"Fake Plastic Trees" is a song by the British alternative rock group Radiohead, from their second album The Bends (1995). It was the third single to be released from that album in the UK, but in the US, it was released as the band's first single from the album. "Fake Plastic Trees" marked a turning point in the band's early career, moving away from the grunge sound of earlier hit single "Creep".
Radiohead singer Thom Yorke said "Fake Plastic Trees" was "the product of a joke that wasn't really a joke, a very lonely, drunken evening and, well, a breakdown of sorts". He said the song arose from a melody he had "no idea what to do with". Unlike his usual approach of either keeping note "of whatever my head's singing at the particular moment" or forcing "some nifty phrases" he devised onto the melody, Yorke said that creating "Fake Plastic Trees" was the opposite. He said, "That was not forced at all, it was just recording whatever was going on in my head, really. I mean, I wrote those words and laughed. I thought they were really funny, especially that bit about polystyrene".
Guitarist Ed O'Brien described early attempts to record "Fake Plastic Trees" at London's RAK Studios as sounding "like Guns N' Roses' 'November Rain'. It was so pompous and bombastic". When recording session for The Bends resumed at Manor Studios in July 1994, producer John Leckie convinced Yorke to record a take of the song. Frustrated at being at the studio for a prolonged period that day, Yorke "threw a wobbly" in his own description, after which Leckie sent the rest of the band away while Yorke recorded a guide track for "Fake Plastic Trees" featuring only guitar and the singer's vocals. Yorke performed three takes of the song and then cried afterwards, according to guitarist Jonny Greenwood.
One source of frustration for the band at the time was their US record label, Capitol, who wanted a strong track for American radio to follow the success of their previous hit single, "Creep". Surprised that the slow-paced "Fake Plastic Trees" was seen as a potential single to follow up "Creep", Yorke ultimately realized the label had remixed the track without his approval: "Last night I was called by the American record company insisting, well almost insisting, that we used a Bob Clearmountain mix of it. I said 'No way'. All the ghost-like keyboards sounds and weird strings were completely gutted out of his mix, like he'd gone in with a razor blade and chopped it all up. It was horrible".
Despite the song's popularity, not all critics were complimentary upon release. Writing for NME in May 1995, John Mulvey surmised that the song lacked substance, and drew comparisons with the stadium rock of U2.
The song placed at number 376 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and at number 28 on Triple J Radio's Hottest 100 of All Time countdown.
The music video, directed by Jake Scott, is set inside a supermarket, where the band are pushed around in shopping carts among several other characters, including clerks, children, an old man with a large beard who plays with toy guns, a woman in a large black hat, a bald man in basketball jersey who shaves his head with an electric razor, a young man playing with a trolley, etc. The director has said about the video: "The film is actually an allegory for death and reincarnation but if you can read that into it you must be as weird as the people who made it".