Stereogum Presents… OKX: A Tribute To OK Computer

There’s no way Pablo Honey or even The Bends could have prepared us for OK Computer. This isn’t a new thought, but it is worth mentioning that in just over four years Radiohead graduated from “Creep” to visionary status. It’s startling, too, realizing OK Computer was released a decade ago: June 16, 1997 in Europe and July 1, 1997 in the U.S. Very heavy summer listening, no?

To celebrate the anniversary we’ve asked some of our favorite musicians to participate in a song-by-song OK Computer covers compilation. Indicative of the album’s continued importance, each invitee jumped at the chance; the results are personal, intense, tellingly various.

Some folks honored the original “sturdy” design. Others looked to add difference. A couple wanted to flat-out shatter. None sound like Coldplay. Because critics have written more than enough about OK Computer’s influence, we also asked each contributor to write a response to their take. But first, more from the critics?

Radiohead has spoken about attempting to overlap DJ Shadow and the Beatles on OK Computer (remember this was pre-Danger Mouse, wasn’t meant so literally), but what the quintet created — existential dread, paranoia, and technophobia set to a lush, icy soundscape — has an entirely unique sound and feel, something our generation could grab onto and own. Yorke intones, “ambition makes you look pretty ugly” before one of “Paranoid Android”‘s guitar-roar ascensions, but not here, Thom, not here? OK houses a post-everything guitar rock made fleshy and skeletal with spiraling pop arrangements, arty progressions, and complexly ingenious/uncompromising recording techniques. As those of us haunted by its melodies know, OK Computer’s often as important for its sound as for what the band wanted to say. In fact, it’s safe to say quite a few fans know said melodies more than the words (anyone care to belt out an acapella “Electioneering” or “Climbing the Walls”?) Regarding “The Tourist,” Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk comments, “I’m sure the words are amazing and mean something, but ? it’s always the melody for me first and I find this one just like an attic space full of opium and air-conditioning.” (This coming from someone who tours with Colin Meloy?)

While Yorke’s shimmering falsetto could likely exhale a shopping list and conjure tears (to be honest we haven’t tried this yet), OK Computer’s themes are equally ambitious: There’s that existential dream world, a need to escape empty feelings, and a wish/dread to find transcendence beyond “a heart that’s full up like a landfill, a job that slowly kills you, bruises that won’t heal.” As Twilight Sad drummer Mark Devine notes, “the fear of modern society [is] evident in every corner of OK Computer.” All that said (and placed on infinite repeat), we embrace the irony of releasing OKX as a series of MP3’s sent to us by their makers via email and enjoyed by you on a computer. Kissing might still include saliva, but putting together and playing a record no longer requires human contact. In our over-documented, blogged, reality televised, YouTube/MySpace realm — “a town where you can’t smell a thing” — OK Computer’s sense of vacuum-packed alienation remains presciently relevant. “Yuppies” are busy networking in “Paranoid Android”; now it’s everyone (yeah, even you kid). Now more than ever we need to heed “The Tourist”‘s request to slow down and look at the scenery (unless, of course, your scenery’s an iPhone “touch” screen).

Analysis aside ? the record’s also just flat-out beautiful. Songs can’t always keep you warm, but goddamn if OK Computer doesn’t usually do the trick. OKX’s contributors know this: My Brightest Diamond “votes Radiohead [her] favorite band of all time”; John Vanderslice votes “Karma Police”‘s bridge “the best bridge ever.” Or, David Bazan recalls being “instantly moved” by “Let Down”‘s “first depressed/hopeful (now classic) guitar line,” adding “by the end of the second verse I was choking back tears, undone.” And Cold War Kids’ Nathan Willett sums it up perfectly: “OK Computer is the single most important album to be released during my youth … it was a rite of passage ? I have never had an emotional connection with an album quite like I have with this one.” Hopefully some of that (or that or that) magic has made its way onto OKX.


To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Radiohead’s OK Computer we’ve asked some of our favorite musicians to participate in a song-by-song covers compilation.
Indicative of the album’s continued importance, each invitee jumped at the chance; the results are personal, intense, tellingly various. Slow down, dig in, enjoy.

(Click here to read our essay on the impact of Radiohead’s OK Computer.)

Download OKX as a .zip file.

