Watch R.E.M's Michael Stipe and Radiohead's Thom Yorke swap bands for one night only in this rare archive footage

Thom Yorke and Michael Stipe
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As it was becoming clear that Radiohead were on their way to becoming one of the world’s biggest bands, R.E.M. acted as mentors for Thom Yorke and co. The Athens, Georgia band had a near-decade of experience to draw on by the time they became huge, honing their songs over a number of now-classic early records before breaking big with 1988’s Green. Radiohead, however, had a steeper incline and were only two albums in when R.E.M. took them on the road as support for their massive Monster tour.

Michael Stipe and his bandmates would’ve had a better idea than most about the huge leap Radiohead were about to take – the Oxford quintet used soundchecks at the shows to test out the songs that would go on to be included on eventual masterpiece OK Computer, with one story going that R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck walked away from a soundcheck whistling Climbing Up The Walls.

The immediate, worldwide success of OK Computer only strengthened Michael Stipe’s resolve to help protect Thom Yorke and his bandmates – it was Stipe who gave Yorke advice about dealing with fame and advised him to tell himself “I’m not here, this isn’t happening,” words Yorke would re-purpose into How To Disappear Completely, a song from Kid A.

Despite all the cross-pollination and close friendships, though, R.E.M. and Radiohead have hardly ever collaborated, and the sole occasion that they did makes you wish they had more regularly. For the 1998 Tibetan Freedom Concert, a show to support the cause for Tibetan freedom co-organised by the Beastie Boys, the bands arranged a vocalist swap with Michael Stipe joining Radiohead for Lucky and Thom Yorke joining R.E.M. for Be Mine. You can see footage from the two, rare performances below, Stipe’s at the concert and Yorke in rehearsal for the R.E.M. tour documentary This Way Up. It’s a shame the bands never actually progressed the collaboration to studio sessions. 

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.