Mar 282019
30. Doveman – Airbag

Self-described as “insomnia pop,” Doveman (AKA Thomas Bartlett) songs vacillate between “chill” and “chill but kinda weird.” In Doveman’s version of “Airbag” we get a little more of the weird version, emphasized by spacey noises and an eerily repeating piano part. Bartlett’s whispery vocals are secondary to the overall vibe here, which is hypnotic, and when the jazzy piano solo starts up after four minutes, it’s an unexpected treat to close out the song. – Mike Misch

29. Trewlykewl – The Bends

From the moment that “Kid J” steps in front of the mic, the over-the-top transformation from boy into Radiohead frontman begins. And then, right at the moment of the guitar solo, he breaks character and he’s uncontrollably a kid again, head banging with the unconditional joy that music forever brings us. – Sean Balkwill

28. The Crown Vandals – Idioteque

Many Radiohead covers – even of this, one of their odder songs – smooth out the rough edges. And I love smooth as much as anyone (plenty such covers made this list), but it’s refreshing amidst all the mellow beauty to stumble across something this off-the-wall. This short-lived Montreal duo so closely evoke the arty squawking of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! that I had to Google to make sure this wasn’t some side project. – Ray Padgett

27. Sarah Jarosz – The Tourist

If no-one can evoke melancholia like Radiohead, the instrumentation of the appalachians can extract it like no other sound. Here the two combine. OK, it helps that Jarosz has one of those voices, a high and lonesome sound, wafting across the almost chaotic and frenzied undercurrents of fiddle, mandolin and banjo, putting them into an order and context absent otherwise. Like an eagle soaring over a clear and ominous sky, the threats ahead in balance. – Seuras Og

26. Shallou – Motion Picture Soundtrack

Shallou is the stage name of Joe Boston (a name that sounds fake too, but apparently isn’t). The Los Angeles producer deconstructs “Motion Picture Soundtrack” into a beautiful ambient wash that finds the blissful midpoint between Sigur Rós and Aphex Twin. – Jane Callaway

25. Vampire Weekend – Exit Music (For a Film)

Vampire Weekend’s “Exit Music for a Film” is a hot mess. Which is interesting because it’s usually the Radiohead originals that feel like a hot mess. A typical Radiohead song might boast xtensive instrumentation, harmony, dynamic shifting, and a general sense of hysteria, but in this case, Radiohead’s original is simple and haunting while Vampire Weekend pull out all the stops. The tempo is faster, there is a spastic drum beat, and several other instruments contributing to a very busy cover. Ezra Koenig’s vocals are beautiful and spot on as always. The end result is a very invested cover of a song that Koenig says was the first Radiohead song he really got into. – Angela Hughey

24. Michael Kiwanuka – No Surprises

There are two Michael Kiwanukas; the exquisitely unadorned acoustic interpreter of the songs of others, and the magisterial singer of his own songs, where his lily is gilded by the consummate and idiosyncratic ease of Brian Burton (Danger Mouse). This is the former, a simple replay of the original, demonstrating again that, whilst Yorke might seem to have exactly the right voice for the existential angst of his band, he doesn’t always have the only right voice. If a heart were to be torn slowly open in front of your eyes, it would sound just like Michael Kiwanuka. I would love to hear this with added Danger Mouse, mind, noting that he appears elsewhere in this list, when he was just half of Gnarls Barkley. – Seuras Og

23. Punch Brothers – 2+2=5

“2+2=5” is an apocalyptic cacophony of sound and it really doesn’t lend itself to any other interpretation. Slowing it down, changing the erratic instrumentation, or messing with the melody line would render the song dead on arrival. The Punch Brothers led by virtuoso Chris Thile wisely keep all the puzzle pieces in place, while simultaneously creating a stunningly unique and affecting cover. The strings accompany Thile’s spot on vocals which have more depth and roundness than Thom Yorke’s. The band deftly incorporate the Radiohead crescendo by adding instruments and a steady dynamic increase as the song progresses. The result is an accurate portrayal of the original mixed with a passionate bluegrass edginess. – Angela Hughey

22. Ane Brun – How To Disappear Completely

Though a beautiful songwriter in her own right, Norway’s Ane Brun is a master of the cover song. Her wonderful 2017 album Leave Me Breathless was our third favorite record of the year because of performances like this. One of the slowest Radiohead songs can be downright dreary in less able hands, but her version enraptures with only her voice and the sparest of production. – Jane Callaway

21. Corporate Love Breakdown – Myxomatosis

Given Radiohead’s penchant for experimentation, it makes sense that Corporate Love Breakdown, the Radiohead bluegrass tribute album from the Pickin’ On series, would push some musical boundaries of its own. The standout track on the album is a cover of “Myxomatosis.” (In some track listings it comes up as “Myxamatosis.”) Originally released on Hail to the Thief as a rapid-paced, electro-rock track, the “bluegrass” rendition is instead a piece of experimental folk jazz. The cover features an interplay of stand-up bass, acoustic guitar and wordless vocals. The latter sounds like a combination of the Fat Boys’ beatboxing and Bobby McFerrin’s scatting. It’s not your grandfather’s bluegrass tribute, that’s for sure. – Curtis Zimmermann

