Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke is one of the most enigmatic characters in music, a figure who has re-invented the wheel so prolifically that it becomes hard to imagine him taking reference from any other musician. That said, even Yorke has taken inspiration from other artists over the years — going as far on one occasion to saying that one record changed his life.
The record that Yorke spoke at depth about his love for and gave the accolade of being the album that changed his life was R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi which came out in 1996. This was a fascinating period in Radiohead’s career following the release of The Bends one year before and with the band heading into the studio to work on the seminal OK Computer.
New Adventures in Hi-Fi is also Michael Stipe’s favourite R.E.M. record which is widely considered to be the band at the peak of their powers and is an incredible piece of work that is a true masterpiece. The record is not just revered by critics but with fans as well, with the project shifting over seven million units and with a reputation that still gets higher as the years go on.
Yorke has shared the stage with the American rock icons on occasions in the past, filling in for Patti Smith on the stunning ‘E-Bow The Letter‘ which features on the aforementioned record. It is clear to see from these performances alone that there is a great two-way street of respect that is shared between both artists.
The Radiohead frontman revealed that he doesn’t feel that he doesn’t see himself as a maverick figure in music before describing Michael Stipe as a “genius” and adding that “his lyrics are like a car ride along a street full of traffic signs and billboards. A neon-coloured trip, total cinema in your head, and endlessly inspiring”.
Yorke continued: “Before I discovered R.E.M. in the mid-eighties, I was listening to bands like Japan. Music to kill time with. Then I discovered R.E.M. and it turned my life upside down. Michael Stipe was singing about his flaws and weaknesses, and that it is okay to be weird. I was weird.” Yorke noted to VinylWriters, “And through his songs Stipe spoke to me, ‘It’s okay, you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone.’ Shortly after that, I signed up for art school and started to take making music seriously.
“Nonetheless, my favourite R.E.M. record New Adventures In Hi-Fi was released years later. I remember that a while before its release, we were hanging out with R.E.M. in the Penthouse Suite of U2’s Hotel in Dublin, a bizarre place. Mike Mills sat down to the piano and played the melody of ‘Electrolite’ to me. I said: ‘This is very simple, but also very beautiful.’ A few months later, I heard what they had done with this melody- the best song of their career. ‘Your eyes are burning holes through me / I’m gasoline / I’m burnin’ clean’,” Yorke concluded.