The British band's album edged out Public Enemy's "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" and Nirvana's "Nevermind" on a list in Spin's 20th anniversary issue, currently on newsstands.
"Between Thom Yorke's orange-alert worldview and the band's meld of epic guitar rock and electronic glitch, (`OK Computer') not only forecast a decade of music but uncannily predicted our global culture of communal distress," reads the editorial note on what separated the 1997 disc from the other 99 ranked albums.
Sandwiched between Radiohead's straight-ahead rock disc "The Bends" and the more experimental, electronic "Kid A," "OK Computer" was the album that propelled Radiohead to worldwide, stadium-sized popularity. Though it never went higher than No. 21 on the Billboard charts, it won critical raves and a Grammy for best alternative music performance.
Spin's Chuck Klosterman says the album "manages to sound how the future will feel. ... It's a mechanical album that always feels alive, even when its words are spoken by a robot."
Years earlier, Spin ranked Nirvana's "Nevermind" the greatest album of the nineties. In the time since, however, editor-in-chief Sia Michel and others simply found they were reaching for "OK Computer" more than the slightly less relevant "Nevermind."
"Whereas when Nirvana came out, everybody was talking about negation and slackers and everything like that - seven years later, it was the dot-com boom and 22-year-olds were making $80,000 on Web sites," Michel recently told The Associated Press.
Also in the top 10, in order, are Pavement's "Slanted and Enchanted," The Smiths' "The Queen is Dead," Pixies' "Surfer Rosa," De La Soul's "3 Feet High and Rising," Prince's "Sign `o' the Times," PJ Harvey's "Rid of Me" and N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton."
The entire list of 100 is just as eclectic; a photograph of an atypical trio of Dr. Dre, Bono and Beck dons the issue's cover.
The amount of hip-hop on the list may surprise some (25 albums in all - 26 if you count Rage Against the Machine), given that Spin is predominantly a rock magazine. Michel, however, points out that Spin started several years before hip-hop mag Source was founded: "We put hip-hop on the cover before anyone else did."
"Because we started this list in 1985, we pretty much hit hip-hop in its golden age," she says. "There were so many important, groundbreaking albums coming out right about that time."
After gathering suggestions from everyone at the magazine, a tribunal of Michel and editors Jon Dolan and Charles Aaron sorted out the ultimate records of "the Spin era." Their criteria, Michel says, was the basic brilliance of the record, its innovation and its overall relevance.
"Relevance doesn't have to mean it sold 10 million copies," she says. "Someone like the Pixies never really sold records, but Nirvana has said it wouldn't exist without the Pixies."
Both the approach and content stands in stark contrast to fellow rock magazine Rolling Stone's 2003 issue on the top 500 albums of all time. Topping that collection was the more hallowed (and less surprising) like of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.
Some of the most recent entries to Spin's list are 2004's "College Dropout" by Kanye West, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 2003 "Fever to Tell" and Wilco's 2002 "Yankee Foxtrot Hotel."
Of course, judgments of these kind are always subject to debate.
"The art department was just railing against us all the time and campaigning against things," says Michel. The lack of inclusion of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, she says, pushed them to the brink: "That was a band that the art department was like, 'You guys are crazy! Don't even talk to us!"'
By Jake Coyle