Everyone has one group that has impacted their life significantly during their teenage years. For Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, it was R.E.M. who altered his perspective when they marauded their way into his life when he was coming of age.
They are a band that he has waxed lyrical about on several occasions throughout his career. Furthermore, Yorke has even had the honour of sharing a stage with the group to perform ‘E-Bow The Letter’. They were also their touring partners for a while, and now the Radiohead frontman has the privilege of calling them his friends.
When Yorke was invited as a guest on the prestigious BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs, he made sure to pay tribute to the band that transformed his life. If you’re unfamiliar with the show’s premise, guests are asked to name the eight tracks they’d like for company if they were stranded on a desert island.
During his appearance, Yorke picked ‘Talk About Passion’ from the band’s debut album Murmur. “When I was a kid, they were the link for me between the art student part of me and the musician part of me,” he told the host.
Yorke continued: “Michael Stipe, the singer of R.E.M., was my hero, and now I’m friends with him, you know? It’s an odd thing!” Stipe also helped him cope with the pressures of fame: “He helped me through the end of that period when things just went crazy, and people started talking to me like I was Jesus in the street. I would call him and say, ‘I just can’t handle it’.”
Despite picking ‘Talking About Passion’ on Desert Island Discs, he had a change of heart when put on the spot on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2019. When asked by the comedian, after a moment of consideration, Yorke responded by naming a track from Reckoning: “That keeps changing, ‘So. Central Rain’, there you go.”
They are a group that means everything to Yorke, and on any given day, his favourite song by R.E.M. will likely fluctuate. It’s hard to quantify their impact on his adolescence and how Michael Stipe single-handedly changed his perspective on songwriting.
For Yorke, it was like having his vision restored once he had R.E.M. in his life, and it was reassuring to have a band who could articulate his feelings through the medium of song. Suddenly, everything made sense thanks to the scribblings from the mercurial mind of Michael Stipe, and their grip on him has only tightened as the years have progressed.