“If You Say the Word” by Radiohead

Radiohead’s “If You Say the Word” is one of those songs, which are actually quite common in the music industry, where the vocalist is asserting his dedication to the addressee. Think of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” (1972) as a classic example of this phenomenon. That is to say that the nature of the vocalist’s relationship with the addressee is never specified. 

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Radiohead's If You Say the Word at Lyrics.org.

But what is made effectively known is that if the latter finds him or herself in any type of serious dilemma, particularly it would seem in this case dealing with depression or some other similar kind of mental malady, then all s/he needs to do is “say the word”, and the singer “will come running” to their aid.

And again, there is nothing revolutionary about such a sentiment being expressed in song. But one part of this piece which does come off as being quite unique is the bridge. Said segment only consists of a single line. And in the said line, the vocalist alludes to the notion of the addressee having difficulty keeping friends. 

But again in that regard, he seems to be putting forth an idea that whereas such may be the case with others, it is not so in relation to their relationship. Instead, as put forth earlier, Thom “will come running”, i.e. expeditiously offering assistance, whenever the addressee is in need of such. Or put differently, even if this individual has no other friend in the world, he or she can rely on the vocalist.

Lyrics of "If You Say the Word"

Release of “If You Say the Word”

This song is from a Radiohead project entitled Kid A Mnesia. And if that sounds like an unusual title, that’s because it is a combination of Kid A (2000) and Amnesia (2001). These are albums that Radiohead originally came out with over 20 years ago. 

In other words, Kid A Mnesia (which is actually a triple album) serves as the anniversary issue of those two undertakings combined. So even though “If You Say the Word” was not released until the aforementioned date, it was actually composed back around the turn of the century. This was around when the band was putting the aforementioned albums together. 

And to note, Kid A Mnesia also features “Follow Me Around“, another track from back in those days which wasn’t made public until now.

If You Say the Word

Radiohead’s discography actually dates back to the early-1990s. To date they have dropped nine studio albums. Six of these album have gone on to top their native UK Albums Chart. 

Kid A and Amnesia are amongst the albums to do so, with the former also topping the Billboard 200. The latter fell just a spot short of accomplishing that feat also.


Amazingly, Radiohead has consisted of the same five members since the band’s inception in the mid-1980s. This was when as amateurs they operated under the moniker On a Friday. And those five individuals listed below are also credited as the writers and co-producers of “If You Say the Word”:

  • vocalist Thom Yorke
  • guitarist Ed O’Brien
  • drummer Philip Selway
  • bassist Colin Greenwood
  • guitarist Jonny Greenwood  

And in the production department, the band received assistance from one Nigel Godrich. Actually Nigel is a regular collaborator of Radiohead who many regard as the de facto sixth member of the band.

6 Responses

  1. Nancie Louise Lavender says:

    There is more depth to this song than the interpretation given. In my own experience, depth is shown when the surface appears.

  2. Mersad says:

    You can’t simply make an interpretation of any of Radiohead’s songs. The words are put together in a way that they could mean a million things and that is what makes it unique for everyone to relate to. Here’s what came to my mind listening to this beauty of a song :
    As in many other works by Thom, you experience an array of feelings listening to the song. There is despair and there is hope. The first 4 lines paint the picture of a man so disturbed in the mind and so tired mentally that cannot take control of his life anymore. You have so much to be proud of, yet you are oblivious to them [When you forget how lucky you are]. You let others take advantage of you [Harpies in the branches breaking your arm]. Being in rainbows yet shattering glass portrays your unused potential as a human being to give meaning to your existence. You could be a rainbow in the sky instead of a mere reflection in some shattering glass (Being in rainbows could also mean being in love, so you may be in a relationship that is sinking you down).

    You may get old living like this. Unable to make changes. Going with the flow. Daydreaming is your only escape to your desires when you can’t make them come true. [you spend your life wishing on a twinkling star]. you are far from becoming the person you want. [Buried in rubble, sixty-foot down]

    but there is hope. I can help. I will be by your side. [I’ll come running], all you need to do is SAY THE WORD

    • bnrl says:

      Nice thoughts, thank you for this. What I can say is that this song with it’s exceptional video is able to capture me and communicate on a level that goes beyond words. It’s wonderful and in a way a bit strange, too because it keeps me curious because I know there is more to understand but like I’m not there yet. I want to resolve it but I can’t just simply. Kinda like in therapy. I love this band!

  3. Robin says:

    Interpreting Radiohead is pointless. Like this person said it can mean a million things

  4. Tiki says:

    Agreed, and love that Radiohead’s songs have many understandings. This could also be a relationship with one’s self. We are our own best friends and often need to come back to ourselves. 🙂

  5. Geoff says:

    Much like the rest of Kid A and Amnesiac, it based alludes to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’.

    “Harpies in the branches, breaking your arms”

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