Few rock singers of the '90s were as original and instantly unforgettable as Thom Yorke, as his band, Radiohead, became one of the biggest bands of the 21st century after making a career out of specializing in challenging and unpredictable rock. Born October 7, 1968, in Wellingborough, England, Yorke was born with a vision ailment: his left eye was paralyzed and shut until the age of six. He underwent a total of five operations; the last operation was botched and he almost lost all sight out of that eye (only after wearing an eye patch for a year was he able to see, albeit slightly). His family moved often since his father worked as a chemical engineering instruments salesman, and by his teens, he had turned to music as an inspiration, namely Elvis Costello, Queen, and the Beatles. After his family finally settled down in Oxford, Yorke was sent to an all-boys school, where he first met future Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien and bassist Colin Greenwood, soon after discovering such '80s alternative bands as the Smiths, R.E.M., and the Cure. The seeds of what would eventually become Radiohead were planted at this point, as the trio jammed with a drum machine before replacing it with another friend, drummer Phil Selway, and inviting Greenwood's younger multi-instrument playing brother Jonny to join up, too.
The group's original name was On a Friday, before being changed to Radiohead, which they'd swiped from the title of a song on Talking Heads' True Stories. By late 1991, the band was signed to Parlophone in the U.K. and Capitol in the U.S., as an EP, "Drill," came and went without much fanfare. 1993's full-length debut, Pablo Honey, appeared to be suffering the same fate, until American radio/MTV made a surprise hit out of the Nirvana-esque alt-anthem "Creep." The band's fan base grew considerably over the course of their next two releases, 1995's The Bends and 1997's OK Computer, the latter being voted Greatest Album of All Time in the British magazine Q shortly after its release. One of the world's top rock bands by this time, the group attempted to alienate their newly found Top 40 audience with their next release, 2000's abstract Kid A, but instead found it debuting at the top of the U.S. charts (despite the absence of a video or single being released from the album).
While Radiohead remains his top priority, Yorke has also found the time to guest on other band's recordings as well. Some of these "cameo" appearances include the songs "El President" by Drugstore (off the album White Magic for Lovers), a cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" with Sparklehorse, "Rabbit in Your Headlights" by UNKLE (Psyence Fiction), Björk's "I've Seen It All" (Selmasongs), and PJ Harvey's "This Mess We're In" (Stories from the Cities). Yorke has also appeared as part of the ad hoc alternative supergroup Venus in Furs for the soundtrack to the 1998 glam rock film Velvet Goldmine, lending his vocals to the tracks "2HB," "Ladytron," and "Bitter-Sweet." In May 2006, he unleashed a surprise by announcing an imminent solo album on Radiohead's weblog. The Eraser, made with extensive assistance from Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, was released on XL in July. ~ Greg Prato, Rovi