Has it really been a decade? After “Creep” had torn through US radio like a comet, I’d mostly lost track of Radiohead (I wasn’t alone, of course) save the occasional play of “High and Dry” on my local rock station or something. Then the “Paranoid Android” video hit MTV, my brother bought OK Computer, and I became a monster fan. I scoured the Internet for mp3s of unreleased songs, traded bootlegs with kids in my high school, and bought copy after copy of the import singles I found at the HMV in Georgetown. And that’s how I came upon “How I Made My Millions,” one of my favorite Radiohead songs, a truly sentimental favorite if there ever was one.
What really gets me about the song is just how unpolished, how off-the-cuff, how unplanned it feels. After all, OK Computer’s leadoff single was “Paranoid Android,” a studio achievement on par with “A Day in the Life” or anything on Loveless for sheer grandeur and technical brilliance. It was stunning to go from that to this—Thom Yorke alone, playing a simple and affecting piano line, accompanied only by his magisterial voice. You can hear clicking noises in the background—legendarily, one of the band member’s girlfriend loading some laundry in a washing machine. And the lyrics, sparse and lovely (“I was stronger / I was better / Picked you out…Let it fall / Let it fall”), were rather obviously made up on the spot—there are certain lines I still haven’t figured out the words to. None of this matters when you let Yorke’s vocals wash over you, just like any other great Radiohead song.
Listening to the other OK Computer b-sides really puts this track in sharp relief—the blistering electronic-laden rocker “Palo Alto,” the weird instrumental “Meeting in the Aisle,” and the sample-laden, molasses-slow “A Reminder” all show off Radiohead’s impressive in-studio capabilities. But “How I Made My Millions,” improbably, is the b-side that best shows off Radiohead’s impressive abilities to write a song, plain and simple. Like many great artists and bands, Thom Yorke manages to be great when you’re not supposed to be listening. And songs like “How I Made My Millions” make me glad I’m a Radiohead fan.
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