One of Radiohead's most successful singles, and a fan favourite.
Noted by singer-songwriter and guitarist Thom Yorke as "one of [the band's] saddest songs" and describing it as "the dark tunnel without the light at the end," "Street Spirit" was released as the band's ninth single and reached number five on the UK Singles Chart, the highest chart position until Paranoid Android from OK Computer, which reached number three in 1997.
Radiohead attributes a great deal of depth to "Street Spirit", beyond the level typically perceived by its audience. Lead singer Thom Yorke said,
"Street Spirit is our purest song, but I didn't write it. It wrote itself. We were just its messengers; its biological catalysts. Its core is a complete mystery to me, and, you know, I wouldn't ever try to write something that hopeless. All of our saddest songs have somewhere in them at least a glimmer of resolve. Street Spirit has no resolve. It is the dark tunnel without the light at the end. It represents all tragic emotion that is so hurtful that the sound of that melody is its only definition. We all have a way of dealing with that song. It's called detachment. Especially me; I detach my emotional radar from that song, or I couldn't play it. I'd crack. I'd break down on stage. That's why its lyrics are just a bunch of mini-stories or visual images as opposed to a cohesive explanation of its meaning. I used images set to the music that I thought would convey the emotional entirety of the lyric and music working together. That's what's meant by 'all these things you'll one day swallow whole'. I meant the emotional entirety, because I didn't have it in me to articulate the emotion. I'd crack...
"Our fans are braver than I to let that song penetrate them, or maybe they don't realise what they're listening to. They don't realise that Street Spirit is about staring the fucking devil right in the eyes, and knowing, no matter what the hell you do, he'll get the last laugh. And it's real, and true. The devil really will get the last laugh in all cases without exception, and if I let myself think about that too long, I'd crack.
"I can't believe we have fans that can deal emotionally with that song. That's why I'm convinced that they don't know what it's about. It's why we play it towards the end of our sets. It drains me, and it shakes me, and hurts like hell every time I play it, looking out at thousands of people cheering and smiling, oblivious to the tragedy of its meaning, like when you're going to have your dog put down and it's wagging its tail on the way there. That's what they all look like, and it breaks my heart. I wish that song hadn't picked us as its catalysts, and so I don't claim it. It asks too much. I didn't write that song."
The music video for "Street Spirit" premiered in February 1996 and was directed by Jonathan Glazer, who said, "That was definitely a turning point in my own work. I knew when I finished that, because they found their own voices as an artist, at that point, I felt like I got close to whatever mine was, and I felt confident that I could do things that emoted, that had some kind of poetic as well as prosaic value. That for me was a key moment." Glazer would later direct the video for "Karma Police".
The video, entirely shot in black and white, is not narrative. It presents different unconnected scenes that range from the whimsical to the complex, including some that are uplifting. Several scenes in the video are shot using different frame frequencies, thus making different subjects in the same scene move at different speeds. A special ultra-high speed camera, normally used to photograph high speed projectiles for scientific purposes, was used to create the extreme slow motion effects. The general editing and lighting of the video provide a somber ambience and accentuate the lyrics of the song.
The setting of the video is a trailer park during nighttime, with a distant thunderstorm visible at times. The band members are seen sitting on chairs outside of a trailer. Some definitive scenes include:
The opening scene is of lead singer Thom Yorke standing on top of a trailer and letting himself fall backwards to the ground. The scene slows down and cuts before Thom reaches the ground.
A boy walks up to a chained Dobermann and then walks away, just before the dog is about to reach him.
The same boy sits on a chair in the left side of the frame and Thom Yorke stands in front of the camera, Thom then runs away and his running goes into slow-motion, as he runs past the boy, the boy picks up the chair, runs (in normal speed) behind Thom and out of the right side of the frame.
A group of three women dressed in long black shrouds perform a dance of sorts, shot in slow motion.
Thom smashing several sheets of glass with a hammer.
Guitarist Jonny Greenwood jumps into a trailer in slow motion.
Drummer Phil Selway with his eyes closed shot in slow motion while white feathers float around him.
Guitarist Ed O'Brien falling backwards in his chair (also shot in slow motion).
Thom standing in front of a duplicate of himself with a stick. The first Thom crouches and moves the stick sideways while the second Thom jumps to avoid it.
A dark horse is shown in the middle of the trailer park
A old man is shown with blood, or a tar-like substance covering his face
In the final scene Thom is seen jumping up into the air and opening up his arms. The scene slows down and he is left floating in the air as the song hits the last note.
The Darkness would cover this song live numerous times. Their version is delivered in a faster tempo, with significantly heavier guitar, and with lead singer Justin Hawkins' signature falsetto. There is a notable bootleg of this version circulating around the internet.
Stream of Passion has recorded this song on their 2009 album The Flame Within. It is sung by Marcela Bovio and adds a burst of heavy guitar playing.
Joe Budden had this song sampled on the track "Never Again" off of the 2009 album Escape Route.
Peter Gabriel's album Scratch My Back features a cover of the song. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.