Radio 1’s Live Lounge is a bonafide musical institution, an almost holy place in which stars can be born, spiralling the careers of many emerging talents who have used it as a platform to show the millions of listeners their wondrous abilities.
If you’re unfamiliar, the format is relatively simple. Artists get invited to Radio 1’s prestigious Maida Vale studios and deliver a rendition of one of their own songs plus a cover. Under their rules, the latter has to be a song currently on the station’s playlist and can lean itself into creating the strangest of curveballs. However, they do occasionally let artists bend the rules.
The series has been running since the early 2000s and is a staple of the mid-morning programme. Jo Whiley was at the helm during the creation of the segment, and it has since been in the trusty stewardship of Fearne Cotton, who passed the baton onto Clara Amfo in 2015.
It’s a right of passage for most contemporary musicians, and it’s genuinely a performance that artists take joy in partaking, rather than entering a traditionally laborious chore like most radio interviews tend to descend into.
Here are ten of the best performances to have ever taken place in between those hallowed four walls in Maida Vale.
The best Radio 1 Live Lounge performances
Vampire Weekend – ‘Fight For This Love’
The most enjoyable thing about the Live Lounge is how it combines two artists who otherwise would never be uttered in the same sentence, such as Vampire Weekend and former Girls Aloud member Cheryl Cole.
When the American indie giants made their debut performance in the Radio 1 studios in 2010, they showed their appreciation for all things British culture by taking on ‘Fight For This Love’. It takes mercurial skill to transfix a piece of throwaway candyfloss pop music into something that contains heart and authenticity.
Vampire Weekend succeed at getting the listener to suspend their disbelief momentarily, and with a song as languid as ‘Fight For This Love’, that’s some achievement.
Dave – ‘Born To Die’
In truth, Dave’s take on Lana Del Rey song ‘Born To Die is a loose use of the word cover, as the rapper only opts for the chorus and music which remain from the original. Despite the different lyrics on the verses, the south London rapper somehow manages to capture the identical atmosphere to Del Rey.
Although he’s rapping about his own life, and Dave’s world is a disparate one to Del Rey’s, he fills his take with the same abundant layers of textured emotion.
8. R.E.M. – ‘Munich’
When R.E.M. appeared in the Live Lounge back in 2008, instead of culturally appropriating a song from the hit parade, they took on Editors’ number ‘Munich’ and produced a moment to remember.
They strip back the track and turn it from a blistering anthem into a quaint acoustic number. Michael Stipe’s voice is where the magic derives from, and the gloomy atmospheric song lends itself to the sonic location where R.E.M. sit perfectly.
7. Lana Del Rey – ‘Goodbye Kiss’
Making a cover your own is a cliched and often overused phrase, but it’s the only way to describe Lana Del Rey’s take on Kasabian’s ‘Goodbye Kiss’, which sounds as though it arrived straight from Chemtrails Over The Country Club.
Her vocals elicit more emotion than the now-disgraced former Kasabian singer Tom Meighan could ever dream of drawing. Additionally, the dour lyrical theme of the song slots idyllically into Del Rey’s wheelhouse.
6. Slaves – ‘Shutdown’
At the height of the grime revival in 2015, Slaves took it upon themselves to deliver a playful cover of Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’, which got the seal of approval from the man himself who later performed it with the punk duo at Radio 1’s Big Weekend.
Even though their sound is wholly incongruous to the original, they attack ‘Shutdown’ with the same tempestuous tenacity which Skepta does in the original, and it’s a vivacious effort.
5. Gorillaz – ‘Crystalised’
Gorillaz, somewhat surprisingly, have only appeared on the Live Lounge on one occasion, and Damon Albarn duly delivered in 2010 when he led the group through a mesmerising version of The XX song ‘Crystalised’.
It’s a chilling version, which sees Gorillaz unafraid to get sombre and eerie. They slow the original down and distort ‘Crystalised’ even further, making it overflow with captivatingly warped energy.
4. The Futureheads – ‘Hounds Of Love’
The Futureheads’ cover of Kate Bush’s magnetic ‘Hounds Of Love’ gave the band the biggest hit of their career, and it all came about thanks to an appearance on the Live Lounge in 2003. When covering an artist as ingenious as Kate Bush, you have to take a distinct artistic stance on the track, and that’s what made their version of the classic track so irresistible.
It eventually made its way onto the band’s eponymous debut album in 2004 and was released as a stand-alone single two years after its premiere in the Radio 1 studios. Their version of ‘Hounds Of Love’ provided the Sunderland band with their only top ten single, and it all sparked from a stunning performance in Maida Vale.
3. Wolf Alice – ‘Steal My Girl
Wolf Alice are slowly becoming veterans of the Live Lounge, and their finest achievement in Maida Vale came when they adapted One Direction’s ‘Steal My Girl’ into a shoegaze anthem in 2015. Yep, you read that right. The Londoners turned the distortion up to 100 and transformed One Direction into stoner rock.
The band completely turn the track on its head, and whatever your opinion on the original, it will get you subconsciously furiously tapping your feet away at their bewitching cover. It’s everything the Live Lounge is about, and Wolf Alice strip the song to its bare components to miraculously turn it into a fuzzy delight of the highest order.
2. Idles – The Streets Mashup
Idles broke the rules on their cover, but that doesn’t matter. In our eyes, the Bristolian punks can do what they want, and their energetic mashup of The Streets debut album, Original Pirate Material, will leave you gasping at its innovative brilliance.
The band get the five-minute piece of mini-theatre started with ‘Turn The Page’ before rumbling onto ‘Has It Come For This’ and ‘Geezers Need Excitement’ then closing in imperious fashion on ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’.
1. Arctic Monkeys – ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’
Arctic Monkeys are undisputed royalty when it comes to the Live Lounge. They’ve clocked up four appearances over their career to date, including that unforgettable take on Girls Aloud’s ‘Love Machine’. Still, their crowning moment came when they delivered a suave rendition of Drake’s ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’ in 2013.
The band had just entered their AM era at the time and used the Live Lounge as the place to express their newly discovered debonair persona. They took the cover seriously and produced the most memorable moment in the history of the segment.
The performance signified their progression from four loveable rogues wearing Adidas from High Green who emerged in the mid-2000s into sleek, sophisticated grown men.