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Why Radiohead named their debut album ‘Pablo Honey’

Radiohead released their debut album, Pablo Honey, in 1993. Upon release, the album was mildly successful but it was mainly buoyed by its lead single ‘Creep’. The group’s explosive rise to global superstardom over the mid-90s, with The Bends (1995) and OK Computer (1997), has subsequently cast a shadow over Pablo Honey, obscuring most of the work within.

A high proportion of the tracks on the album have been lost to obscurity apart from ‘Creep’ which remains the band’s most-streamed song despite their concerted efforts to disassociate with the formative single over the years.

Over the past three decades, Radiohead have mastered the art of creative exploration, this peaked in 2000 with Kid A. For this album, they decided to ditch their tried and tested formula of guitar-driven indie rock and instead made a masterpiece of avant-garde electro-rock.

Their impressive and eclectic career has now shuffled Pablo Honey to the bottom of the pile as far as most Radiohead fans are concerned, but this doesn’t mean that the album should be forgotten. It still has some very listenable music on it, including tracks like ‘Blow Out’, ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ and ‘You’.

The album has a particularly strange cover design of a baby’s face surrounded by a ring of sweets and a yellow flower. I have always assumed that perhaps the baby was ‘Pablo’ and the sweets and pollen-loaded flower were perhaps used to resemble the sweet ‘Honey’. But this still doesn’t explain why on Earth the group decided to name the album Pablo Honey.

In the early 1990s, fellow Thames Valley indie-rock group Chapterhouse passed Radiohead a bootleg recording of prank phone calls that had been circulating in the New York comedy scene. The calls were the creation of Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed, two childhood friends from Queens who called themselves the Jerky Boys. The pair would make sketches in which they terrorise their New York neighbours with outrageous prank calls. “Some of it’s really sick,” Thom Yorke told Select in May 1993. “Some of it I can’t cope with. But the notion of phoning up people cold is so ’90s. It’s just the ultimate sacrilege – turn up in someone’s life, and they can’t do anything about it.” 

One of the sketches that Radiohead found particularly amusing was when one of the Jerky Boys posed as a confused victim’s mother, who opened with a worried utterance, “Pablo, honey? Please come to Florida.” The group decided to use the line for their first album name. “Pablo Honey was appropriate for us, being all mothers’ boys,” Yorke later joked. They also sampled the sketch for the instrumental section in ‘How Do You?’ alongside the guitar solo.

Listen to ‘How Do You?’ from Radiohead’s Pablo Honey below.