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Music

When Radiohead’s Thom Yorke covered his favourite Neil Young song

In September 2019, The legendary frontman of Radiohead, Thom Yorke, spoke to Lauren Laverne for an instalment of the popular BBC Radio 4 feature Desert Island Discs. Yorke made a name for himself in the mid-1990s as the leader of the indie rock group Radiohead.

The band rose to prominence during the Britpop era when bands like Oasis, Blur and Pulp were battling for the top spot in the charts. Radiohead were never considered Britpop due to their initial tendency to draw more inspiration from the American grunge scene. Later, their unbridled creativity saw them become the art-rock geniuses we know them as today with the pioneering brilliance of 1997’s OK Computer and the avant-garde electro-influenced Kid A (2000).

Yorke’s restless creativity has earned him a place among the most inspiring and acclaimed modern musicians. Naturally, it was very intriguing to listen to the singer delve into his biggest influences as an artist over his formative years and beyond. As an ever-evolving creative, Yorke revealed quite an eclectic taste in music. He revealed a passion for New York bad Talking Heads and pleaded to be allowed to take the whole of their 1980 album Remain In Light to his desert island. Alas, Laverne didn’t bend to his will, so Yorke hesitantly chose ‘Born Under Punches’. 

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Elsewhere in the interview, Yorke described some of his more recent influences. He explained that his disillusionment with guitar-centralised rock music following the 1998 OK Computer tour was greeted with a new passion for electronic music. He revealed that experimental electro musicians such as Aphex Twin, Autechre and Squarepusher inspired him to create the more electronically inclined music that appeared on Kid A and Amnesiac.

Another significant influence on Yorke is the Canadian singer-songwriter, Neil Young. Previously, Yorke had shared how Young appeared to have inspired him before he ever knew who Young was. Yorke recalled that, as a 16-year-old, he had sent some homemade demo recordings to the BBC with hopes of gaining some attention for his songwriting. “They said, ‘This guy sounds like Neil Young,’” Yorke told the BBC in 2008. “I was like, ‘Who is Neil Young?’”

The singer soon found himself in a nearby record shop and thought he would see just how similar this Neil Young was. He bought a copy of Young’s 1970 album After The Gold Rush. “I immediately fell in love with his music,” said Yorke. “He has that soft vibrato that nobody else has. More than that, it was his attitude toward the way he laid songs down. It’s always about laying down whatever is in your head at the time and staying completely true to that, no matter what it is.”

During the conversation, Yorke revealed that he and Young had once chatted over a few beers before the Radiohead frontman’s show at Bridge School Benefit. He proudly noted that Young permitted him to sing ‘After The Gold Rush’ while playing the piano it was originally recorded on. 

Listen to Thom Yorke’s wonderful cover of Neil Young’s ‘After the Goldrush’ from the 1970 album of the same name.