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How one Miles Davis album influenced Radiohead's entire career

Radiohead remains a group that operates solely on their own terms. Whilst grunge and britpop were filling up the airwaves in the ’90s; they decided than rather follow the pack that they would continue to do their own thing rather than follow the pack. Their progressive attitude towards music never tied them down to one specific genre, which often led to a misunderstanding due to their abstract nature.

As nobody before, Radiohead managed to conjure up an all-encompassing sound, whilst this is predominantly down to the genius, the band has at their fingertips, the band used the past music to inform their future. Even unique talents like Radiohead still feel inspired by others, but they re-interpret the energy they feel rather than replicating the source of inspiration. The finest example of this is how Miles Davis was remarkably the main inspiration for their seminal masterpiece, OK! Computer. The aura of Davis is something that has stuck with them.

In a conversation with Jazz Times in 2019, guitarist Jonny Greenwood explained how even he finds it bizarre to talk about Davis being an inspiration on the group. “Discussing Miles makes you feel like a dimestore novelist talking about Shakespeare,” he stated. “We feel uncomfortable talking about Miles as any kind of influence, because of what he did is so much greater and different than anything we do. We’ve taken and stolen from him shamelessly, not just musically, but in terms of his attitude of moving things forward.”

Greenwood discussed this in more detail on the Adam Buxton podcast: “I’m conscious on this record (A Moon Shaped Pool) that we’ve been occasionally skirting around the edge of something that could be terrible, which is kind of fun. It’s not jazz piano, exactly, but there’s elements of that. Because we like records by people like Alice Coltrane, we’ve got the gall to go, let’s try and make it sound a little bit like that. And we’ve always been like that. The songs on OK Computer, in our swollen heads, were trying to be Miles Davis, frankly. Even though no one plays the trumpet. You have big ambition, and you get as far as you can with it.” He then said, “It’s all about that record, yeah” regarding Bitches Brew.

Yorke later said how Bitches Brew was “at the core of what we were trying to do with OK! Computer, building something up and watching it fall apart, reverberating. That’s the beauty of it. ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ was born out of listening to Bitches Brew endlessly. The first time I heard it I thought it was the most nauseating chaos, it sounded as though it came from Mars, I felt sick listening to it. But then, gradually. You aim for something that you’ve fallen in love with and you completely miss, but you do something else with it.”

“I think of In a Silent Way,” OK! Computer producer Nigel Godrich told Rolling Stone about him and Thom Yorke’s side-project Atoms For Peace’s 2013 effort AMOK. Godrich then touched upon Davis’ follow-up, 1970’s Bitches Brew. “It’s that thing of creating interaction between people and then editing that whole thing to create dynamics, you know? It’s weird – it ended up being sort of [a process of] interacting as much as we could do that, and we were thinking about things in very much a jazz way in terms of using edits and big blocks of music to create arrangements. It’s interesting – I can’t tell now because I’m too close to it – but just how well the process worked.”

This one album by Miles Davis helped Radiohead bond during this magical period for the group that saw them produce their seminal piece of work. Whilst Bitches Brew and OK! Computer couldn’t sonically be any further apart. The band had Davis’ spirit with them in the studio and this subliminal presence helped them create their album with a place in folklore in the same fashion as Bitches Brew.

Almost 20-years on, the album inspired Yorke and Godrich again when they formed Atoms For Peace, which is a testament to the divine strength of Bitches Brew. Despite all the change that occurred in that timespan, the one trusty source of inspiration that they could rely on was the spirit of Miles Davis.

Few artists have influenced such a wide-span of artists as the pioneering jazz musician, but that made Davis such a special talent who will forever be remembered in history as one of the greats.