Radiohead - "Fake plastic trees"
Thom Yorke (vocals) : "The product of a joke that wasn't really a joke and a very lonely drunken evening and, well, a breakdown of sorts. It was also a very nice melody that I had absolutely no idea what to do with".
The band had just been to see Jeff Buckley play a set (John Leckie, producer : "Thom realised that you could sing like he did, in falsetto, without sounding drippy") and when they got back into the studio, Thom recorded the vocals in two takes and broke down in tears. Yorke : "That was one of the worst days for me. I spent the first five or six hours at the studio just throwing a wobbly. I shouted at everyone and then John Leckie sent everybody else away. He sat me down and I did a the vocals for the track". Ed O'Brien (guitars) confirms : "This took a while to record only because it was better Thom just singing it with an acoustic guitar".
On a purely practical level, Leckie had achieved exactly what he needed: “A simple acoustic guitar–and-voice track, so we would at least have something we could put the strings onto the next day. Indeed, the day after the vocals were recorded, Caroline Lavelle and Johnny Mathias were supposed to come over and record their cello and violin parts. Leckie said to Jonny Greenwood (guitars) : "We'd better have something for them to play". So he just sat down there and then and scored it, creating a somber arrangement overnight, much in the style of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which was composed in the 1930s. Greenwood (guitars) : "Writing the string parts was my studio highlight, in a megalomaniac kinda way".
Next, the song was fleshed out with overdubs of Hammond organ, bass and drums to gradually build the intensity behind Yorke’s anguished, world-weary lyrics.
The track also benefited from a happy accident when mixer Paul Kolderie got to work on the tapes. The distorted guitars that lurch unexpectedly into the middle of the final verse were originally planned for the start of the verse, but Kolderie missed his cue. Yorke : "It was a mistake, but we kept it".
Radiohead had a track they were happy with, but the American record company, expecting the album to be full of "Creep"-like hits insisted that Radiohead use a Bob Clearmountain mix of "Fake plastic trees". Yorke said: "No way. All the ghost-like keyboard sounds and weird strings were completely gutted out of his mix, like he'd gone in with a razor blade and chopped it all up. It was horrible".
In the end, what you get is a song written about/against the world of mass marketing and mass consumption, but that also appears on the Clueless soundtrack. Yorke : "It makes perfect sense to me. It's a song about going shopping".
Available on the album "The Bends"