To get you through the rest of the week, here’s the mid-week cover song. Sometimes cover songs can cause wailing and gnashing of teeth from fans of the original recording, but in other cases, the cover allows the original to take on new heights.
Thom Yorke’s cover of “Be Mine” definitely belongs among the best. Trying to sing a Michael Stipe piece can be difficult. Stipe’s early vocal performances have been noted for his word-slurring, nearly incomprehensible lyrics, while Stipe’s later vocals boast an impressive, guttural range. “Be Mine,” off the 1996 R.E.M. album New Adventures in Hi-Fi, highlights a more vulnerable, almost confessional, side of Stipe’s powerful voice. It’s a ballad, and it showcases Stipe’s softer side in the same manner as the ethereal Nightswimming and the romantic At My Most Beautiful.
Enter Thom Yorke. For those unfamiliar with the name, see also: British man, dancing extraordinaire, Radiohead frontman and lyricist, solo artist, and all-around genius. I introduced my roommates to Thom Yorke with the Lotus Flower video. I still think it holds as a great first look at Yorke’s powers. Yorke’s voice is well-suited to slower songs with its high-ranging, pure sound. And Yorke, like Stipe, can sometimes venture into unintelligible territory, but in “Be Mine” Yorke visits each note with confident clarity.
As the video for Yorke’s special cover session explains, R.E.M. had dinner with Radiohead and worked out a deal, a sort of frontman-swap: Stipe went to sing a Radiohead song with Radiohead backing him, and Yorke agreed to do the same with R.E.M. What resulted was a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Be Mine” and a video of the event whose only flaw is simply being too short. Yorke jumps straight into the song as if it were written for him, and, even being the diehard R.E.M. fan that I am, the first time I heard Yorke’s version I instantly thought: This is a Thom Yorke song now.
R.E.M. went on to end their over 31-years-long career in 2011, causing a few months of despairing Life’s Rich Pageant listening sessions for me. Today, I refuse to stop celebrating R.E.M. by running a lyrics Twitter account where like-minded fans can gather and reminisce. Thankfully, Thom Yorke is still singing, working on projects like Atoms for Peace, tweeting obscure thoughts on occasion, and perfecting his dance methods.