Few bands have sparked as much musical conversation as Radiohead. Whether you love them or loathe them, its hard to imagine a world in which they were not widely appreciated for their intrinsic and experimental sounds. The Oxfordshire band have been at the cutting edge of indie rock for so long that we’re surprised they’ve not done themselves a mischief. Yet, remarkably, across all of their studio albums, Radiohead always come out unscathed.
That’s because they have one thing in abundance that no other band can seemingly match — integrity. Never concerned with topping the charts, in fact, often seeking to upset them deliberately, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Philip Selway and Ed O’Brien have always prided themselves on creating music for the sake of everything that makes art worthwhile. For the expression, for the connection and for the people.
It’s a grandiose statement. But one that the band manage to match on almost everything they ever do and have ever done. While Radiohead certainly split casual listeners down the middle, often providing serene moments of rock bliss and other times creating intolerably choking soundscapes, they have always found an ardent fanbase who champions them above every other band in history.
Radiohead garner respect like no other band of their generation in the music industry and outside of it. Perennially pegged as the saviours of intelligent rock, Yorke and co. have survived creating music for music lovers. There is no candy-coated fodder here, no songs designed for the dancefloor or to be placed into a low budget commercial for car insurance. Radiohead make songs to be adored for very personal reasons.
It’s what makes a cover of their songs both so difficult to achieve and arrestingly beautiful if they come off. Below, we’ve gathered up ten of our favourite moments other artists covered Radiohead, as it highlights the power they truly hold.
Best Radiohead covers:
10. ‘Let Down’ – Easy All-Stars ft. Toots & The Maytals
The original Radiohead song has often been thought of as a pitiful reflection of the futility of life. Sometimes regarded as a re-working of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis the song is rooted in sadness. Or, at the very least, resignation. Naturally, Toots & The Maytals wouldn’t cover a song like that and not add some pep.
Naturally, the song is given the reggae treatment and transformed because of it. Of course, a reggae rhythm will give most songs a shot in the arm but somehow the band manage to make this one feel like a brand new song altogether.
9. ‘Arpeggi’ – Kelly Lee Owens
One of our favourite albums of last year came from Welsh musician Kelly Lee Owens and her glitching charm on Inner Songs. An album we’re sure would have pleased Thom Yorke to hear, the LP opened up with an Owens cover of ‘Arpeggi’.
A song that will always be attached to its more successful counterpart ‘Weird Fishes’ what Owens does with the song would undoubtedly make it one of Yorke’s favourite on this list. The In Rainbows song is reimagined as a techno soul derivative, providing Radiohead with a glimpse of what could have been, had they kept up with the laptops and not returned to guitars.
8. ‘Electioneering’ – Cold War Kids
One of the standout indie band of the ’00s it would be a simple jump for Cold War Kids to pick up one of Radiohead’s classic numbers and make it their own. Instead, the band chose to lean into the idea of covering Radiohead and delivered a searing version of their OK Computer song ‘Electioneering’.
The band slow down the track to a near-crawl and by doing so allow Yorke’s curious lyrics to unfurl to their untapped potential. Paying homage to the original, Cold War Kids have made this cover sound singular and unique, something we’re sure Radiohead would approve of.
7. ‘No Surprises’ – Michael Kiwanuka
Some covers songs reimagine the original in a brand new way, providing it with not only a fresh outlook but perhaps a fresh new audience too. For Michael Kiwanuka’s version of ‘No Surprises’, he does the exact opposite. He reduces the song to its core and provides a potent replaying of it.
Kiwanuka allows his vocal performance to really outshine every other part of the song. Yorke’s original may well be gilded in the golden tones of vulnerability but Kiwanuka sounds as if he is being dissected for our very eyes.
Baring his mind, body and soul with every single note.
6. ‘Idioteque’ – Calico Horse
The glitching beauty of ‘Idioteque’ has always had a profound effect on those who heard it. The song is so obviously rooted in the mistrust of societal modernism, that it almost feels wrong to reduce the song to an acoustic number. But that’s exactly what Calicoe Horse did, and they did it with aplomb too.
The Kid A album, an LP in which Radiohead set out their stall as the most innovative rock band around, provided us with many progressive moments but perhaps none more so than this. While ‘Idioteque’ was centred on technology, Calicoe Horse reverted it to its primordial beginnings.
