Today, representatives of Radiohead will hand out free copies of the band's one-off newspaper, The Universal Sigh, at three L.A.-area locations. The experimental promotion began abroad yesterday, and the paper's website is already hosting photos of happy recipients, grinning despite the publication's dour title and subject matter (sample article headline: "Sell Your House and Buy Gold").
The Universal Sigh is being given out at 1 p.m. in Silver Lake, Hollywood, and Santa Monica (more info here). In honor of the occasion, we've rounded up eight examples of odd Radiohead swag, displaying the band's mastery of using an ever-evolving combination of technology and confusion to their benefit and our enjoyment.
8) Object: Newspaper
Album: The King of Limbs (2011)
What it Does: Sits there, yellows over time, bums you out.
How to Use: If you have to ask, slap your first-grade teacher. In order to promote their latest LP (whose deluxe format comes wrapped in a newspaper), Radiohead release a different newspaper that appears designed to make its readers regret living in modern times, hence driving them toward the shelter of a large tree -- or rather, a theoretical one represented by the album, The King of Limbs. Miss the handout? Check eBay.
7) Object: Stencil
Album: Hail to the Thief
What it Does: Gets you arrested.
How to Use: The stencil itself contains some very specific non-directions: "Do not use this stencil to apply graffiti to private property such as advertising hoardings, boarded-up buildings, walls, vehicles, &c. Thank you." Keeping in mind that this album dropped during phase one of the George W. Bush days (though the title is not a direct reference to Dubya, Thom swears), the temptation to spray those words on everything was overwhelming. Not feeling your current thief in chief (wherever you live)? Buy one here.
6) Object: USB stick
Album: All of 'em up to (not including) In Rainbows (2007)
What it Does: Plugs, plays.
How to Use: Stick it in, then load Radiohead's entire Parlophone/Capital oeuvre into your computer and audio player of choice. This handy lil four-gigabyte collectible came packaged with the band-unapproved Radiohead Box Set, in the shape of their most recognizable visual creation -- that toothy bear thingy that EMI probably owns the rights to. Thommy wouldn't want you to have it, but Radiohedz love overpackaged product, making this a must-own. If you're already selling out, you might as well buy it on Amazon.
5) Object: FM radio
Album: OK Computer (1997)
What it Does: Makes you want to listen to Radiohead instead.
How to Use: Click the mouse to scan through the stations, or balance it on your noggin to become a Radio Head. This unusual promo item was either conceived by a) the record company who somehow misheard the band's first true AOR opus as chock-full of the sort of songs one would expect to find on contemporary FM radio, or b) Radiohead, who recognized that their listeners were quickly becoming the type of folks who'd run right into their arms upon coming face to face with an actual FM dial. Very. Rare.
4) Object: Puzzle
Album: Hail to the Thief (2003)
What it Does: Mocks you.
How to Use: Invite grandma over, give her tea, let her at it. That's exclusively for the larger wooden one. In order to solve the smaller sliding-tile puzzle, find an eight-year-old, pour whiskey down his gullet and watch him go. We actually would've preferred this bit of memorabilia accompany In Rainbows, home to the song "Jigsaw Falling into Place" [pushes glasses to bridge of his nose], but we can't have everything, can we? Ambitious collectors actually can have these -- the former for $234, and the latter for $14.99.
3) Object: Floppy Disc
Album: OK Computer (1997)
What it Does: Saves your screen (it's a screensaver).
How to Use: "Copy 'radio.exe' to the Windows directory ..." blah, blah, blah. Unless you have a computer with a floppy drive and a functioning copy of either Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 (remember that watershed moment in OS history?), it's useless. Which is okay, because you probably didn't have any desire for a screensaver anyway. Might this be evidence that Radiohead has long been practicing the dreaded, Apple-perfected act of planned obsolescence? Perhaps. Or maybe -- just maybe -- they're so future they've lapped the present and most of the past. What? Get one here.
2) Object: Library book
Album: Amnesiac (2001)
What it Does: Looks pretty, smells good.
How to Use: Read thoroughly. Do not mark pages. The quiz is tomorrow at noon. This 32-page cloth-bound beauty won the band a Grammy and helped to inspired some of the more ambitious packaging decisions of the past decade. Full of rad art and random weird shit, it set a precedent for highly purchasable Radiohead releases, even in an era where music is downloaded for free (even at the behest of the band itself). Not too tough to find.
And the number one coolest, rarest, most bizarre bit of Radiohead swag is ...
1) Object: Walkman
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Album: OK Computer (1997)
What it Does: Plays music, rewinds, plays the same music.
How to Use: Who remembers? Take it from a music journalist: promo mailers don't come any cooler than a Walkman that's been Super-Glued shut containing, on cassette, the greatest album of its decade. Radiohead must've known they had something special on their hands with OK Computer, since that one release generated almost half of the swag on this list. This specific object also displays an early concern for leaks (formerly known as dubbing), again proving that Yorke and co. could see into the future. Find one of these before the great cassette revival takes hold.