The surreal story of how the artwork of Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’ was created
As the album celebrated it’s recent 25th birthday we thought we’d take a trip down deep into the Far Out Vault to delve a little deeper into the creation of the artwork of Radiohead’s The Bends.
Radiohead’s second studio album, The Bends, received critical acclaim following 1993’s Pablo Honey which struggled at the time of its release. It announced the band’s legitimacy as a new leader in rock.
The album has long gone down as a pivotal moment in Radiohead’s career. However, in the words of Colin Greenwood himself, the band were unaware of the enormity of The Bends: “We didn’t really realise that loads of people like The Bends,” Greenwood said. “Tucked away in Oxford, you occasionally see someone in a ‘Creep’ T-shirt, and that’s it. But then we went all around the world and found that loads of people wanted to ‘hang’ with us because of that album. Which was nice.”
The record might well have shot the band into the mainstream and with it set the foundations for what was to come, a global fandom. But it also started the collaboration between the band and an artist that would stand the test of time and litter their career with iconic moments.
Dan Rickwood, better known as Stanley Donwood by Radiohead fans, is the man who has created all the artwork for the band’s records. Having met Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke while they studied art the University of Exeter, Yorke would later describe Donwood as “Mouthy. Pissed off. Someone I could work with.”
Yorke then added: “I met him [Donwood] the first day at art college and he had a better hat and suit on than me. That pissed me off. So I figured I’d either end up really not liking this person at all or working with him for the rest of my life.” It would just so happen the latter would be the result and it would prove to be a fruitful relationship.
How Radiohead made the cover of ‘The Bends’:
The cover for The Bends was the one that set the tone for Donwood’s working relationship with the band. The record was a hit across the charts and the album artwork further emphasised their artistic vision. For years fans have speculated about how the creation of such a surreal, slightly creepy image was formed. Recently, the artist himself explained how the image was created. Namely, by sneaking a VHS camcorder into a hospital and taking footage of a resuscitation training dummy.
“We hired a video camera, a large boxy thing that had to be put on a shoulder. It took VHS cassettes, and we went out and filmed things that we thought would be somehow interesting; road signs, symbols on discarded cardboard packaging, street lights,” Donwood told Juxtapoz. “We played these video cassettes on a machine hooked up to a TV and took photos of the screen. Then we took the films to photograph developing shops and waited to see if any of the photos were any good. If they were we could scan them.
“We got into a hospital with the camera and were filming all kinds of things. I’m not sure if it was really allowed or not. Probably not. I wanted to find an iron lung because of one of the song titles on the album but iron lungs are not very interesting to look at.” But he wasn’t scuppered yet.
Something else took Donwood’s eye, “In the room where the staff practice resuscitation were some mannequins, and one of them, in particular, had a facial expression like that of an android discovering for the first time the sensations of ecstasy and agony, simultaneously. And that was the cover of the record.”
With a bit more time on our hands, now is a perfect opportunity to revisit Radiohead’s seminal album The Bends as it celebrates its 25th birthday.