The song at #26 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Burn the Witch” by legendary British alternative rock band Radiohead. Formed in 1985 while they were in high school, the band consists of Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards), brothers Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar, keyboards, other instruments) and Colin Greenwood (bass), Ed O’Brien (guitar, backing vocals) and Philip Selway (drums, percussion).
The release of their amazing ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool was one of the music highlights of 2016. The brilliant lead single from that album “Burn the Witch” is one of the most eerily beautiful and innovative songs of the decade. The band had worked on the track on and off for over 10 years, considering it for inclusion on several of their previous albums, but were never satisfied with the results until it was given this gorgeous arrangement by their guitarist Jonny Greenwood, with lush strings performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra. What gives the strings their dramatic percussive effect was the use of guitar plectrums, rather than bows, on the orchestra musicians’ strings. The sounds produced by the strings go from lushly beautiful to deathly chilling, like the sounds we’d expect to hear in a horror film.
The dark lyrics, hauntingly sung by Thom Yorke’s beautiful falsetto, are an attack on groupthink and authoritarianism: “abandon all reason / avoid all eye contact / do not react / shoot the messengers / burn the witch“. Yorke stated in an interview with BBC Radio that the lyrics were inspired by a 2000 article he read in News of the World that published the names and addresses of sex offenders.
The clever, stop-action animation video, directed by Chris Hopewell, pays homage to the 1973 horror film The Wicker Man.