The number of musicians you come across who claim the first single they ever bought was an obscure Sub-Saharan Jive-Jazz crossover record that had a dissonant hook that somehow spoke to their eight-year-old inner soul is highly suspicious. With that in mind, Thom Yorke’s comments about his first record are about as refreshingly straightforward as that first post-lockdown pint.
Yorke’s unique sound is clearly the product of a smorgasbord of delectable musical influences. Throughout his career, whether it be with Radiohead or other projects, he has pushed the boundaries of sound, honing all forms of world music into a palatable package for a legion of fans.
Yorke has often spoken about his rich and varied inspirations and influences, whether it be the bizarre beauty of Björk or the raucous rhythms of Miles Davis, but his initial passion for music was stirred up by a rather more on-the-nose piece of stylistic sway. “I never did singles,” the Radiohead frontman told the BBC, “I only started buying them when I began DJing at college, so the first record I bought was Queen’s Greatest Hits which I owned on cassette. I wore that out!”
He is not alone in that regard; Queen’s Greatest Hits compilation is the UK’s biggest selling records of all time, thus it only stands to reason that one of the millions of units sold was snapped up by a would-be musician. Admittedly, however, it is far from the coolest cassette in town. The legacy of the ‘Greatest Hits’ record was pretty much laid to waste when Steve Coogan’s iconic comedy creation Alan Partridge declared “The Best of The Beatles” was his favourite Beatles album of all time.
The tracks on the Greatest Hits record in question have acquired such a level of cultural ubiquity that there is probably no artist left who hasn’t been influenced by the mercurial ways Mercury and co. However, the notion of paying the cassette to death is hardly the typical ‘Velvet Underground and Nico pulled me up from a crawl and popped me straight into my first pair of drainpipes and Dr Martens’, that we have become used to.
“There was a period,” Yorke added, “Of really dodgy heavy metal bands. Some people had those hi-fis with a microphone where the only way you could record your mates’ records was to stick the microphone in front of the speakers of another record player so there’s this weird tone to it.”
For all the eclectic influences detectable in Yorke’s various sounds, heavy metal is far from the most notable, but perhaps that’s because, like the rest of us, he grew out of his early infatuations. He later added, “I listened to some really bad heavy metal that way,” didn’t we all?
His love of Queen has never abated, however, as he described their collaboration with fellow favourite, David Bowie, as the perfect pop song. “With songs like ‘Under Pressure’,” he told cult publication Ray Gun Magazine in the ’90s, “[there’s] something that makes you want to fall down on your knees. That to me is the perfect pop song.”
Whilst none of the Queen tracks may have survived to make it to his Desert Island Discs selection alongside Talking Heads. ‘Born Under Punches’ and R.E.M’s ‘Talk About The Passion’, I’m sure he still dives into the pop perfection every now and again.