Six of Thom Yorke’s favourite singers of all time

Thom Yorke is one of the most unique voices and talented musicians of his generation. Known chiefly for his work in one of the best bands of the last 30 years, Radiohead, Yorke has also composed several excellent film scores, including Luca Guadagnino’s glorious remake of Suspiria.

Yet Yorke’s distinctively ethereal falsetto voice was not necessarily something that he stormed out of the blocks with. Rather, it was another string to his bow that was developed over time under the advice of several other prominent musicians.

His approach to singing and songwriting varies throughout the Radiohead oeuvre, but it is most noticeable between the early output of Pablo Honey and the records that catapulted the band into being one of the most respected of our time, OK Computer and Kid A.

An audiophile and an excellent singer himself, Yorke has previously paid respect to the other singers and musicians who have played a profound part in his own musical development. Let’s take a scope and six of the best now.

Six of Thom Yorke’s favourite singers of all time
Neil Young
When Yorke was just 16, he sent some of his early recordings to the BBC. The response came back that they thought he sounded like Neil Young. However, Yorke, at the time, was unaware of Young’s work, so the comparisons confounded him.

After listening to Young’s seminal 1970 album After The Gold Rush, Yorke “immediately fell in love with his music.” He said, “He has that soft vibrato that nobody else has. More than that, it was his attitude toward the way he laid songs down. It’s always about laying down whatever is in your head at the time and staying completely true to that, no matter what it is.”

One interesting professional relationship of Yorke’s is with the iconic Icelander Björk. Coming onto the music scene at around the same time and both creating sonic expositions that toyed with genre and style led to several comparisons between the two. They eventually collaborated on Bjork’s ‘I’ve Seen It All’ in 2000.

Björk showed the importance of a vocal warm-up when Yorke thought he could wing it in Radiohead’s early days, so she played an important part in the development of Yorke’s voice. He said of her ‘Unravel’ track, “I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.”

PJ Harvey
Another of the 1990s female icons that Yorke collaborated with was PJ Harvey. Yorke provided some delicious vocals in his unique style for Harvey’s ‘This Mess We’re In’, taken from her best-ever album Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea.

The respect between the two singers is evidently mutual, as Harvey wrote the song with Yorke in mind. She said, “Well, it’s Thom’s voice. That’s what brought me there. His voice is remarkable. Beautiful and very moving. And he’s the only male singer that was top of my list of people I would like to try singing with.”

Jeff Buckley
Yorke’s voice from the early days of Radiohead was very different to how we know it today. The band had been struggling to record ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ during The Bends sessions, but after seeing Jeff Buckley play live in 1994, Yorke changed his singing style into a falsetto style.

Yorke’s friend, Dougie Payne, once said of the Buckley gig, “Radiohead went back to the studio, and Thom completely changed the way that he was singing and used that falsetto. You can kind of see the comparisons now. And that says a lot about how inspiring the show was.” He added, “I was very touched because after that, Thom did one of those Q&As with a magazine, and he was asked what his most valuable possession was, and he said, ‘My voice’.”

Michael Stipe
One of the most evident friendships in music is, without a doubt, between Yorke and R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. When the pressures of playing in Radiohead became too much to handle, Stipe – who had been through those very same pressures with his band – was on hand to offer some welcome advice.

Discussing the impact of Stipe and R.E.M., Yorke said, “When I was a kid, they were the link for me between the art student part of me and the musician part of me. Michael Stipe, the singer of R.E.M., was my hero, and now I’m friends with him, you know?” Yorke also chose the Georgia band’s ‘Talk About The Passion’ as one of his eight Desert Island Discs.

Black Francis
One of the most impactful bands of the next generations were the Pixies, and they certainly had their influence on Yorke and Radiohead. In fact, Yorke once claimed that the Pixies’ Doolittle was a record that changed his life.

While Pixies were dragged along with the “grunge” tag that had dominated the Seattle music scene in the 1980s and 1990s, Radiohead had suffered a similar fate with “Britpop”. However, both bands were far more than any label that could be applied to them, and as such, it’s unsurprising to find that Yorke holds such reverence for Black Francis and his band.

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