Radiohead Really, Really Needs to Release a Collection of Rarities and Non-Album Tracks Already

Just stating the obvious here: The new Radiohead track is very good. It's also not new. "I Promise" was recorded two decades ago, during the sessions for 1997's era-defining OK Computer. There's a distinctively pre-2000 feel to the chugging, acoustic number. It sounds like a long-lost gem, a time capsule of an era when sunny Britpop ruled the airwaves on one continent, second-wave grunge bands reigned over the other, and Radiohead somehow straddled the line and sounded better than either.

Why now? "I Promise" surfaced today as a teaser for the big 20th-anniversary OK Computer reissue, called OKNOTOK, that's coming out this month. The release contains two other previously unheard tracks, "Man of War" and the legendary lost cut "Lift."

"I Promise" is yet another reminder that the songs Radiohead leaves off its albums are often just as good as the ones that make it on. Consider the fan favorite "True Love Waits," which was left off at least three albums before Radiohead finally nailed a studio version for 2016's A Moon Shaped Pool.

So why has the band still not put out a compilation of B-sides and rarities? Something along the lines of Oasis's The Masterplan (which, I'll argue, is better than any studio album Oasis has made since) or Tom Waits's Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards or Pearl Jam's Lost Dogs?

It could be a big two-disc set. Or just one. I'm not picky. I'm not even talking about songs like "I Promise" that have never been heard before. I am talking about songs that are out there, somewhere in the ether, but tough to track down. Songs that are confined to old, out-of-print singles or EPs; songs that are, in some cases, not available on streaming platforms.

It's hardly hyperbole to say that Radiohead has more great non-album songs than many bands have great songs, period. "Gagging Order," a haunting Hail to the Thief-era B-side, is incredible. "Talk Show Host," with its start-stop trip-hop grooves, is a lost gem from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. "The Trickster" and "Lewis (Mistreated)," both from the My Iron Lung EP, are snarling classics from the days when Radiohead knew how to rock. And while Amnesiac isn't one of the band's best-loved albums, it produced some fine B-sides, like "Fog" and "Worrywort." (This era also brought us the twitchy, terrifying "Trans-Atlantic Drawl.")

Radiohead
Thom Yorke of Radiohead performs on the Coachella Stage during day 1 of the 2017 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, on April 21. Rich Fury/Getty Images

Other songs are more significant for historical reasons: "Stupid Car," for example, appeared on the band's debut EP and introduced the theme of automobile anxiety that would blossom on "Airbag" five years later. More recently, 2015's "Spectre" teased the orchestral grandeur of A Moon Shaped Pool.

Most of these songs are known to diehard fans but obscure to casual listeners. There's an obvious benefit to collecting a bunch of them in one place. There are so many great songs to pick and choose from, and there are almost certainly more lost cuts that none of us have heard. Considering The Bends and Kid A are already being pored over like religious texts, we might as well give some attention to the outtakes.

Related: 20 unusual influences behind Radiohead's OK Computer

And now is a good time to comb through the vaults, with OK Computer turning 20 and "Creep" turning 25. Radiohead typically shies away from nostalgia (Thom Yorke famously refused to play "Creep" for years), so it's surprising that the band is going all out with OKNOTOK, beefing up and repackaging an album from so long ago. Lately, though, Radiohead seems increasingly willing to revisit its past. The band has been playing tons of '90s songs on tour (including "Let Down" for the first time in a decade), and A Moon Shaped Pool contained several songs that had been floating around forever.

So Radiohead, if you're reading this, please just put out a rarities compilation.

Unless you'd rather make an album of new material soon. In which case, ignore everything I've written and please do that instead. Thanks, guys.

Radiohead Really, Really Needs to Release a Collection of Rarities and Non-Album Tracks Already | Culture