Revisit Radiohead’s incredible ‘webcast’ from 2007 where they cover The Smiths Björk and more
Radiohead has always been a band who have kept their noses out in front of the competition. From the band’s alt-rock beginnings to their current ranking as one of the most experimental and critically acclaimed groups of all time. If you needed any proof of that fact then we only need to travel back to 2007 and one incredible webcast.
Fairly revolutionary at the time, the band were always a little ahead of the game when it came to technology and proved it with this 2007 webcast which they did in celebration of 10 years of OK Computer. That said, they weren’t always looking forward to their musical inspiration, they sometimes found the golden hues of music in the past.
One of those inspirations for Radiohead, among many others, would be Ian Curtis’ post-punk stalwarts Joy Division and so it seems fitting they cover one of their greatest songs ‘Ceremony’. The track, beginning as a Joy Division song—in fact, it was one of the last songs Ian Curtis worked on prior to his suicide and was performed at their last ever gig in 1980—became a New Order track following their formation and featured in most of their live sets.
The Radiohead cover, however, leans more directly on Ian Curtis’ version and feels both authentic and yet expertly curated to pay homage to the original composition. It is instead played with a raw passion, a lack of inhibition and with a deep appreciation. The band didn’t hold back when they covered another stalwart of the eighties, The Smiths.
Radiohead performs a stunning cover of the Meat Is Murder song ‘Headmaster’s Ritual’. The cover of the track is a sublime and slick homage to a band that is held dear to Radiohead’s heart. Ed O’Brien once said speaking to Rolling Stone of Radiohead’s earl influences, “We started off at the time of the Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, that era. By the end of that period, or the middle of that period, there was the Pixies, Happy Mondays and Stone Roses and all these things. We dipped our toe, not very effectively, in each. But in doing so we came out with a sound. We came up with our thing. And that’s how we got signed.”
Johnny Marr saw the cover and while he wasn’t completely convinced, he 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.”
One song covered during the performance, however, will always mean a little more to at least one man in the room. Björk’s ‘Unravel’ didn’t just represent a song for the band to work their magic on but the track was actually quoted as being one of Thom Yorke’s favourite as he admitted to SPIN magazine back in 2006: “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.”
The video of the webcast is a little scratchy but the audio is perfect and any extra sonic inflexions over time have actually added to the art as a whole. Sure Thom isn’t note-perfect (has he ever been?) but the sentiment of the song, his love of the music as well as the original artist, shines through like a perfectly dappled afternoon. Ultimately, the intensely beautiful delivery of ‘Unravel’ makes it one of Radiohead’s best-ever covers and sees Yorke connect with the track unlike on any other song he’s ever sung—even his own.
These are just some standout moments from the entire webcast which is two hours of Radiohead gold. Whether it’s the aforementioned session which seemingly took place in some kind of barn or the succession of DJ slots from each member of the band which breaks up the content, it’s hard to not find something you like in this clip.
The fact that Radiohead were creating webcasts while the rest of the world were figuring out how to charge their smartphones, is a key indicator of the skill they possess to assess and soundtrack the future.
The webcast not only works as a key document of Radiohead’s love of certain bands and artists, nor only as a video containing some fandom easter eggs but as a stark reminder that Radiohead have always been well ahead of the game.