20. Calico Horse – Idioteque

In Radiohead lore, Kid A is known as the band’s weird electronic departure. But not that weird, apparently, as even one of its most electronic songs has gotten covered a million times as a tender acoustic ballad. The best in that long list is Calico Horse’s beautifully harmonized version. Frontwoman Emily Nevue layers vocal over acoustic guitar and the occasional tambourine hit. A far cry from Radiohead’s cacophonous production, but with a song this good, sometimes that’s all it takes. (For an honorable mention in a similar style, check out Vienna Teng’s take). – Ray Padgett

19. Gnarls Barkley – Reckoner

There is, perhaps, no Radiohead song that is more Radiohead than this one. Covering it seems like a doomed enterprise in so many ways. This cover, in some ways, succumbs to the song. I’m not sure, funky as it is, that the instrumentation adds anything to what is, low-key, Radiohead’s funkiest song. The vocal delivery, while bombastic and lovely, loses almost all the lyrics. And yet, particularly in the way Cee Lo Green sticks out his tongue halfway through, there is something powerfully irreverent about wading into this particular river. I don’t know if it ever stops being a Radiohead song, but it does stop feeling so parochial and steeped in whiteness, if only by making a viewer conscious of potentially problematic claims that equate Radiohead’s oeuvre with humanity as whole, claims that somehow rarely get deconstructed the way that ludicrous notions that Shakespeare invented the human do. Cee Lo – his attitude, skill, and visual dissonance from Thom – is largely responsible for how well the cover works. Sometimes, playing a cover straight still manages to add something new to how one might think about the original or, in this case, folks who are “supposed to” respond to the original. It helps that Cee Lo is up to the challenge and probably better suited to the being able to find muscle in the vocal stratosphere than Thom is. It’s one of my favorite in-the-mold-of-the-original covers I can think of and, especially on video, totally mesmerizing. – Matt Vadnais

18. Macy Gray – Creep

In late 2012, Macy Gray released a full tribute album to Stevie Wonder’s landmark LP Talking Book. It was a terrific record, right in her wheelhouse. Earlier that same year, though, she ventured further afield on another covers record. On Covered, Gray sang Arcade Fire, Sublime, Kanye West, and, of course, Radiohead. She warps “Creep” to her style though, soulful and sultry. The undercurrent of menace remains, but with a lot more big-voiced belting. – Jane Callaway

17. Easy Star All-Stars ft. Toots and the Maytals – Let Down

Toots and the Maytals are a criminally underrated reggae band, the one most responsible for my being able to disambiguate the various influences of the genre and get over my initial prejudices created by the puka-shell-adorned ambassadors who, as I delivered sandwiches to their fraternity houses, were my first exposure to the genre. Toots’s discography is one of the most impressive displays of vocal range and innovation I can think of; he wails, growls, and barks, as needed. Here, he and the Maytals take on my favorite Radiohead song, where numbness threatens and nearly overwhelms the story of “full collapse” of “disappointed people” who, because of a “chemical reaction” are doomed to, one day, “grow wings.” I’ve written a number of times about how the Radiohead original is itself a post-modern cover of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” a slow-motion portrait of a man becoming an “hysterical and useless” insect. However, if the Radiohead song – and Kafka’s story before it – are time-lapse tragedy, this Toots version is a reminder that cockroaches can fly. Nowhere is this more clear than in the song’s reprise of “you know, you know where you are” that, in the original, rises out of the ashes like a chorus of the dead; here, Toots’s voice soars in triumph, emphasizing a second meaning of “hanging around” in the chorus, shifting it from existence without purpose to the more colloquial making the best out of nothing to do. – Matt Vandais

16. John Statz – Motion Picture Soundtrack

Singer-songwriter John Statz hails from Wisconsin, lives in Colorado, recorded this album in Vermont, and titled it Tulsa. “Americana” in its truest geographic sense, then. His Radiohead cover fits the genre. Sounding like an old Uncle Tupelo song, Statz’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack” presents a lush production of guitar, organ, brushed drums, and other hallmarks of the alt-country world. – Ray Padgett

The countdown continues on page four!

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  15 Responses to “The Best Radiohead Covers Ever”

Comments (14) Pingbacks (1)
  1. OK Im Upset. Seriously, how did you not Include Lianne La Havas – Weird Fishes?!?

  2. Pretty surprised to not see
    My Brightest Diamond – Lucky

    and Kate Rogers – Climbing Up The Walls has always been a favourite too

  3. No Easy All-Stars? Their “Radiodread” album was pretty good. This is the standout track from it (IMHO):

  4. I’m not a fan of imitation covers, LOVE when people take a song and make it their own.

  5. I’ve done a solo, acoustic harp cover of Creep that I hope you’ll enjoy.

  6. You forgot this (the best Bloom’s cover) ;)

  7. This one caught me off guard. I know everyone says this but it’s one of the better Radiohead covers you will ever hear: “I Will” by a Georgian men’s church choir from Tbilisi.

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