Kid A Mnesia, the upcoming reissue of Radiohead’s landmark fourth and fifth albums (Kid A and Amnesiac, natch), also contains a third disc compiling unearthed material from those original recording sessions. And while first single “If You Say The Word” certainly gives the impression of having been put to tape during that transformative period for the art-rock band, the latest single, “Follow Me Around,” is something different: Namely, it’s one of the most straightforward pop songs ever written by Radiohead.
From its opening chords, it’s clear that this track was left off of Kid A and Amnesiac for a reason. Both of those records redefined the sound of Radiohead, in ways that steered sharply away from the guitar-based rock for which it was known. The biggest absence? Exactly the sort of strummy, immediate guitar hooks that had earned the band its early reputation—in other words, the very definition of “Follow Me Around,” which from the start defines itself in traditionalist opposition to the band’s then-evolving style.
The song has been a long-running white whale of sorts for fans. Originally (and for a couple of years, only) available as part of Meeting People Is Easy, the tour documentary that did a terrific job making it seem like being in Radiohead was a fucking bummer), viewers heard it rehearsed during a soundcheck in Japan. From then on, it was a rarely heard presence during live shows—first played in 2000, in fact, only because of a fan campaign for it to be played live (via a website called—what else?—followmearound.com).
Listening to it now, it’s easy to hear why Radiohead would have shied away from including it on the released from the time. It’s maybe the simplest, purest pop song they’ve ever put out—even “High And Dry,” which is about as poppy as the band gets, has some odd, ethereal elements pulling at the seams. Here, it’s just an acoustic guitar and Thom Yorke singing in a classic-rock register. Honestly, close your eyes, and it’s not hard to imagine Eddie Vedder singing this, a B-side to some old Pearl Jam single.
It’s surprising to hear Radiohead, through the lens of 2021, delivering such a ’70s-style folk-pop ballad at a time when the group was busily reinventing itself, but given its earlier origins—and the fact that Yorke has always excelled at organic simplicity, whether behind the piano or strapped into an acoustic guitar—it’s a compelling document of a Radiohead that might have been. Johnny Greenwood has made no secret of his belief that the band was going to return to a back-to-basics guitar rock record after its “experimental” phase, only for the exact opposite to happen.
But “Follow Me Around,” with its three-chord foundation, Neil Young-like verse-chorus-verse structure, and earworm accessibility, is a testament to that alternate path. Radiohead ended up transforming itself, and the sound of both mainstream and independent art rock, with its ambitious creative reimagining. Songs like this serve as a reminder that, underneath it all, there’s an equally clear reason the band could make such an ambitious shift: because it had mastered the classic rock possibilities that drove its sound in the first place.