Thom Yorke, make no mistake about it, is an absolute contemporary icon. As the frontman of one of the most pioneering alternative rock bands of all time, he has been at the cutting edge of music for over 20 years. His band, Radiohead, have created some of the most enriching music of the 1990s and ’00s.
Their output has been consistently groundbreaking, with albums such as Kid A, In Rainbows, and The Bends. To this day, Yorke shows no sign of slowing down. Like his bandmate Jonny Greenwood, Yorke side-stepped into composing for film several years ago. In 2019, he provided the soundtrack for Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the ’70s horror film Susperia, and it has since been described by many as some of his best work.
Now, let me answer the question that I know has been bouncing around your head since you started reading this article: Why should we care about Thom Yorke’s favourite song? To which I would reply: Where should I start? With his frail, levitating falsetto, innate musicality, and Stravinsky-esque demeanour, Yorke is an absolute powerhouse of a songwriter.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, Radiohead have always had a firm understanding of musical craft. I’m hesitant to say it, but I imagine Thom Yorke could whack a rock with a stick, and it would sound like a Vivaldi concerto. That is to say, Thom Yorke has an innate understanding of songwriting on a fundamental level. So, when he revealed that there was one song he treasured above all others, you can be damn sure my head turned so quickly it nearly fell off my shoulders.
In an interview back in 2006, Thom Yorke revealed that his favourite song is ‘Unravel’ by Björk. The song comes from the Icelandic singer’s 1997 album Homogenic and is undeniably sublime. It is an electro-ambient wash of densely textured samples and lilting saxophone. One can see why Yorke fell for the song so deeply, as it seems to contain all of the seeds which would characterise records like Kid A and his work on films like Anima.
Back in 2006, Yorke expressed an interest in covering the song with Radiohead, who had just released In Rainbows: “I’m trying to get Radiohead to do a cover because I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard,” he said. A year later, Radiohead released a cover of the song during a webcast.
Although the video itself is poor quality, the rendition features a mesmeric stripped back version of the song. Yorke conjures up so many of those Björkian textures with nothing but an electric piano, and his voice perfectly captures the ethereal atmosphere of the original track. Yorke was undoubtedly a fan of Bjork’s vocal style. In a television interview, he once described Bjork as being “born with a voice that is very sexual, but also very childlike. Very vicious and powerful, but there’s no sense that she’d do any harm.”
Yorke’s respect for Björk led to them collaborating on ‘I’ve Seen It All’. Bizarrely, the song was co-written by Lars Von Trier – the controversial director of Nymphomaniac and Antichrist – and featured Yorke and Björk dueting above industrial samples and Ravellian string sections. After working with Yorke, the Icelandic singer made it clear that she respected him very much: “He’s very shy and uncertain and doesn’t reveal too much of himself. That’s why it’s hard for me to explain what he’s like. I can’t do him justice. But he’s a very special person. When he enters a room, he affects the whole atmosphere in a very positive way.”
Since Yorke revealed his love for Björk’s ‘Unravel’, fans have been clamouring for a full-length Björk and Yorke (God, I love the way that sounds) album. But, all these years later, such a thing has never been released. One can live always live in hope, though.
Listen to Radiohead’s cover of Björk’s song ‘Unravel’ below, Thom Yorke’s favourite song of all time.