Someone Used Science to Find the Saddest Radiohead Song

Fitter happier?

We all know that Radiohead is perhaps not the cheeriest of all bands, but is it really possible to quantify just how sad Thom Yorke’s musings are?

Data analyst Charles Thompson put himself up to task to do just that. The Radiohead audiophile used metrics from Spotify and lyric data from Genius to map which songs are the most depressing according to his own “gloom index”.  He maps his results on what he accordingly monikered “Data Driven Depression“:


Radiohead albums ranked from happiest (or least depressing) to the all-out bawling are as follows:

  1. King of Limbs
  2. In Rainbows
  3. Hail to the Thief
  4. Pablo Honey
  5. Kid A
  6. The Bends
  7. OK Computer
  8. Amnesiac
  9. A Moon Shaped Pool

And for all the lovers of sad songs (and not the Elton John song) here’s the saddest Radiohead songs according to Thompson:

10. Videotape  

9. Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief

8. High and Dry 

7. Dollars and Cents 

6. Exit Music (For a Film) 

5. Pyramid Song

4. Let Down  

3. Motion Picture Soundtrack 

2. Give Up the Ghost

And drum roll for the saddest song,

True Love Waits

This shouldn’t come as any surprise to any devoted Radiohead fan as the long awaited song, which was finally released last year after years of being played live, as the slow haunting melody pairs with equally lachrymose lyrics to make even the most burly man cry.

So how did Thompson find these ten songs to be the most depressing of dozens of sad songs? Turns out it is easier than you think.

Songs have a musical property called valence which describes a song as happy or sad. Spotify measures each song’s valence and describes their measures as follows:

“[a] measure from 0.0 to 1.0 describing the musical positiveness conveyed by a track. Tracks with high valence sound more positive (e.g. happy, cheerful, euphoric), while tracks with low valence sound more negative (e.g. sad, depressed, angry).”

Once Thompson was able to find the valence measures for each song ranking the songs became easy. For songs that had the same valence score he used the lyrics of the song to determine which is more depressing. The song found to have the most sad lyrics? High and Dry, which only registered as the 8th saddest Radiohead melody.

Thompson’s data not only proves that it is possible to quantify the emotions of music but also elucidates that great songs can be great despite their gloom and doom. Nobody can deny the excellence that is Exit Music (For a Film) which I will now listen to on repeat for the next few days.

Need more sad songs? Here are some of my favorite to listen to on a bad day (or if you’re me to listen to in the car, shower, and everywhere):

And my personal favorite Radiohead sad song:



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