Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien on How ‘Prince Kind of Saved My Life’
We've all had records that have had an effect on the way we think about life and music. For Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien, it was Prince's 1987 double album Sign o' the Times. In a new interview, he praised the way it gave "you license to be yourself."
"Prince kind of saved my life in the same way that music saved my life," he said on the podcast of the Ninja Tune label. "The first record I bought was Sign o' the Times. I did a double whammy – Sign o' the Times and De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. Those were my first two purchases... I was having a pretty shit time, a lot of change and confusion. Music saved me and Prince was a huge part of that. If I had to pinpoint what defined the good stuff, what I’m looking for generally in 'expression' of any form – whether it’s now, having a conversation with you, watching a film, or music, or reading, or whatever, engaging with other human beings—I want to feel, I guess, a sense of... It’s that thing when you feel someone’s being themselves and it gives you license to be yourself."
As O'Brien sees it, when he was coming of age in the '80s, you figured out what subgenres of music matched your taste and didn't venture outside of it. But Prince, De La Soul and the rise of the Madchester scene, which took inspiration from psychedelic rock and dance music in equal proportions, changed all that.
"For me, one of the things – when I grew up – the taste police were out in force. And it was really limiting. So, the '80s it was like, what tribe are you in? What gang are you in? So I was in the post-punk, Smiths, you know, indie… you know, and I didn’t listen to Led Zeppelin. Happy Mondays and Stone Roses changed it all, because suddenly dance music, but in Oxfordshire we didn’t listen to R&B, really, and unfortunately it was one of the negative aspects of our childhood growing up."
And that open-mindedness continues to this day, where he's had a change of heart on a band that united rockers and indie kids in their contempt. "Obviously ABBA in the ’70s was huge, but I never owned an ABBA record. And in the ’80s? ABBA? I mean, oh my god. And unfortunately that shadow is cast upon, and it alters your judgment and you can be very judgmental about this music. Watched Mamma Mia at Christmas, finally, all together, and I was like, “These songs are amazing! Oh my god!” I got spine tingles, even with Pierce Brosnan singing."