The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #210: Exit Music (For A Film) by Radiohead (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #210: Exit Music (For A Film) by Radiohead.

In 1995, Australian movie director Baz Luhrmann was nearing completion of the second in his “Red” triliogy of movies. His first movie was a well-received, modest hit called, “Strictly Ballroom”. His third and final movie….one that would win him an Academy Award for Best Director…was to be “Moulin Rouge”, starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman. The middle moive…the one he was working on in 1995 was a modernized adaptation of Shakespeare’s, “Romeo and Juliet” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes. All of Luhrmann’s movies showcased his love of music and, as such, the soundtracks played a crucial role in all films, including, “Romeo and Juliet”. Luhrmann knew that he wanted a song for the closing scene of the movie that was forward-thinking, innovative and emotive, all at the same time. As he thought of who best to fulfill this important element of his movie, he turned to the gentlemen from my favourite group, “Radiohead”.

At the time Luhrmann contacted “Radiohead”, they had already begun the process of recording songs for their new album called, “OK Computer”. Luhrmann sent them the rough cut of the final 20-30 minutes of the movie. In short order, “Radiohead” sent Luhrmann a finished song that, because it played at the very end of the movie, was entitled, “Exit Music (For A Film). “Exit Music (For A Film)” is not part of the official “Romeo and Juliet” soundtrack because “Radiohead” had already slotted the song on their new album, “OK Computer”. But, for Luhrmann, it was the final puzzle piece that completed his movie and he happily acquiesced to “Radiohead’s” request. “Romeo and Juliet” went on to be a very successful movie; earning several awards along the way. “OK Computer” went on to one of the most critically-acclaimed albums of the last 25 years; with “Exit Music (For A Film) being one of the reasons why.

In terms of record sales alone, (almost ten million in sales), “OK Computer” ranks as one of the biggest albums of all-time. It spawned a series of innovative and ground-breaking songs such as “Paranoid Android”, “Karma Police”, “Climbing the Walls” and the song that Spin Magazine declared as the #1 song of the 1990s, “Let Down”. These songs are not Pop songs and, as such, did not race up the charts but, listening to them each, it is easy to see the intelligence of lyrics that accurately predicted what life was to become for all of us as we transitioned to an information society. “OK Computer”, not unlike famous albums such as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles, has been lauded as being that album that comes along every generation or so, and pushes the entire music industry forward with some element of technical innovation. For “Radiohead”, this innovation manifested itself in the form of new recording techniques that made better use of emerging technology….techniques that are common today but were unheard of back in the mid-1990s. I am biased in my critique of this album because “OK Computer” is my favourite album of all-time. The title of the album comes from the book, “A HItchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, where one of the characters is always talking to a computer and saying, “Okay Computer, chart a course for……..” and so on.

The song, “Exit Music (For A Film)” is sung in a hauntingly slow, word-by-word style. Lead singer, Thom Yorke, says that he was inspired by the song, “Folsom Prison” by “Johnny Cash”, of all people but, if you listen critically and carefully, you will be able to see how the slow beginning of “Folsom Prison” is present in “Exit Music (For A Film)” and how both songs have powerful moments about three-quarters of the way through and how both end in quieter tones, with just the singer’s voice at the end. When I first heard, “Exit Music (For A Film)”, I was unaware that it was meant to be for the “Romeo and Juliet” movie. The song stands alone as capturing a seemingly life-and-death moment in the lives of young lovers (who are never named). But, knowing the story of “Romeo and Juliet” adds a deeper layer of meaning to the lyrics and elevates the song to a higher plain. I am pleased with this song, as are “Radiohead” and Director Baz Luhrmann, too. I hope that you will be, as well.

So, without further delay, here are the very best band around, “Radiohead” with “Exit Music (For A FIlm)” from the movie, “Romeo and Juliet”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Exit Music (For A Film) by Radiohead, can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the movie, “Romeo and Juliet”, as directed by Bay Luhrman, can be found here.

The official website for Radiohead, can be found here.

The official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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