There’s an excellent article from Word Magazine with Radiohead’s “unofficial 6th man” and long-time producer, Nigel Godrich. Nigel is featured in an article called “The Music Producers” and he explains the very long, but amazing, history of “Nude.”
Nigel Godrich On NUDE by Radiohead (2007)
Nigel Godrich started out at RAK Studios, where he engineered Carnival Of Light by Ride and The Bends by Radiohead. He has produced Radiohead’s last four albums, and has also worked with Travis, Paul McCartney (Chaos And Creation In The Back Yard) and on Beck’s last three albums. He remixed U2’s Walk On and produced Band Aid 20’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?
Thom’s very prolific, he’s always writing, and one time I made a list of songs that he had that they hadn’t recorded. Radiohead have a little catalogue of songs that just never get done. It’s almost because it’s their best material and no version is ever quite good enough. It’s too precious to them. I said, “You have to record them, because one day you’re going to die and they’ll go with you. It’s criminal. And if you don’t fucking record them, I’m going to fucking do it! I’ll do a covers album!” And Nude was one of these songs.
After The Bends was all done and dusted, I’d seen them at a show and they said they’d been thinking about us all working together. We’d done a bunch of B-sides on The Bends and it had gone really well, so we hatched a plan to have a couple of little try-outs to see how it would work.
We booked a weekend in the studio to start recording what would become OK Computer, although it took a long time to really get into that. We recorded two songs; one was called Big Boots – actually, it was called Man O’ War at the time, which is another great lost Radiohead classic. The other thing we tried to record was a song called Nude. Thom had just written it and it was almost a different song to the version on In Rainbows. It’s recognisable, but it had different lyrics and it was a lot straighter. The idea was for it to be like an Al Green track. It had a Hammond going through it on the version we recorded that weekend. They liked it, it was deemed a great success. But then for some reason everyone went off it. We tried to record it a couple more times for OK Computer, probably about three times for Kid A and another three times for Hail To The Thief. But somehow it had gone.
We had a little holiday from each other. The band tried to record on their own, which – surprise, surprise – didn’t work. Then they tried working with someone else, which also didn’t work. During that time I went to see Colin, the bass player, and he played me a rough live version of Nude that they’d done in rehearsals. He’d written his new bassline, which transformed it from something very straight into something that had much more of a rhythmic flow. The chorus had been taken out – very Radiohead! – and there was this new vocal break and this new end section. It sounded like they were somehow terrified playing it, but it sounded OK. We recorded it three times and the final one – which we did in their house and then overdubbed in Covent Garden – is what you hear today.
Finally, for some inexplicable reason, it made it out! With Radiohead we always say, “It doesn’t matter how we get there, as long as we end up at the right place,” but actually I think the real skill is being able to recognise something that lands on your lap and is fully formed and wonderful. A big part of my job is trying to persuade Thom that just because this thing happened very quickly, it doesn’t mean it’s not great. He doesn’t understand what it is about what he does that’s great. He doesn’t know or understand where it comes from.
Songs have a kind of window where they are really most alive – and you have to capture it. Nude missed its window, and it took a lot of reinvention to bring it back to the place where we could capture it again in a way that resonated for the people playing it. It was essentially the same song; nothing had really changed. What has changed are the people playing it.