Stereogum Presents… OKX: A Tribute to OK Computer


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  1. Doveman – “Airbag”

    Radiohead are, for me, as much a straight-up anxiety as they are an influence. Unimpeachably great, but loved more than listened to (other than a brief period of Kid A obsession), and even more than love they inspire in me a feeling of intimidation. Their genius, though, is elusive, and not easily covered. “Airbag” is an astonishingly great song, and the way that opening is constructed is something close to perfect, each instrument entering in a way that is both beautiful and unexpected, but it’s just a slip of a composition: Take away the arrangement and production elements and there’s not much of a there there. The challenge, then, since it would be entirely uninteresting to recreate Radiohead’s arrangement decisions with my own sounds, was to create a new set of production decisions, to invent another way that this slip of a composition could be arranged into something exceptional. My version has, at least, the merit of being different. -Doveman
    > Stereogum’s DOVEMAN archives

  2. Slaraffenland – “Paranoid Android”

    [Stereogum BAND TO WATCH]

    “Paranoid Android” was the first choice for all of us when asked to do a cover from OK Computer. The song is so well known that we knew we would be able to use very little from the original and it would still be recognizable. We had some discussions about how to arrange the rock-n-roll riff (“Ambition makes you look…”). It sounds so good on the original but it was a bit far from what we normally do. We ended up sneaking it in by arranging it for horns and woodwinds. Our version was made with great help from the Swedish sound-wiz Petter Samuelsson, who also co-produced and mixed our new album Private Cinema. Radiohead has definitely inspired us within our own music and as experimental musicians – we actually talked about Thom Yorke’s vocal phrasing when writing the horn melodies on our earlier records – but mainly we’re impressed by their ability to make difficult music sound so easy. -Slaraffenland
    > Stereogum’s SLARAFFENLAND archives

  3. Mobius Band – “Subterranean Homesick Alien”

    OK Computer came out at the perfect time for us. We were freshmen in college, all wide-eyed and confused and self-important. I think I’d just broken up with my first serious girlfriend: The full-frontal despair and paranoia soundtracked the time perfectly. And of course it sounded amazing…a real eye opener. We actually used to try to cover “Airbag” live for a very brief period – all those sounds and the crazy drum breaks – just to see if it was possible (which it wasn’t most nights). That said, we picked “Subterranean Homesick Alien” because it’s the least gloomy song on the album; it’s practically carefree by OK Computer standards. -Ben Sterling, Mobius Band
    > Stereogum’s MOBIUS BAND archives

  4. Vampire Weekend – “Exit Music (For a Film)”

    [Stereogum Band To Watch]

    “Exit Music (For A Film)” was the first Radiohead song I really got into. My friend Olympia put it on a mixtape for me. At the time I was struck by how much it sounded like classical music. Now I hear trip-hop and maybe a little Pavement (?!?!). No matter what I hear in it, this song is still 100% high-style Radiohead, a super-ambitious, pre-millennial banger. -Ezra Koenig, Vampire Weekend
    > Stereogum’s VAMPIRE WEEKEND archives

  5. David Bazan’s Black Cloud – “Let Down”

    “Let Down” is the first song from OK Computer that really got me. I was more skeptical then and I remember trying to resist the record that all my buddies were freaking out about, but then the first depressed/hopeful (now classic) guitar line of this song cascaded out of the speakers and caught me off guard. I was instantly moved. By the end of the second verse I was choking back tears, undone. Days later it dawned on me that it was possibly the saddest and most beautiful single the radio would ever play. I still marvel at its sturdy construction and simple, sketch-like beauty. -David Bazan
    > Stereogum’s DAVID BAZAN archives

  6. John Vanderslice – “Karma Police”

    Radiohead is probably the band I’ve spent the most time listening to in the past 10 years, everything from The Bends to the very underrated Hail To The Thief. I chose Karma Police because it has the best bridge ever. (“For a minute there…”) -John Vanderslice
    > Stereogum’s JOHN VANDERSLICE archives

  7. Samson Dalonoga feat. The Found Sound Orchestra – “Fitter Happier”

    Please refer to me as “Samson Dalonoga.” -Samson Dalonoga

  8. Cold War Kids – “Electioneering”

    [Stereogum BAND TO WATCH]

    A debate to determine best song from OK Computer amongst my friends would surely end in camps divided and eventually, one person telling another that they are an idiot. Hot subject matter, like talking about The White Album. I’m not saying “Electioneering” is the best song on the album, but (still, a big claim!) it’s certainly the most badass. It’s lyrically everything we want to do – bursts of concrete imagery. It’s the only album that I feel compelled to say way too grandiose things about, that rock journalists have already said plenty: Like that OK Computer is the single most important album to be released during my youth and that it was a rite of passage. But that really is the truth and I have never had an emotional connection with an album quite like I have with this one. -Nathan Willett, Cold War Kids
    > Stereogum’s COLD WAR KIDS archives

