Flashback: Radiohead Cover Neil Young's 'On the Beach'

Flashback: Radiohead Cover Neil Young's 'On the Beach'

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Watch Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood play a tender, acoustic version of Neil Young’s ‘On The Beach’ during a 2003 BBC appearance.

Watch Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood play a tender, acoustic version of Neil Young’s ‘On The Beach’ during a 2003 BBC appearance.

When Thom Yorke was 16, he sent a demo of one of his earliest recordings into a music magazine. "They said, 'This guy sounds like Neil Young,'" Yorke told the BBC in 2008. "I was like, 'Who is Neil Young?'" He went out to a record store and picked up After The Gold Rush. "I immediately fell in love with his music," said Yorke. "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."

Yorke has remained a big fan in the three decades since he picked up his first Neil Young record, and Radiohead has covered "Tell Me Why," "Cinnamon Girl" and "After the Gold Rush" in concert. In December of 2003, Yorke and Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood performed the title track to 1974's On the Beach on the BBC's Gideon Coe show. It was part of a weeklong Radiohead takeover of the BBC Radio 6 that was packed with interviews and unique performances.

It may not be a coincidence that the mournful "On the Beach" actually refers to a radio interview. "I went to the radio interview," Young wrote, "but I ended up alone at the microphone/Now I'm livin' out here on the beach/but those seagulls are still out of reach." The song is a favorite among Neil Young fans, though it remains an extreme rarity in his live shows. There are only 11 known performances, most of which took place on the CSNY's 1974 reunion tour. The last time he sang it was April 29th, 2003 in Hamburg, Germany, just a few months before Radiohead broke it out. 

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