Radiohead is one of the most popular and influential bands in the world, so there’s no shortage of cover songs of theirs floating around on YouTube. What’s interesting is how malleable their music has proven to be; artists from the worlds of classical, jazz, reggae, R&B, folk and funk have all done beautiful takes on their signature sound.
Beyond Radiohead’s exceptional songcraft, the spectrum of covers can be attributed to the band’s own fondness for experimentation. In addition to their heady blend of rock and electronic music, Radiohead regularly incorporates jazzy time signatures, neo-classical orchestration and other elements culled from the wider world of music. And the studio-driven flourishes that color their compositions seem to inspire a creative challenge for the artists that cover them.
Although this list could easily run three or four times longer, we’ve selected the 10 best Radiohead covers by some of the most respected artists in music. For more on Radiohead, click here.
10. Frank Ocean - “Fake Plastic Trees”
It may only be a minute-and-a-half clip from Frank Ocean’s performance at a Spotify event in 2012, but the R&B star’s stunning rendition of this The Bends classic left us hoping that Ocean someday records a full studio version of the song.
9. John Mayer - “Kid A”
Admit it: If you were to guess which Radiohead song John Mayer would cover, you would pick “Creep,” right? Credit Mayer for tackling one of the band’s most challenging songs with his surprisingly straight-forward acoustic rendition of “Kid A.”
8. Vampire Weekend - “Exit Music (For a film)”
In 2008, the terrific music blog Stereogum commissioned an album’s worth of Radiohead covers in honor of the 10th anniversary of Radiohead’s landmark album OK Computer (the entire thing is available to download for free right here). Among the best covers was Vampire Weekend’s typically tasteful take on “Exit Music (For a Film)," which VW frontman Ezra Koenig delightfully called “a super-ambitious, pre-millennial banger.”
7. Punch Brothers - “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box”
This Amnesiac opener is among Radiohead’s most purely electronic compositions, so it’s to the great credit of the Punch Brothers that they were able to rearrange the song’s digital sounds to suit the warm organics of banjo, fiddle and upright bass, all without compromising the original’s sense of claustrophobia and despair.
6. Vitamin String Quartet - “Everything In It’s Right Place”
Another one of the band’s more experimental cuts, the Vitamin String Quartet turns this Kid A standout into a cinematic instrumental that’s nearly as rich in atmosphere as the original.
5. Easy Star All-Stars ft. Citizen Cope - “Karma Police”
A full reggae album of Radiohead covers sounds like a terrible idea on the surface but against all odds, the Easy Star All-Stars managed to pull it off on their 2006 album Radiodread (at least the title is on point). One of the best songs is the Citizen Cope-assisted “Karma Police,” which is unexpectedly suited for a reggae bounce. Radiohead members Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood even gave the album a co-sign with their endorsement.
4. Gnarls Barkley - “Reckoner”
The CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse project Gnarls Barkley has never been averse to covers and the band adopted Radiohead’s In Rainbows highlight “Reckoner” into their live shows shortly after the song’s release. Although CeeLo’s powerful voice is miles away from Thom Yorke’s nasally vibrato, their version of the song feels both reverent and unique.
3. Brad Mehldau - “Paranoid Android”
Five years ago, NPR posted a blog on jazz renditions of Radiohead songs that noted “[Radiohead] might just be the most-played jazz composers to have emerged in the last 20 years — even though they're not really jazz composers.” There’s something to that and no other jazz artist has embraced the band quite like respected pianist Brad Mehldau. Over his career, Mehldau has performed and recorded numerous Radiohead covers but his mostly faithful solo-piano version of “Paranoid Android” is arguably his best.
2. Prince - “Creep”
Anyone who saw Prince turn Foo Fighters’ “Best of You” into a thunderous rocker at the Super Bowl is aware of the Purple One’s penchant for alternative rock covers and his expansive version of Radiohead’s breakout single “Creep” at Coachella in 2008 was the stuff of legends. Unfortunately, Prince’s contentious relationship with the internet prevented most of us from hearing it until last December when it was finally uploaded to YouTube with Prince’s (and Radiohead’s) blessing. One listen to the 8-minute plus take and you’ll agree it was worth the wait.
1. Mark Ronson ft. Phantom Planet - “Just”
Our favorite Radiohead cover comes from one of the great cover albums in recent music history, Mark Ronson’s criminally slept-on 2007 release Version. As its title suggests, the album is comprised of covers (Brit pop, mostly) that the producer and arranger then spliced with his signature funk sounds. Version features incredible renditions of songs by everyone from The Smiths to Britney Spears but its centerpiece is sprawling version of “Just” that nearly outdoes Radiohead’s original. A lot of words come to mind when describing Radiohead, but "funky" isn't one of them, yet somehow Ronson disguises their sound enough to sneak them into the club.
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