  9. The Twilight Sad – “Climbing Up the Walls”

    [Stereogum BAND TO WATCH]

    This may be the finest example of the fear of modern society evident in every corner of OK Computer, an awareness that would later become key to Radiohead’s entire ethos. Whether the sinister harmony of the guitars and strings or the uneasy schizophrenic effect created by the dual vocal, there’s a paranoia laced throughout “Climbing Up The Walls” so accurately captures the mental instability implied in the title. The sublime snare sound only adds to the helpless feeling that something’s not quite how it should be. From the toys in the basement to the smell of a lonely local man, this track perfectly tramples over any trace of innocence that may have been left in today’s youth. Scary stuff. -Mark Devine, The Twilight Sad
    > Stereogum’s THE TWILIGHT SAD archives

  10. Marissa Nadler feat. Black Hole Infinity – “No Surprises”

    I really liked the album Pablo Honey, but truly thought OK Computer was a masterpiece of its genre. “No Suprises” is one of my favorite songs of the record, and seemed to suite my vocal style well. To be honest, each and every song is worthy of covering, but this was the one that occurred to me first. It’s melancholic and down tempo, which are qualities that sometimes appeal to me, qualities that I gravitate towards in my music. -Marissa Nadler
    > Stereogum’s MARISSA NADLER archives

  11. My Brightest Diamond – “Lucky”

    My Brightest Diamond votes Radiohead our favorite band of all time. We cannot commodify the value of being able to listen to this record for years and not tire of it, always hearing something new, the tones never wearing on your ears but rather endlessly fascinating with textures and new sound combinations, the songs and voice plumbing the depths of lostness then raising your spirits to a roaring high. Yes, we gush and are unashamed of our love. I chose this particular track because Diamond Girl needed another theme song. -Shara Worden
    > Stereogum’s MY BRIGHTEST DIAMOND archives

  12. Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble – “The Tourist”

    I have to admit that when I first heard this album, I rarely listened to “The Tourist,” the last song: You know, the phone rings, there is laundry to be done, and to think I own it on vinyl! It dawned on me that this was indeed my favorite song from the record when 1.) I saw them play it live and 2.) When The Decemberists’ bass player Nate Query’s old jazz group used to cover it, and later and to this day he bows out the melody at sound check on his upright bass. I’m sure the words are amazing and mean something, but oddly enough given the band that I spend eight months out of the year touring with, it’s always the melody for me first and I find this one just like an attic space full of opium and air-conditioning. I couldn’t resist singing “Hey man, slow down” into a vocoder on one track and a whammy pedal on the other … Flash Hawk temporarily getting taken over by the spirit of Sir Nose, or perhaps invaded by Dan Deacon. -Chris Funk
    > Stereogum’s FLASH HAWK PARLOR ENSEMBLE archives

  13. Northern State – “No Surprises”

    We chose “No Surprises” because it is so beautiful and calming – we did a lot of singing and harmonies and a few quieter songs on our new album Can I Keep This Pen?, so this seemed like a good continuation of that. The song is gorgeous but there is also sort of a foreboding aspect, in line with the vibe of OK Computer as a whole. We can really relate to the overall theme of the album, having grown up on Long Island and we have all now lived in NYC for many years – OK Computer obviously speaks to the suburban (and urban) experience on so many levels. Also, we thought of the song as a sort of lullabye for our good friends’ new baby, Evelyn – it’s an honest lullabye because the world she has been born into is a scary but beautiful place. -Correne Spero, Northern State
    > Stereogum’s NORTHERN STATE archives

  14. Chris Walla – “Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2)

    It’s hard to believe “Polyethylene” didn’t make OK Computer in hindsight. I’ve wondered if maybe it was a Bends era leftover that the band wasn’t comfortable with or something; like when your college self is ashamed of the things your high school self used to say and do. It’s a spectacular song I think. I like how part one is completely unintelligible (I cobbled together parts of a few readings, since there’s nothing definitive), and how part two is more muscular than anything the band has done since. Mine is not muscular, but I’m also not a drummer by trade. Apparently I also can’t count to five, six or seven. But OK Computer (and by extension, the Airbag EP) is, I believe, one of the records that re-wrote the book about what a rock record can be; a seamless and beautiful marriage of beauty, hope, conscience and presentation. -Christopher Walla
    > Stereogum’s CHRIS WALLA archives


Above all else, the bands, who were amazingly helpful and patient with our efforts to put out our first album.
Additionally, without the generous help of the following people, this project would not have been possible.

  • Artwork by: Nicole Johnston
  • Mastered by: Paul J. Geissinger
  • Alec Bemis
  • Kris Chen
  • Matthew Thornhill