“No Surprises” is the tenth Track off of Radiohead’s third Album, 1997’s OK Computer. It was the fourth single released. It came out in January of 1998 and reached #4 on the UK Singles Chart during its run. In October 2011, NME listed the Song at #107 on its list “150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years”.
It has been noted that the band wrote “No Surprises” during a tour they were on with R.E.M., in 1995. Singer Thom Yorke introduced the rest of the band to the Song in their dressing room in Oslo, Norway. The Lyrics were later rewritten and a new glockenspiel melody added.
It was the first Song they recorded on the first day of recording Tracks for OK Computer. Radiohead went with the first take recorded for the Album, despite multiple takes being laid down.
Thom Yorke described (from Wikipedia):
“That childlike guitar sound set the mood for the whole album. We were going for that Pet Sounds vibe.”
“No Surprises” by Radiohead
from the album, OK Computer (1997)
Yorke has also cited Motown and Classic Vocals as inspiration for the Song. He told Humo magazine, in July of 1997:
“We wanted it to have the atmosphere of Marvin Gaye. Or Louis Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World’.”
The music video (see above) for “No Surprises” was directed by Grant Gee. It consists of a single close-up shot of Yorke inside an astronaut-style dome helmet. The intimate shot of Yorke is reminiscent of the video for “Nothing Compares 2 You” by Sinead O’Connor, which also consisted of a single, close-up shot of the singer.
During the video, the Lyrics are shown slowly scrolling upwards as if they are being mirror-reflected off of Yorke’s helmet. As the first verse ends the helmet begins to fill with water.
There have been many covers of “No Surprises”. Some of the most notable have been Luka Bloom, Malia, Northern State, Postmodern Jukebox, and Amanda Palmer (on her Covers Album Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele).
“No Surprises” by Amanda Palmer
Most recently, a piano interpretation of the Song by Ramin Djawadi was used in the second episode of the HBO Show, “Westworld”. I started watching the Series yesterday afternoon and was taken by the version, which led me to choose “No Surprises” as Today’s Song of the Day. Have a listen, it was unexpected, and a brilliant fit in the off-kilter feel of the show.
“No Surprises” by Ramin Djawadi
OK Computer is my second favorite Radiohead Album, and this song is definitely one of the reasons. Though it was not my first listen favorite when I initially played my CD of this album back in the late 90’s, it has grown to be not just a favorite Track from the album, but from the band overall. Listening to it again today I can hear the Pet Sounds comparison, especially in the intro which reminds me of the intro to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. It makes me want to put them back-to-back in a Playlist.
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys
Yorke told Q magazine that “No Surprises” has to be played a certain way live in order for it to work.
“If you play it right, it is fucking dark. But it’s like acting. It’s on the edge of totally hamming it up but you’re not. It’s just the words are so dark. When we play it, we have to play it slow. It only sounds good if it’s fragile.”