11 times Radiohead covered other artists’ songs brilliantly

Radiohead have been known to surprise fans by playing a snippet of The Smiths’ ‘How Soon Is Now?’. They’re not a band that cover stuff regularly, but there’s more than 20 of their documented covers knocking about on setlist.fm – here’s our pick of the bunch.

11. Oasis – ‘Wonderwall’

More of a parody than a cover – and actually just Thom Yorke with The Posies – this wailed version of ‘Wonderwall’ sounds a bit mean-spirited initially. It was recorded during a radio session for CBC in Canada in 1996. Thom messes about with the lyrics and then stops mid-song, asked “Is this abysmal or what?” by a Posy, who then adds, “It’s always good to make fun of Oasis, though”. Thom replies: “They don’t mind, actually.” So there you go. It’s all in good faith. Still, not exactly their best cover.

10. Larry Weiss – ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’

Larry Weiss’ most famous song from 1974 was actually less of a hit for him than for Glen Campbell, who covered it the following year and hit US Number One and reached Number Four in the UK. It’s a rousing country track that, somewhat improbably, Radiohead covered several times between 1991 and 1993. It’s a rootin’ tootin’ curveball.

9. Tim Buckley – ‘Sing A Song For You’

As with the Oasis ‘cover’, Thom Yorke shifts his voice here, echoing Tim Buckley’s melancholy delivery.

8. Magazine – ‘Shot By Both Sides’

One of Radiohead’s noisier covers, this post-punk storm only exists as a lo-fi bootleg recording – as it should be, really. Yorke’s imitation of Howard Devoto’s scowl is pretty great too.

7. Björk – ‘Unravel’

In 2006, Thom Yorke named ‘Unravel’ as his favourite song ever. “I’m trying to get Radiohead to do a cover,” he said, “because I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.” Just over a year later, the band played it on their Thumbs Down webcast, and sometimes he uses a snippet of it to preface ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ live.

6. Blondie – ‘Union City Blue’

The effects pedals come out for this guitar-heavy rendition of Blondie’s 1979 banger. Done way back in 1995, it’s among the poppiest covers they’ve ever done.

5. Joy Division/New Order – ‘Ceremony’

Another one from Radiohead’s 2007 webcasts – a cover of the Joy Division track that was re-recorded by New Order and released as their first single. The latter version had far more audible lyrics – Bernard Sumner transcribed Ian Curtis’ words from a rehearsal tape by using a graphic equalizer to amp up the vocal, and actually Radiohead’s version is closer to New Order’s – brighter and clearer. At the end, he says, “Now what?”

4. Carly Simon – ‘Nobody Does It Better’

Performed for MTV in 1995, this cover of the theme from 1977’s Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me is brilliant. Years later they’d be asked to compose their own theme, for Spectre – a theme that was for some reason turned down, and released by the band as a surprise Christmas gift in December 2015.

3. The Smiths – ‘The Headmaster Ritual’

It’s the webcast that keeps on giving: another cover from November 2007, and another Smiths song. Johnny Marr saw it and told Uncut, “I have shown Ed [O’Brien] the chords, but maybe he was looking out of the window! But they do a better job than anyone else I’ve heard.”

2. Can – ‘Thief’

This expansive track from the German krautrock pioneers later appeared on ‘Delay 1968’, a compilation of early Can material, and was covered live by Radiohead several times between 2000 and 2002. Yorke cited Can’s ‘Tago Mago’ as an influence on ‘There There’, a track from 2003 album ‘Hail To The Thief’.

1. Neil Young – ‘After The Gold Rush’

This is the least performed of Radiohead’s many Neil Young covers. Yorke has said he encountered Young first after one of his demos was compared to the Canadian’s music. “Immediately I identified with it,” he’s said. “The frailty thing is obviously appealing, and the register of it. He was really going high up and has this soft vibrato that nobody else does.” This is the title track of the first Neil Young record he owned, aged 15 or 16 – and the cover was performed close to the release of ‘Hail To The Thief’ in 2003. In this intimate performance Yorke loses himself in the song and has to start again, but that makes it all the better, really.