Personalities | Jonny Greenwood | Radiohead to Guitar Hero | Guitar Heroes

The lead guitarist in Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood, has straddled the line between dissonance and resonance, noise and melody. His arsenal of effects, virtuosity and unconventional phrasing have been key features in this very English band’s development.

No wonder Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour is a fan. ‘They’ve done some very good things. I can see why people make the connection,’ he told the Guardian in 2003. In fact, Greenwood is a multi-instrumentalist, playing synthesizers, keyboards, xylophone, ondes martenot (an early electronic instrument) and viola (on which he was classically trained) with Radiohead.

Born in Oxford in 1971, Greenwood met the other members of Radiohead in 1986 through his older brother Colin at the nearby Abingdon public school. Singer Thom Yorke, guitarist Ed O’Brien and drummer Phil Selway were all older than Greenwood. Originally called On A Friday, they gigged around Oxford and continued to play after Greenwood’s bandmates had left for university and when they returned in 1991. The band changed their name to Radiohead after signing a record deal with EMI.

Pablo Honey (1993) blended guitar-led anthemic rock with atmospheric instrumental passages, veering from thoughtful to angst, often in the same song, such as ‘Creep’, a slow-burning hit around the world with Yorke’s self-loathing lyrics contrasting with Greenwood’s scratchy, grunge guitar. The Bends (1995) refused to conform to the expected follow-up and was instead a low-key album of melancholic grandeur with Yorke’s vocals set against dense guitar arrangements. But they had built up a loyal following; ‘High And Dry’, ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, ‘Just’ and ‘Street Spirit’ were not pop songs, but they were all UK hit singles. MTV and American radio were less keen on the singles, however, and The Bends barely made the US charts, even though Radiohead supported R.E.M. on their Monster world tour and built up a broader audience.

OK Computer (1997) was a minimalist art-rock album with structured guitar riffs, mechanical rhythms, pop melodies and the band’s trademark production with its cold, emotional feel that changed the face of 1990s rock. Greenwood used a wide range of sounds and effects to enhance the songs: an evocative solo on ‘Airbag’; smooth, sliding tones and a squealing solo on ‘Paranoid Android’; complex, spacey sounds on ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’; eerie, Pink Floyd-style playing on ‘Exit Music’; wailing jangly riffs on ‘Electioneering’; droning sounds on ‘Climbing Up The Walls’; and melodic textures on ‘Lucky’. OK Computer topped the UK charts, reached No. 21 in the US, and was a major worldwide success.

Kid A (2000) was a reaction to the success of OK Computer, deliberately moving away from conventional melodies or commercial sounds. Guitars were less in evidence although Greenwood’s guitar was prominent on ‘Optimistic’, and was sparsely but effectively used on ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’. Greenwood also played the theremin-like ondes martenot on two tracks and arranged the string orchestra on ‘How To Disappear Completely’. Despite its radical nature, Kid A topped the US and UK charts....

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