I read somewhere — but I have no idea where, so take it with a grain — that Radiohead was commissioned to write this song for the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack (Leo DiCaprio version). “Exit Music” wound up being so different than anything they’re done before that it shifted the very direction and tone for what would become their next album: the incomparable OK Computer.
Few people think of this song first when they think of Computer — what, with the sonic awesomeness of “Paranoid Android,” “Airbag,” “Let Down,” “Karma Police” and so forth — but the tune is just outstanding. Unassuming at first, the languid progression creeps along with a dark, hypnotic energy, before launching into an explosive the final quarter. (I’ve heard this song approximately 1,237 times, yet the ting-ting of Phil’s ride cymbal, in the seconds before he goes full into it, still sends cold adrenaline down my back.)
But beyond its importance to Computer — arguably one of the greatest albums of all time — this song doubles as an almost ideal theme song for Romeo + Juliet. Shakespeare’s masterpiece, after all, is not a love story; rather, it’s a story of two kids rebelling against their own fast-approaching adulthood. They want no parts of the world their parents represent, and their attraction, and immediate bond, is driven by that shared (unspoken) existential woe. They rather die than become their parents, and they wind up doing just that. “We hope your rules and wisdom choke you” sounds like it coulda come from a modern-day diary of Romeo’s or Juliet’s.
I imagine Billy Shakes would agree.