That title is not missing a noun after the indefinite article. This blog post is about a song; a brilliant bit of minimalist electronic ambient experimentalism called Kid A. It’s the second song and title track of Radiohead’s fourth album, which released in October 2000. In 2010 Kid A was named ‘Album of the Decade’ by music publications Now Magazine, Pitchfork, Rhapsody, Rolling Stone, and The Times Online, while also featuring in the Top 10 Album of the Decade lists in 14 other publications. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty good piece of music. What Kid A isn’t, however, is an easy listen. An old friend of mine once told me he only truly “got it” after listening to the album for the 50th time. Indeed, when Kid A came out, it polarized fans of Radiohead and indeed fans of rock in general.
You see in 1997, Radiohead released OK Computer. It is, in my humble opinion, simply the Greatest Album Ever Made. It’s better than Kid A, better than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Dark Side Of The Moon, Revolver, Nevermind, Are You Experienced?, London Calling, Led Zeppelin IV, Thriller, or The Wall, to name a few usual suspects who inevitably appear out of nowhere, like demons answering a summoning incantation, whenever the words “Greatest Album of All Time” are uttered. The album saved rock, in an era of Spice Girls, Aqua, and Puff Daddy, OK Computer was a god-send. It still speaks to me today and I suffer an almost visceral reaction listening to it. This guitar-heavy rock album propelled Radiohead to levels of stardom that they haven’t matched since, even today. And that almost killed them. The brilliant documentary, Meeting People Is Easy, highlights the vicissitudes of fame and the tension it put on the group, almost leading to their self-destruction. Which is why when Radiohead came out with Kid A, an album that’s more of an exploration in lush, ambient electronic music and almost entirely devoid of their traditional guitar-driven rock sound; it was brave, foolhardy, controversial, and genius.
I usually am of the opinion that the song Kid A shouldn’t be heard on its own, but is best experienced as part of a sequence of the first four songs from the eponymous album. However, I was recently introduced to a rather interesting video via Reddit’s r/Radiohead community. This cover of Kid A, which at the time had only around 4,000 views despite being pretty good and over 2 years old, was a gateway video that led me to search for more covers of Kid A or of other Radiohead songs.
Now, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that a band as famous and respected as Radiohead have been covered by artists from numerous genres. What I did find surprising is how many covers there are of Kid A, a song notorious for its indecipherable and ineffable lyrics, a sound so minimalist that it borders on chiptune music, and its tendency to just revel in its own weirdness and incomprehensibility.What I found even more surprising was that quite a few of these covers are actually pretty damn good.
As soon as I found these beautiful, exquisitely creative, unusual, quirky, random tributes to one of my all-time favorite songs, I desperately wanted to talk to someone about this and just share what I had discovered. So, I did. I tweeted a few times about these covers and then when I realized no one would care about this on Twitter, I decided to blog about it instead deciding that while I would continue to remain ignored, it would at least give me a reason to update my blasted blog.
1. Morgan McRae’s Cover of Kid A
This was the one I found on Reddit. It isn’t perfect, but I found it interesting and very well-made nevertheless.
2. Evan Chapman’s Percussion Cover of Kid A
I thought this was really creative and just an outstanding showcase of this guy’s persuasive percussive talent.
3. Punch Brothers’ Bluegrass Cover of Kid A
I had not expected that the words Bluegrass Radiohead Cover would ever escape my lips. But that’s before I discovered Punch Brothers. They’ve done quite a few Radiohead songs, but listening to their cover of Kid A sounds like the ideal background score for an adaptation of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
4. John Mayer’s Cover of Kid A
When I first saw that such a thing as a John Mayer cover of Kid A exists, I was surprised and apprehensive. Luckily, while the song retains John Mayer’s…umm… John Mayer-ness, it also captures the sound of the original very well.
5. The Original Kid A
What the fuss is all about.
6. Hanson Covers Optimistic
Hanson is a band you might be aware of. They were one of the earlier 90s’ abominable kiddie-pop music products, a “band” created by marketing executives as a way to tap into the youth target demographic and increase sales in all quarters across the board. They had a huge hit in 1997 with “MMMBop, which I liked when I first heard it, because at the time I was 8 years old and didn’t know that the song was the product of businessmen, focus groups and boardroom meetings rather than drugs, depression, and creativity (which is how I like all my art to be created now). Eventually, the band grew up and decided to show the world that they actually do have some modicrum of talent and musical integrity. And what better way to do so than to cover a Radiohead song. Well, shit, it’s actually decent.
7. Vampire Weekend Covers Exit Music (For A Film)
I know I’m deviating from Kid A, but I figured that if I’m in for a penny why not list all my favorite Radiohead covers right here. Vampire Weekend are the current world heavyweight champions of Indie music. They’re the band every hipster loved in 2007 and consequently hated in 2008 when their debut album became a huge critical and commercial success. This cover comes from Stereogum’s ‘OK X’, a tribute to Radiohead’s OK Computer released on the 10-year anniversary of the album in 2007.
8. John Vanderslice’s Cover of Karma Police
This is the one Radiohead song people are most likely to have heard. So this cover ought to be most illustrative of how people seem to achieve a new level of genius while just copying Radiohead. (God, that statement was excessively fanboy-ish, even for me!)
9. Gnarls Barkley Covers Reckoner
Most of you probably know of Gnarls Barkley as the band behind this ear-worm from 2006. However, this supergroup consisting of R&B soulster CeeLo Green and the man who produces everything fresh and brilliant in modern music, Danger Mouse, have also performed this absolutely electric, searing cover of Reckoner. What I particularly adore about this performance is that in the original song by Radiohead features some breathtaking falsetto singing by Thom Yorke.