Ed O’Brien Says Radiohead Shelved “Lift” So They Wouldn’t Become Too Popular

Radiohead are reissuing their landmark 1997 album OK Computer this year in honor of its 20th anniversary, and the big news is the inclusion of three previously unreleased tracks. “I Promise,” “Man Of War,” and “Lift” are all old fan favorites that have circulated in bootleg form for decades but never saw release as official studio recordings. As the resident Radiohead fanboy around here, “Lift” is the most exciting inclusion for me. It’s a prime example of the band’s Bends-era guitar-pop powers; I flipped out two years ago when Jonny Greenwood let slip that the band was working a new version of the song. Seriously, it’s so good. Check out this live recording somebody took the liberty of polishing up:

“Lift” is so good, in fact, that Radiohead might have “subconsciously killed it,” guitarist Ed O’Brien told BBC 6 Music today. O’Brien said the response to the song during Radiohead’s tour opening for Alanis Morissette was so positive that they had to abandon the song, lest they become too popular for their own good. Here’s the quote, as transcribed by Pitchfork:

We played that live with Alanis Morissette. It was a really interesting song. The audience, suddenly you’d see them get up and start grooving. It had this infectiousness. It was a big anthemic song. If that song had been on that album, it would’ve taken us to a different place, and probably we’d have sold a lot more records — if we’d done it right. And everyone was saying this. And I think we subconsciously killed it. If OK Computer had been like a Jagged Little Pill, it would’ve killed us. But “Lift” had this magic about it. But when we got to the studio and did it, it felt like having a gun to your head. There was so much pressure. But saying that, I’ve got a monitor mix, and it is pretty good.

O’Brien didn’t used to speak so highly of “Lift.” A different Pitchfork post yesterday highlighted some of his older comments on the song: “We thought [‘Lift’] was a bogshite B-side and we were very happy to leave it off the album… There wasn’t any stage where it was a key track for any of us.” Even back then, though, O’Brien ultimately softened his stance: “There are a lot of bands who regurgitate old material, like ‘Message In A Bottle’ by the Police was written five years before by Sting, so there’s no reason why we might not do ‘Lift’ or ‘Man-O-War’ [also known as ‘Big Boots’] later.” Now, after 20 years, that’s finally happening.