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Music

Radiohead took ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ very literally

Oxford-born alt-rock royalty, Radiohead, surged to global superstardom over the early 1990s following the release of their first album Pablo Honey in 1993. The album, however, is often regarded as the group’s weakest and has been largely lost to obscurity apart from the lead single ‘Creep’, of course.

Despite being a crude precursor to the refined beauty heard in The Bends (1995) and OK Computer (1997), Pablo Honey still has a great deal to offer. The album represents an important stage of Radiohead’s early development; the group were still only in their early-to-mid-20s when recording the album and so it shows signs of their lack of experience and immaturity while revealing a smorgasbord of ideas that can be seen as a proverbial launchpad.

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The second single on the album, following ‘Creep’, was ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’. The track’s main angle of attack is Thom Yorke’s scathing jab at desperate and unskilled people looking for the fast track to becoming a rockstar.

In the lyrics, Yorke uses The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison as the archetypal rockstar one might endeavour to resemble. He sings: “Grow my hair I am Jim Morrison / Grow my hair, I want to be want to be, want to be Jim Morrison”. Yorke conveys his dissatisfaction with the almost mythical status Morrison has attained since his untimely and mysterious passing in 1971. 

Despite the insincere proclamation stated in the song’s title, Radiohead thought it would be interesting to test the theory nonetheless. During the recording of ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’, the group looked to prove the theory set out in the title quite literally.

“We rounded up everyone in the studio,” Producer Paul Kolderie remembered. “All five band members, Sean and I, the studio owner, the cook – and gave each person a guitar. Everyone got assigned their own track, and they could do whatever they wanted. The idea was to live up to the title: anyone can play guitar. So they did, and we made it into a little sound collage at the beginning.” For added effect, Jonny Greenwood grabbed a paintbrush to whack the strings of his Fender Telecaster.

Favouring innovation over convention would become an integral aspect of Jonny’s playing throughout the band’s career and was a key element of their success through creative evolution. “I don’t know any guitar scales,” Jonny revealed in a 1993 issue of Guitar. “Well, I know one major one – that’s it – and l just move up and down the neck depending on what modes I want. But you can get by with just chords. Rather than being able to play two thousand notes a minute, I can play an E chord anywhere on the neck, and that’s more interesting, I think.”

Listen to Radiohead’s early hit, ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’, below.