When Radiohead emerged in the 1990s, they were held up as their generation’s version of Pink Floyd. However, one album by the group failed to impress Roger Waters, who admitted it was “beyond me”.
Radiohead made their arrival at a time when Britpop was reigning supreme, and they offered an alternative that was seemingly unavailable in any other corner of the music industry. Their material was boundary-pushing, pioneering, and mind-bending, all factors which led to Thom Yorke being worshipped as a genius.
Similarly, during the 1960s, Pink Floyd were different to any other outfit gigging in the London scene. Their psychedelic-infused rock wasn’t the band people thought they wanted but, instead, the band that they needed. However, surprisingly, Floyd do not appear to have been a major influence on Radiohead.
During an interview promoting OK Computer, guitarist Jonny Greenwood was asked if he was influenced by prog-rock groups such as Pink Floyd. In response, Greenwood said he only actually liked the first and final tracks from their album, Meddle.
Although Radiohead denied Pink Floyd being a major influence on their career, Waters was blown away by what he heard on OK Computer, but the same can’t be said for everything in their back catalogue. In 2002, Waters was talking about the state of modern music with Rolling Stone when the interviewer asked for his thoughts on Radiohead. He replied: “My son Harry gave me OK Computer. I really liked it. I thought it had two or three really great songs on it. Then a friend gave me a newish album with a red thing, I can’t even remember what it was called.”
Waters continued: “Amnesiac. That was beyond me, I have to say. I listened to it once in the car and went, ‘Well, OK, guys. Good, but you’ve left me.’ You know, where’s my Neil Young? Where’s my John Lennon album?”
In truth, Waters’ damning analysis of Amnesiac isn’t too surprising, considering he wasn’t the album’s target demographic. Furthermore, in the same interview, the former Pink Floyd member also discussed the longevity of their work and why it continues to inspire groups, even in 2002. Although, in his answer, Waters did incorrectly assume Radiohead were one of the bands who have been influenced by them.
He continued: “It’s very difficult to write ‘Breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care,’ without people going, ‘Fucking wanker!’ [laughs]. And I think that’s what Radiohead and these other bands are attaching to. There is a purity in those records. The records are bought by people when they hit puberty, when it becomes important to us to attach to ideas.”
The similarities between Pink Floyd and Radiohead were more to do with the experimental tendencies of both bands rather than the latter ripping off their predecessors. Despite their differences, their approach to music aligned, and it’s easy to understand why Radiohead were anointed the next Pink Floyd.