Radiohead is a massively popular band that headlines music festivals around the world, but it could have been even bigger if its members weren’t so on brand. That is to say, the reason that “Lift”—one of the three unreleased songs on the band’s upcoming Ok Computer reissue—has never been officially available until now is that it was deemed too uplifting and infectious for the album.
As guitarist Ed O’Brien explained to BBC 6 Music earlier today, when Radiohead was opening for Alanis Morissette on her Can’t Not Tour back in 1995-96, Jagged Little Pill was huge. Observing that level of success close up made the members of Radiohead nervous. And when they played one of their new songs, “Lift,” live, the audience ate it up. (“It had this infectiousness. It was a big anthemic song,” O’Brien says.) That made them even more nervous: “Like having a gun to your head,” as O’Brien describes it.
So when it came time to assemble the track list for OK Computer, the band decided not to risk compromising its image as waifs lost in a barren forest of alienation by including a potential hit single. “If that song had been on that album, it would’ve taken us to a different place, and probably we’d have sold a lot more records—if we’d done it right. And everyone was saying this. And I think we subconsciously killed it.” O’Brien says. “If OK Computer had been [as popular as] Jagged Little Pill, it would’ve killed us.”
Indeed, listening to “Lift,” the song does anticipate the anthemic sound that would give Coldplay a worldwide hit with “Yellow” a few years later. And given how that all turned out, maybe Radiohead was right.