"I never saw myself as Freddie Mercury": Radiohead's Thom Yorke names his five favourite singers of all time, and reveals why he tried to record all his vocals for OK Computer while drunk

Thom Yorke
(Image credit: Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke has revealed his five favourite singers of all time, and admitted that he never wanted to be a vocalist.

The 54-year-old English musician shares these revelations in The Singers Talk, a new book by Jason Thomas Gordon, lead singer/drummer of the Los Angeles-based rock band Kingsize, billed as "a groundbreaking collection of inspiring and instructive conversations about the beauty, brutality, discipline, and technique of being a successful singer."

In Gordon's book, an extract from which appears on Rolling Stone's website, Yorke says that he first announced that he was going to become a rock star when he was just eight years-old, but claims that, at the time, he imagined he would be the guitarist in a band, not its frontman. 

"I always expected someone else would be doing it, because I didn’t see myself as the sort of character that could put myself in front of a microphone," he admits. "I was really into Queen, but I never saw myself as Freddie Mercury. I was always Brian May in my head, surprisingly. And it sort of changed because I couldn’t really find anyone else to do it."

Yorke's insecurity about his voice lasted well beyond his childhood and adolescence: he says that it took him "years" to find his own voice, and states "The hardest lesson to learn is to be yourself." Even during the studio sessions for OK Computer, acknowledged as one of the most significant and important rock albums of the past 50 years, Radiohead's frontman was loathe to commit to the sound of his own voice.

"I had this whole thing about how I must be off my face in order to record the vocals so that I’m not self-conscious," he tells Gordon. "But, you know, it just sounds like a drunk bloke. Endless weeks of disastrous vocals until I sobered up. [Laughter.]"

Asked to nominate his five favourite singers of all time, Yorke plumps for Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Scott Walker, R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and Tom Waits. 

Alongside Yorke, fellow singers interviewed for the book include Nick Cave, Chuck D, Roger Daltrey, Chrissie Hynde, Geddy Lee, Stevie Nicks, Ozzy Osbourne, Steve Perry, Robert Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Stanley, Michael Stipe, Roger Waters, Dionne Warwick, Ann Wilson and more. The book also includes tributes to some iconic vocalists who are no longer with us, including Butch Vig on Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Jimmy Iovine on Tom Petty.

All royalties from The Singers Talk will benefit the kids and families at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through their Music Gives to St. Jude Kids campaign.

The book is out now in the US on Permuted Press, and will be published in the UK on November 9.                                                                                                

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.