English alternative rock band Radiohead has received critical acclaim since its 1993 debut album, "Pablo Honey." The band has garnered three Grammy awards and sold over 30 million albums worldwide. Now, Brad Osborn, an assistant professor of music theory at the University, has published a book about why Radiohead has become a figurehead in music culture.
"I think we’ll be talking about Radiohead years and years down the line," he said. "Just like we talk about the Beatles now.”
Osborn's book, "Everything in its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead," guides those interested in Radiohead's musical formula through four specific parameters of analysis: form, rhythm, harmony and timbre.
In each chapter, Osborn delves into the band's nine-album discography, particularly after 1997's "OK Computer," and analyzes how the band was able to add new twists to common practices.
Osborn said these innovations include unique chord progressions, a distinct C section beyond the verse-chorus structure and adding extra beats to a rock back beat.
"They always add an extra little special something, and I think that’s what makes it most interesting," he said.
Osborn's inspiration for the book goes back to a dissertation he wrote in 2010. The subject was experimental rock music post-1990, and Radiohead was a consistent presence throughout his writing.
Once Osborn was hired at the University in 2013, he used the opportunity to extend his research and find a way to compact the information into a thesis for a book, according to Osborn.
The process of fleshing out a thesis began with transcribing all of Radiohead's songs, he said. This included using a guitar, drum set and keyboard and sitting down for extended periods of time and looking beyond just what the meaning of a song was.
After collecting data through excel sheets and outlining a six-chapter structure to the book, Osborn finished his thoughts with a synthesis of all the elements he examined by looking at "Pyramid Song," off Radiohead's 2001 "Amnesiac."
Osborn said the book looks at the process through which the band helps the listener interpret their own meanings from the band's music.
"We’re all going to listen to different things through the music, but once you hear the things you hear, here’s the way to wrap that up in nice, neat package," he said.
The book was released to the public in early October. Osborn said he has used chapters in the book in his own teaching.
Osborn said the book is an extension of his own teaching. He currently teaches a doctoral seminar on analyzing popular music as well as freshman theory courses. In both cases, Osborn said he is able to connect Radiohead's extensive work with what is being taught in the classroom.
"With my freshman class, what I’m really interested in is them seeing the connections between the cool stuff Radiohead is doing — the way they’re in between the conventional and experimental — and how that's the exact same thing in Beethoven," Osborn said.
Bryan Kip Haaheim, a professor of music composition at the University, said this application of classical music to modern day is a valuable attribute in Osborn's teaching.
"He is a pioneer in that way," Haaheim said. "He applies the typical skills of music analysis that normally would have been applied to the music of Beethoven, Stravinsky — you know, classical musicians — and applies them to the music of Radiohead. You get a feel of what’s under the hood."
You can find Osborn's book at the Oxford University Press website. Copies can also be found at the local Raven Book Store.
— Edited by Cody Schmitz