It’s been a contentious debate that, but I’ve been ruminating recently on the kind of music I’ve been listening to and why. Moreover, I’ve been listening to a lot of instrumental versions of Radiohead songs whilst I write, which begged the prescient question; Do you have to be smart to like Radiohead?

Several years ago a scientific survey was conducted where peoples musical tastes were reconciled with their SAT scores. (The SAT is a standardised test widely used for college admissions in the United State).

It aggregated data from colleges that require a higher SAT score for enrolment and seeing what band pages were ‘liked’ on Facebook. Radiohead scored very heavily on this chart along with Ben Folds, Counting Crows, U2. Artists like Beyonce and bands like Nickleback, registered less emphatically.

There are many differing opinions on whether an SAT score determines ones intelligence. To ascertain a high SAT score many students get extra tutorship paid for by their parents, Jewish scholar Leon Botstein claims “your SAT score says more about your parents than about you.”

In my opinion it really comes down to how you measure intelligence. I can tell you as someone that has a Diploma in Jazz and Commercial Music, with a Grade 8 ABRSM piano certificate, (thank you, thank you, please be seated) that you have to be musically intelligent to play certain Radiohead songs.

A good example of this would be the song ‘Pyramid Song’, which fascinates musicians, especially drummers, as the time signature is very difficult to discern, if it even has one.

I put the feelers out to a fellow musician friend who is far too modest to qualify his opinions by citing his credentials, but let’s just say he knows his way around a drum kit, piano, guitar, etc

[On Pyramid Song] Ok so the time signature. I think it drifts… but I did “detect” a pattern somewhat like: (swung) 5/4, 4/4, 4/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 3/4… but I could be wrong. God knows what the drummer went through to try and get a take of that. And thoughts on whether or not I think you “have to be intelligent to appreciate Radiohead”. Well, “appreciate” is the key word there. ‘Appreciation’ of an art form is a detached, cerebral process.

For example, I can ‘appreciate’ a piece of prog rock in 15/8 time. I can appreciate the musicianship and level of skill it takes to perform something like that well. But do I ‘enjoy’ it. F*ck no. I’d rather squeeze my penis between a particularly sharp lemon and a cheese grater to see what happens. I think to ‘enjoy’ Radiohead, and by “Radiohead” I mean not “Creep” or “High and Dry”, you may have to have a certain level of emotional intelligence.

It’s a type of music that possibly only touches a certain type of person. Like John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” – which to some (most), is probably just “screechy jazz shite” – but to those who lock in to it’s sheer beauty and raw emotion, is one of the most incredible pieces of music ever composed and performed. So no, you don’t have to be intelligent to appreciate Radiohead. You probably just have had to have taken a lot of drugs or be emotionally damaged in some way or other..  Rob Johnson, Musician.

Screenshot of Reddit debate on whether Radiohead is for smart people

Radiohead fans debate the issue on Reddit

This survey isn’t the first one of its kind to draw parallels between music and intelligence. An article on How Stuff Works by Shana Freeman regales the story of how 36 students took part in a study at the University of California during the 90’s and listened to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata before taking an IQ test. The results? Students’ IQ scores went up by about 8 points. Thus coining the phrase “Mozart effect“. 

Short conclusion

For Radiohead fans that want to refer to this survey as a yardstick for their own intelligence might want to note that U2 is also one of the pack leaders. This is not to denigrate U2 but they are a far more commercial and accessible than Radiohead. And for the record, pretentious twats like all kind of music.

I have also spaffed on a little about this on the one-man podcast I do which can be found in the link below. If you’re reading this article a few months down the road the episode may not be in the feed, if so drop me a comment and I’ll email you the mp3. Thanks to all that participated in this blog, leave me a comment below if you have any thoughts yourself and if you prefer these kind of articles you can check out the my thoughts on the site.

All 3 Radiohead fan sites I reached out refused to comment on this feature.



  1. Neil Atherton
    May 9, 2018 / 6:36 pm

    A big fan of Radiohead, partly because they are overly clever at times and, therefore, sometimes unlistenable to the muggles (The King Of Limbs, anyone? – musically, I am something of a national socialist!). I have an album of lullabies for children that are Radiohead covers along with a 24 CD compilation called Towering Above The Rest, if you crave completeness?!

    • May 9, 2018 / 6:40 pm

      I think The King of Limbs was the album they dropped without any press or pre-announcement right? I remember waking up one morning and finding out there was a new Radiohead album out there.
      Recently I’ve got into the lost tracks from OK Computer like Lift and Man of War. The videos on YouTube are just as illusory as the songs themselves.

  2. Stefan Crysell
    April 1, 2019 / 9:37 pm

    Lovely writing as usual Mr four fingers…have you ever wondered the drummer swung out of time and it was more just a feeling rather than being constrained by time it’s self? Sure you have to have some intelligence but I don’t think it’s ever made me more intelligent, more aware of politics etc…Rather a good subject tho I think I might find a right wing type groove and compare it to the left..

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