When Radiohead released their album Kid A on October 2, 2000, few music fans were prepared for it. Anyone expecting that the band's follow-up to 1997's OK Computer would just be a rehash of that earlier album was likely taken aback when they pressed play and heard the despondent synthesizer melody on “Everything In Its Right Place.”
Kid A has been recognized by critics as Radiohead’s best album, as well as one of the greatest albums of all-time—period. Here are some facts about the album that Pitchfork reviewer Brent DiCrescenzo described as "an album which completely obliterates how albums, and Radiohead themselves, will be considered."
1. Radiohead shied away from guitar on Kid A.
Kid A isn’t completely without guitar, but the instrument is severely downplayed, especially when compared to the band's previous albums. For a group of musicians with the combined playing talents of Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Ed O’Brien, minimizing guitar in favor of electronics was gutsy, if not a little reckless. Speaking with Q, Yorke talked about his writer's block with the instrument.
“Every time I picked up a guitar I just got the horrors,” Yorke said. In the same interview, O'Brien said he wanted them to “have really nice-sounding guitars and do something really snappy” for the album. It’s pretty clear who won out.
2. Kid A was recorded in several different cities.
Listening to Kid A doesn’t exactly feel like touring Europe, but Radiohead recorded parts of the album in Paris, Copenhagen, and Gloucestershire, England. Greenwood described recording in the first two cities as “pretty much wash-outs” before reaching the Gloucestershire mansion known as Batsford Park. They had a private studio being built, but it wasn’t ready until September 1999.
3. Radiohead's sound got "warped" for Kid A.
Fans of Warp Records will immediately hear the influence of the label on Kid A, specifically the work of revered electronic artists Aphex Twin and Autechre. Yorke devoured both of those artists’s work after the band's OK Computer tour was over. Warp has continued to push the envelope for experimental/electronic artists, with acclaimed acts like Flying Lotus and Oneohtrix Point Never having joined their fold.
4. Kid A could have spelled the end of Radiohead.
Parlophone, Radiohead's label, didn’t give the band a deadline for finishing the album. While that seems like it should have reduced their stress, O’Brien told Q that it actually exacerbated tension by making it difficult to focus on one thing. The band agreed to split if they couldn’t settle on a quality album. In February 2000, disputes about the track order also nearly caused them to break up.
5. Kid A did not feature any singles.
Although Kid A has a reputation for being a somewhat challenging album, there are at least a few tracks that are catchy enough to have worked reasonably well as singles on an alternative rock station’s playlist. However, songs like “Idioteque” and “The National Anthem” didn’t get any advanced release, nor did they have music videos. Radiohead was defying many expectations, including ones about how albums are supposed to be promoted.
6. Kid A was one of the first streamable albums.
As you read this, you’re probably listening to something on a music streaming service (maybe even Kid A). However, in 2000, the idea of being able to listen to an album on your computer, legally, was beyond novel. Speaking with Grantland in 2015, former Capitol Records executive Robin Sloan Bechtel said she believed that making the album available to hear for free, weeks before it was available physically, could translate to strong sales. So Bechtel's hunch was tested with Kid A—and it paid off ...
7. Kid A was Radiohead’s first number 1 album in the U.S.
Kid A was Radiohead’s fourth studio album—following 1993's Pablo Honey, 1995's The Bends, and 1997's OK Computer—but their very first album to top the U.S. Billboard chart. It eventually reached platinum status in the States, selling more than 1 million copies. It also topped the charts in the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand. In Rainbows, their 2007 hit, is the only other Radiohead album to reach the top spot on the U.S. Billboard chart.
8. Thom Yorke called the week Radiohead appeared on Saturday Night Live in support of Kid A the "best week" of his life.
On October 14, 2000, Radiohead made their first of (so far) two appearances as Saturday Night Live's musical guest. Their appearance happened to coincide with Kid A being the number 1 album an America—a moment that Yorke once described as the "best week" of his life.
9. Radiohead recorded enough material for Kid A to fill two albums.
It didn’t take long for Radiohead to release Amnesiac, their follow-up album to Kid A. This is because they had the songs ready from their Kid A sessions. Released in 2001, Amnesiac feels both like an extension of Kid A as well as its own creation.
10. Rolling Stone named Kid A the best album of the 2000s.
It doesn't get much more iconic than this. In 2011, Rolling Stone released their list of the 100 best albums of the 2000s—with Kid A in the top spot, just ahead of The Strokes's Is This It. In their review of the album, the magazine wrote:
"Only 10 months into the century, Radiohead had made the decade's best album—by rebuilding rock itself, with a new set of basics and a bleak but potent humanity. Yorke's loathing of celebrity inspired the contrary beauty of 'How to Disappear Completely,' with its watery orchestration and his voice flickering in and out of earshot. His electronically squished pleading in Kid A sounded like a baby kicking inside a hard drive."