See Radiohead cover The Smiths song ‘The Headmaster Ritual’
At a time when live music remains off the menu amid the current health crisis, a time when social distancing regulations are changing that fans indulge their entertainment, we’re digging deep into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you a special moment between two of our favourite artists as Radiohead take on The Smiths for a very special webcast.
The webcast is one will go down in musical history as perhaps the most important of its kind, least of all because 2007 may have been the only time people made, or in fact, used the word ‘webcast’. That said, most of all because it was Radiohead’s webcast and, as ever, it was a seminal moment in music for all involved.
Back in 2007, following the release of their critically acclaimed album In Rainbows, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Phil Selway and Ed O’Brien didn’t go out on tour immediately. No, instead, the band opted for something, which at the time, may have felt a little strange—they broadcast a series of in-studio webcasts via a stream.
A little ahead of their time in most situations, Radiohead took the revolutionary idea of bypassing media stations and jumped at the chance to connect with fans directly. It meant the group didn’t have to conform to any time restrictions or licensing hindrances.
Instead, they offered their audience some of the most memorable songs alongside some brilliant covers. As well as their gorgeous cover of Joy Division’s ‘Ceremony’ there was an extremely special cover of what is one of Yorke’s favourite records Bjork’s ‘Unravel’. But the song we’re revisiting today is the band’s near-perfect cover of The Smiths song ‘The Headmaster Ritual’.
To cover The Smiths is an extremely bold move. Not just because Marr’s guitar is so idiosyncratic of the man himself, laid-back and hip-swaying at the same time. Not just because Morrissey’s vocal is almost impossible to match without causing offence and ludicrous karaoke comparisons—but because The Smiths are so insanely beloved, that covering their work normally ends in a downfall. Not on this occasion.
No, Radiohead, above all else, know how to play their instruments. Their cover of the Meat Is Murder album track ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ is a sublime and slick homage to a band that is held dear to Radiohead’s heart. Johnny Marr saw it and told Uncut: “I have shown Ed [O’Brien] the chords, but maybe he was looking out of the window! But they do a better job than anyone else I’ve heard.” And, as you’d expect, he’s right.
Thom Yorke’s vocal delivery pays respect to, but is not an impersonation of, Morrissey’s iconic tone. Jonny Greenwood’s guitar is almost identical in every way to Marr’s pace and rhythm, with an extra unique flourish of his won. All in all, it sees Radiohead not only show off their technological advantages, proving that they were the future of music but it also saw them prove they could show the past a thing or two too.
Watch Radiohead cover The Smiths’ ‘The Headmaster Ritual’.