Does Ed from Radiohead Only Sing His Own Name? An Investigative Report
Not all fan theories are garbage.
Everyone (and when I say “everyone,” I mean “music nerds online”) is talking about the imminent release of “Lift”—Radiohead’s most mythical unreleased track. The excitement is not without warrant. From listening to the various live versions, it’s clear that the band’s wishy-washy opinion of the track is misguided. It’s a great song—and its status as a central artifact bridging The Bends and OK Computer makes this a juicy moment in the lives of Radiohead completists indeed.
But that’s not the real reason why we should all be so excited about it. My friends, the real reason to get pumped (and blast “Gasolina”) is that “Lift” is basically the Zapruder film of a quintessential Radiohead fan theory: Ed O’Brien, multi-instrumentalist and scarf-wearer galore, appears to only be able to sing his own name.
Now, I’m aware that fan theories are mostly terrible—barring, of course, ones like The Shining being a vehicle for Kubrick admitting to faking the moon landings, or “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” being about Super Mario Brothers), but if you’ll simply do me the favor of watching the below performance of “Lift” from 1996, I think you’ll see why this is such an important conversation to have. (Start at 1:10 if you want to get straight to Maximum Ed.)
See? He is definitely screaming “Ed.” Or, rather: “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed,” with the “d” at the end, as astute redditors have pointed out (they’ve also made the good point of noting that this activity is basically what Pokémon do). I rest my case. Wait, no I don’t. ’Cause I’ve actually got more. Let’s keep moving through the band’s history, shall we?
[Adopts voice of Kevin Costner in JFK.]
In 1997, the band stopped by Letterman to take a second crack at convincing American audiences that they were sorry for letting Thom Yorke bleach his hair in the Pablo Honey days. And at 1:35 in the video, Ed, without a shadow of a doubt, sings his own name. Megaphone style.
In 2003, the band was headlining Glastonbury, and an increasingly suspicious public was on edge about Ed’s next move. It’s well known that the reason Kid A and Amnesiac had such an electronic influence is that they were deliberately trying to limit the amount that Ed could inflict his name into the proceedings and eventual live performances. This blockade also influenced the arrangements of Hail to the Thief, but the rest of the group just couldn’t help but invite his true form back during a time capsule performance of “Just.” You can hear one of the purest examples of Ed singing his own name at 0:50.
By 2007, Ed had fought tooth and nail to get his signature move back into the band’s repertoire, and he struck a major victory with “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.” If “Lift” was First Blood, then “Weird Fishes” is Rambo 2 and 3. Skip to 2:30 to see him really let us fucking have it.
But then a weird thing happened post–In Rainbows: the “Ed”s have stopped, ladies and gentlemen. On both The King of Limbs and A Moon Shaped Pool, the man doesn’t even appear to say his name once. It’s like he just stopped trying or something… Before you get despondent, though, I’d like to point out that this is just like the part in Rambo 4 when you think that Stallone isn’t gonna get back in the game…and then he totally does. Anyway, while you wait for that to happen (and for Ed’s solo album to come out), check out this sick performance of “Identikit” at last year’s Lollapalooza, where he really nails all those other vocal parts. Wait…
Christian J. Koons and Kenny M. Becker contributed to this report.