Radiohead Covers The Smiths & New Order (2007)

If you grew up at a cer­tain time, with a cer­tain melan­cholic dis­po­si­tion and mor­bid sense of humor, you grew up lis­ten­ing to the music of the Smiths. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, you’re rough­ly around the same age as the mem­bers of Radio­head, who also grew up lis­ten­ing to the Smiths. Ergo, there’s a good chance you’re a fan of Radio­head, a band whose own melan­cholic, mor­bid mood draws from the best Alter­na­tive bands (as they were called once) of the 80s and 90s, while updat­ing the sound of that mood on every suc­ces­sive album.

On the 20th anniver­sary of Radiohead’s mas­sive-sell­ing Ok Com­put­er, gui­tarist Ed O’Brien remem­bered their hum­ble begin­nings in a Rolling Stone oral his­to­ry, invok­ing those bands whose records you like­ly own in hard copy if you fit the pro­file above:

We start­ed off at the time of the Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, that era. By the end of that peri­od, or the mid­dle of that peri­od, there was the Pix­ies, Hap­py Mon­days and Stone Ros­es and all these things. We dipped our toe, not very effec­tive­ly, in each. But in doing so we came out with a sound. We came up with our thing. And that’s how we got signed.

No mat­ter how far they end­ed up stray­ing from gui­tar rock, their ear­ly influ­ences have always been an inte­gral part of their cre­ative DNA. On the 10th anniver­sary of Ok Com­put­er, well into their trans­for­ma­tion from alt-rock super­stars to exper­i­men­tal elec­tron­ic band, Radio­head filmed a two-and-a-half-hour web­cast, play­ing old and new songs, tak­ing turns DJing, and cov­er­ing one of my favorite Smiths’ songs, “The Head­mas­ter Rit­u­al” from 1985’s Meat is Mur­der.

It’s a track tai­lor-made for them—a song that “express­es fury at a kind of school life that has been for­got­ten,” writes Katharine Vin­er, but which the fierce­ly anti-author­i­tar­i­an Thom Yorke remem­bered well. Years into his suc­cess­ful career, he still smart­ed from his unpleas­ant school years.

In inter­views, writes Will Self at GQ, he’s often “waxed dis­con­so­late­ly about his dis­com­bob­u­lat­ed child­hood, the fre­quent changes of school, and the bul­ly­ing at those schools because of his paral­ysed eye.” If you grew up lis­ten­ing to the Smiths, you too may have a per­son­al affin­i­ty for “The Head­mas­ter Rit­u­al.”

And you prob­a­bly also fre­quent­ly wal­lowed to Joy Division—a band that, like Radio­head, rad­i­cal­ly changed musi­cal direc­tion, albeit for a much more trag­ic rea­son. After the sui­cide of lead singer Ian Cur­tis, Joy Divi­sion reformed as New Order, synth-pop super­stars and prog­en­i­tors of acid house. On their first record, Move­ment, they had a lot of post-punk brood­ing to get out of their sys­tem, with songs like ICB (which stands for “Ian Cur­tis Buried”) and “Cer­e­mo­ny,” orig­i­nal­ly a Joy Divi­sion song.

Fur­ther up, see Radio­head cov­er “Cer­e­mo­ny,” a song that defines an era—one, coin­ci­den­tal­ly, in which Radio­head grew up. And maybe you did, too. But chances are, if you grew up lis­ten­ing to Radio­head, you know their influ­ences no mat­ter when you were born. See the full 2007 web­cast just above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Radio­head Will Stream Con­certs Free Online Until the Pan­dem­ic Comes to an End

Intro­duc­ing The Radio­head Pub­lic Library: Radio­head Makes Their Full Cat­a­logue Avail­able via a Free Online Web Site

Radio­head Puts Every Offi­cial Album on YouTube, Mak­ing Them All Free to Stream

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Tim Krause says:

    I’m a senior cit­i­zen who’s grown up in a musi­cal fam­i­ly. One of my great regrets in life is giv­ing up musi­cal train­ing at a young age to pur­sue oth­er inter­ests (ath­let­ics). For­tu­nate­ly, at least I have nev­er lost my love of music, all kinds. Regard­less, I do not know why Radio­head was a group that, when I first saw and heard them, I did not want to like them. I do not know why that was–the vocal­ist’s nod­ding head, the wrong song for my giv­en mood? I don’t remem­ber.
    But it end­ed up that I could not NOT like them. Even when I’m not in the mood for what they may be play­ing, they win me over. They sim­ply have too much of that music magic…and on so many dif­fer­ent lev­els.

  • Rob says:

    Giv­en that every com­ment sec­tion I read these days is full of inane mal­ice, this was a love­ly read. Well done sir.

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