like the deconstruction of “Nude.” So much has been written about Radiohead’s digital experiments over the last year-plus, but much of what they’ve accomplished since the fall of 2007 has been pretty predictable. Opening up a song for remix isn’t a new idea either—Nine Inch Nails, another convert to the all-digital model, did a web-based version years ago—but like so much of Radiohead’s antics recently, they somehow manage to make the biggest cyber-splash.

80 ’08 (and Heartbreak)

  • Anonymous

    For a band that’s heralded as “revolutionary” for giving away their album, this sure sounds like a huge money grubbing “fuck you” to all their fans.

  • Anonymous

    So kind of like a 12″ single from the ’70s?

  • mackro

    @K-Rex: What 12″ from the 70s broke down a song into 6 different bare tracks of individual instruments?

  • revmatty

    Also: BNL did the ‘remix our song’ online thing before either Trent or Radiohead

  • mackro

    @tim_loves_cats: u high? they could have chosen to not buy the tracks. Also, not every Radiohead fan has sound tools, but apparently enough of them do or decided to try!

    Not a Radiohead apologist here but the complaints and one-ups here thus far are really really weak and irrelevant.

  • Anonymous

    @mackro: My mistake. Most only broke it down into 2 tracks. So, Radiohead is three times as revolutionairy as standard practice in the ’70s. Apples to a bag of apples.

  • Marth

    The Dismemberment Plan gave away multiple songs in track-by-track form a few years ago, free of charge, and released the results as a remix album. But then Travis Morrisson got skunked by Pitchfork and no one really likes to talk about them anymore.

  • Anonymous

    @Marth: that remix albums wasn’t very good tho. i should know, cuz i was one of the remixers, haha.

  • DocStrange

    “Paper Planes” and “Nude” were in the Billboard Hot 100′s top 40 this year. So it’s a great year for XL Records (Vampire Weekend’s also on their roster) and an awesome year for alternative music.

    It’s also a good year for Radiohead because they’ve gotten rid of the “one hit wonder” label once and for all (because even though they had #1 albums, Grammy wins and several chart hits on the Modern Rock Tracks chart, they hadn’t gotten another Top 40 entry until then)

  • DocStrange

    Oh, and I get the following error from the home page on Firefox:

    “Content Encoding Error

    The page you are trying to view cannot be shown because it uses an invalid or unsupported form of compression.

    The page you are trying to view cannot be shown because it uses an invalid or unsupported form of compression.

    * Please contact the website owners to inform them of this problem”

    So, what’s up?

  • blueeyeddevil

    the music business is a living organism and the exciting thing is that money can be made, musicians can live off their music and if a band (or it’s management) is clever enough in it’s choices in how to make money, we can keep money in the hands of little guy. The little guy here being a huge multi-million dollar company known as Radiohead and Associates but at leat it’s not Seagrams or some other corporation that is mostly made up of MBAs and marketing agents.

  • Maura Johnston

    @DocStrange: can you email me?

  • DocStrange

    @Maura Johnston: It seems to be fixed now. I don’t know what caused it but it was sure weird.

  • Michaelangelo Matos

    @K-Rex: Standard practice in the ’70s was to include a long version and a short one. Apples to pears.