5. ‘Just’ – Mark Ronson
If the mere mention of Mark Ronson’s name has put you off pressing play on this cover of ‘Just’ then you’ve really not been paying attention to why Radiohead are so good. The point is, that anyone with some serious music knowledge, appreciates the band and, Mark Ronson, love him or loathe him, certainly has music knowledge.
The pop producer has made a career out of putting sounds together and his funky horn-driven cover of ‘Just’ shows just how good at it he is. The [polar opposite of Radiohead, Ronson provides a moment of dancefloor boogie that would simply never have existed with Yorke and co left to their own devices.
For the unusual and unique take on the song, it deserves this spot on our list.
4. ‘Creep’ – Arlo Parks
Yes, it’s certainly one of the most over-covered songs in the history of rock music. Equally too, it’s a song that has often separated the try-hard and die-hard fans of Radiohead. Simply put, if you love ‘Creep’ then judgements will be made. However, when you hear how one song can transcend genre and connect with someone as beautifully as it did for Arlo Parks, all that will change.
‘Creep’ a song permeated by the continuous MTV airplay it received — and the jocks who loved it because of that — is given a breath of fresh air from Parks. One of the finest singers of her generation, Parks brings fragility and vulnerability in bucket loads. It was a theme that Yorke once balanced with crashing riffs but, without them, Parks’ vocal tone reigns supreme.
3. ‘Lucky’ – John Frusciante
His time as the guitarist for Red Hot Chili Peppers hasn’t dampened John Frusciante’s ear for a cult-classic. Though the stadium-filling Californians have long championed a bombastic style, Frusciante’s cover of Radiohead’s ‘Lucky’ is heartbreaking and beautiful in equal measure.
Delivered with Frusciante’s unique playing style, it has even been revealed that the Peppers guitarist inspired a Radiohead song. As Thom Yorke once confirmed: “I went to see the Chili Peppers a few times and I really like the way John Frusciante plays… It was sort of a homage to that, in my sort of clunky ‘can’t–really-pick’ kind of way.”
Frusciante handles this cover with gentle respect that shows his true appreciation.
2. ‘True Love Waits’ – Camille O’Sullivan
Sometimes songs just grab you. ‘True Love Waits’ is one Radiohead song that has always grabbed the attention of their fans. Purity and poignancy, it’s a Radiohead song that relies on Yorke’s authentic emotion bleeding out of the vocal notes. A song that saw Yorke pledge his allegiance to his love, it feels in perfect hands with Camille O’Sullivan’s crystalline cover.
There’s not a lot to talk about with regards to the song being reimagined or evolved in any way. O’Sullivan keeps the song along a similar path, especially considering her jazz background. But what she does do with a complex subtlety is allow the story to unfurl for her audience.
‘True Love Waits’ is one of Radiohead’s most emotionally raw pieces and O’Sullivan handles it with an ethereal splendour that takes this cover near to the top of our list.
1. ‘Creep’ – Prince
If Prince, aka The Purple One, aka His Royal Badness, takes on one of your songs, it simply has to be regarded as the best cover. When he delivers a zeitgeist moment at Coacehlla singing ‘Creep’ in his unique way, then it shoots to the top of the list without a second thought. The late, singer, performer, and all-around bona fide artistic juggernaut, Prince had an on-off relationship with the internet during his all too brief time with us. The artist at moments threw himself into the virtual world and at others found its lack of personality abhorrent.
This meant that for years the moment he and his illustrious band covered Radiohead’s mega-hit ‘Creep’ at Coachella in 2008 remained only in the memories of those who attended the event.
A naturally sombre yet distinctly flourished and polished affair, Prince’s version of the ’90s hit is at times euphoric and ascending, and at others so drenched in melancholy that you’d be forgiven Prince was actually a young, down-and-out student in his dorm room wailing away.
Vocally at polar opposites of the spectrum, Prince’s smooth version of the song does lack a certain edge which Yorke’s estranged and detached performance nearly always provides. For that reason, you could understand the Prince estate being happy to keep this performance form the public eye, but as a piece of pop-culture memorabilia, it’s as good as anything we’ve ever seen.