So vast is the Radiohead catalogue outside the eight albums released between 1993 and 2011 that the average fan can go years without discovering another jewel from the trove. A few years ago I was flicking through a friend’s iTunes and found a recording of a concert in Los Angeles that includes the most mind-blowingly beautiful version of ‘I Will’. I’ve listened to this slightly softer live rendition probably more than most other Radiohead songs since the discovery, and certainly more than the album version. This has happened to me quite a few times and I’m sure it’s a common experience – unless you are a particularly organised superfan. There are so many old bootlegs, radio shows, sessions, duets and remixes out there that it’s difficult to know where to start – or find them.
Here’s a list of 10 great alternative versions of Radiohead songs and also a few obscure rarities that you might not have heard. I haven’t included any b-sides or the ‘I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings’ album, more music you have to dig around a bit to land on. You probably already know that ‘Like Spinning Plates’ live is a totally different and amazing version, for example. Please leave your favourites in the comments.
In April 1995, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood performed a private acoustic session to guests and competition winners at Cat’s Paw Studios in Atlanta for the radio station 99X. They only played six songs but one of them was a version of ‘You’ with slightly different arrangements. They drop the second note a tone in the 10th bar which creates an even sweeter melancholy. I hunted down a video version which is slightly confusingly attributed to MTV in 1994.
This version of ‘I Will’ can be found on ‘COM LAG (2plus2isfive)’ which was released in Japan and Australia in 2004 and then the UK in 2007. It’s worth getting your hands on. It’s a softer, pacier version than the one on ‘Hail To The Thief’ and Yorke’s voice take it an octave higher for ‘little babies’ eyes’.
This version of ‘Fog’ from ‘Com Lag’ is really beautiful. “I’m gong to do a song called ‘Fog and we did a version of this and it wasn’t very good so this is a better version of it unless I cock it up in which case it’s not,’ Yorke says before playing a solo piano version. The original version from ‘Knives Out’ was in a different time signature and featured bass and percussion. You might’ve heard the better one on US TV show ‘The O.C’.
‘I Want None Of This’ was recorded for the War Child album ‘Help: A Day in the Life’ in 2005. It’s a piano-based track and unsurprisingly the most-downloaded from the charity album. It sounds a bit like a funeral march with haunting harmonies but it blossoms melodically with the final payoff ‘don’t get stuck on a dream’.
The video below is cut from ‘Meeting People Is Easy’. “We’ve been working all day and the only thing that we’ve got that’s good is the bass and guitar,” says Thom at the end of the video. The film case had the lyrics intentionally printed wrong on the back:
drift all you want fromocean to ocean.search the whole world. but drunken confessions and hijacked affairs will just make yumore Alone.If you come home ill bake youa Cake made of all their yeyesi wish you coould seeme dressd for the Kill.what a nastySURPRISE.unplug thephone.stop all the taps.itall comes flooding back.from poison cloud to poisoned dwarf>>>what a nastydulkbhs SURPRISE.the wormsll come for you big boots
‘Lift’ appeared around the time of ‘OK Computer’ and was rumoured to have been a strong contender for the album. Though played live sporadically from 1996, it hasn’t been performed since 2002 and was never released. You can find it on one of the ‘Towering Above The Rest’ compilation albums.
Yorke AND Phil on drums! Jonny’s snakecharmer riff! Lyrics about an ancient castle called Conger Hill! It’s one of the most underrated Radiohead songs of all time. This version of ‘Bangers And Mash’ from the second ‘In Rainbows’ disc was recorded in Nigel Godrich’s studio for the show ‘From The Basement’.
Written in tribute to Harry Patch, the last surviving soldier who fought in the trenches in World War 1, the song was recorded a few weeks after his death in July 2009. It’s string-based and the lyrics include quotations from the veteran about the horrors of war. It starts sombrely but builds with the lyrics “Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves”, the final syllable landing on a chilling key change. The track was sold for £1 with all proceeds going to the Royal British Legion.
This is a bit of fun. There are loads of Radiohead covers in full or as intros you might not’ve heard of (Manic Street Precher’s ‘If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next’, ‘Wonderwall’) but this one’s pretty special.
The earliest version ‘Paranoid Android’ was over 10 minutes long, some say it stretches to 14 minutes. Here’s a gorgeous 7-minute performance of the ‘OK Computer’ epic with a Hammond solo from Jonny Greenwood. There are other differences in the lyrics; ‘Halleluja’ is repeated in the third section. I’m glad they lost that bit but it doesn’t detract from a raw and moving demo.