The best of Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ sessions

Randall Roberts
Los Angeles Times

The note from British art-rock band Radiohead was pretty straightforward: “We’ve been hacked,” wrote singer Thom Yorke on the band’s Bandcamp page.

Acknowledging that a hacker had stolen nearly 16 hours of Thom Yorke’s rehearsal recordings and songwriting ideas from its “OK Computer” sessions and demanded a $150,000 ransom, on Tuesday the band dumped the whole lot at the digital music store Bandcamp, with proceeds given to charity. The music will remain available for 18 days.

The action prompted relief from ethically minded fans concerned about enjoying and celebrating the theft of their favorite band’s unreleased work.

“The extortionist hacker is vermin,” wrote one commenter on Bandcamp. “Don’t thank him, folks! He’s not a ‘fan.’ “

Titled “Minidiscs Hacked,” the release consists of what is described as “archived mini discs from 1995-1998(?).” It’s presented as 18 installments, one for each disc swiped from Yorke’s archives. Aside from a few that are shorter, each track is about an hour long.

In the note, Yorke accepted the work’s fate, writing that it “may as well be out there until we all get bored and move on.”

Some highlights from across the tapes.

First indication that “Minidisc Hacked” isn’t a waste of time: “MD1111.” Fifteen minutes into the first minidisc, after a rehearsal tape of Yorke singing along to the chords to “Exit Music (for a Film)” and a roughed-out version of “Electioneering,” the band drifts into the first of a few takes on “True Love Waits,” a ballad long beloved by Radiohead fans.

Best sketch of what would become “Paranoid Android”: As if giving birth via AM radio, the song that became “Paranoid Android” arrives on “MD115” with cassette-tape hiss and a distant set of guitar chords. The final major piece on this 57-minute track, the untitled snipped arrives at 53:50.

Most boring bit: Ha. Is there a boring bloom in a field of roses? Is there such a thing as the most unimpressive grain of sand? Which star has the dullest twinkle? If pressed, skip “MD117.” Now you’re down to a more manageable 15 hours.

Best lyric about being a fashion victim: Not every singer’s lyrics read well on the page, and Yorke’s don’t read at all well. To wit: ‘”Even if it hurts to walk and people laugh / I’m proud of my funky clothes,” he sings on “MD124” at 7:26. Thankfully, that lyric never made it out of the practice sessions.

Best version of “Lift”: A recording of this “OK Computer” outtake was released as part of the deluxe 20th anniversary collection, “OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017,” but fans have been rejoicing over a take that arrives on “MD126” at 1:00:15 – and arguing whether it’s superior to the more distorted one at 10:17 of “MD125.”

Best field recording: The opening minutes of the final minidisc (“MD128”) occur outdoors, and by the sound of it we could be on Mount Everest. Wind hits the microphone, texturing the tape with whooshes. Yorke and a few others chat. He seems to walk away, and after moments of gusting wind, Yorke’s voice moves into the center. “Knock me out – smash out my brains,” he sings with urgency. Adding a cuss, he continues, “If I take the check and start to talk … “

First hint that Yorke understands what we’re going through: On “MD116” at 10:18, he sings of the dire toll that awaits listeners willing to endure 17 hours of rehearsals: “Oh, no – I’ve lost all feeling in my head and in my heart.”