Radiohead’s “Creep”: The One Song They Couldn’t Escape

Grunge. Wu-Tang clan. Radiohead. “Wonderwall”. The music of the 90s was as exciting as it was diverse. But what does it say about the time and why is it still important? In our show 60 songs that explain the 90s, Alarm ’90s musician and survivor Rob Harvilla sets out on a quest to answer these questions, one track at a time. Follow and listen for free exclusively on Spotify. Below a extract from episode 50, about Radiohead’s first and biggest hit, “Creep”.

Little quote for you. This is the English journalist John Harris, interviewing Thom Yorke for the NME in October 1992. Here’s John talking about listening to Thom explain “Creep”. “’When I wrote it,” Thom recalls, staring at the floor like a child admitting to shoplifting, “I was in the middle of a really, really serious obsession that got completely out of hand. It lasted about eight months. And that did not succeed, which made the situation even worse. She knows who she is. ‘”

Four months later, chatting with the NME Again, in February 1993, Thom Yorke said: “I had a lot of problems because of this. I shouldn’t have admitted that she was a real person. But then he added, “I’m sure she really didn’t care. She never cared. She wasn’t even that nice, anyway. Thom Yorke invented the emo. This is my conclusion. Part of the reason we don’t have time to mess around is that I need all the time I can get just to try and convince you that Radiohead was never that young, without proof, rude, no-sophistry writing songs about girls who rejected them and giving self-glorifying interviews to English music magazines, just like 10,000 other broken-headed English rock bands that you would never hear from again speak.

But above all, we have to talk about this sound. I will try, and fail, to convey to you the full significance of the times, the cataclysmic impact of that sound. Its impact on me, its impact on rock’n’roll, its impact on company. JOOT JOOT. JOOT. This is the very moment when Air Guitar, as a lifestyle, peaks and then dies. Same deal but for the electric guitar as a way of life. This song is about to get super loud. The worms are very calm; the chorus is very strong. This is not the cataclysmic part, of course. Radiohead loved the Pixies. Every self-respecting rock band in the early ’90s loved the Pixies. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was Kurt Cobain rip off the Pixies. You get it. We understood. Everyone got it in 1993.

No, the cataclysmic part is just that sound. JOOT JOOT. JOOT. I just made this sound with my mouth, again. The cataclysmic part is the explicit disregard for the song inherent in this sound. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood makes that sound. We also have Ed O’Brien on guitar, we have Jonny’s brother Colin Greenwood on bass, we have Philip Selway on drums. More Thomas. Formed in Oxfordshire in the mid 80’s. It was called a Friday but everyone hated the name; renamed themselves Radiohead after a song by Talking Heads. It’s Radiohead. Ed, explaining the genesis of “Creep” to NME– it’s 92, this is the interview with She Knows Who She Is – Ed says this sound: “Is this the sound of Jonny trying to screw the song up.” He really didn’t like it, so he tried to mess it up, and it made the song.

“Creep” is a Gordian knot of self-loathing. It’s a self-glorifying monument to self-loathing built by a band who perhaps also hated the song itself. Or would end up hating him. That’s the myth, anyway, right? “Creep” did Radiohead, and Radiohead would continue to despise “Creep”. They practically stopped performing live for years. They went on to make prophetically worshiped and prophetically dystopian albums that clearly didn’t sound anything like “Creep”. It turns out they hated “Creep” so much that they threatened to completely abandon guitars. Law? Law? “Creep” is an albatross. “Creep” is a silly embarrassment. “Creep” is Radiohead’s joke on MTV.

And it turned against him. “Creep” was a disastrous bugle call for millions of silly unsophisticated teenage rapscallions like myself who fell in love with the song and appeared in Thom Yorke’s life and there was nothing he could do about it. There is me, at 14, not troubled by wit or wisdom or perspective of any kind, fused to my couch with Cheeto dust on my fingers, delighted as Jonny Greenwood leans in two on his guitar, he has the rather emo curtain of jet black hair, his posture is horrible, he looks like he is boneless, and he looks like the coolest dude on planet earth at the exact moment he makes that sound. After a few years, Jonny started wearing an arm brace, on stage, which always seemed like the craziest thing possible: he swings so hard he could hurt himself. See? It does not work. I am not satisfied with my attempt to convey to you the crushing magnificence of the status quo of this moment. New shot: I type in Beavis and Butt-head.

Let’s go. Alex Ross, the famous rock and classical music critic, presented Radiohead for The New Yorker in 2001. It is Child A + Amnesiac era, of course, Radiohead is now the most revered rock band on the planet. Alex wrote that “Radiohead has more or less stopped playing ‘Creep’, but it still hits the mark when it comes on the radio. He also says, “What sets’ Creep ‘apart from early’ 90s grunge is the grandeur of its chords, especially its majestic turn from G major to B major.” So, But I’m a creep– G major. i am a weirdo-If major. He says, “No matter how many times you hear the song, the second chord always sails beautifully out of the blue. The lyrics might say, “I’m a fool,” but the music says, “I’m majestic. »» End of quote. I’m not about to start a musicological quarrel with The New Yorkerclassical music review of, but I will say that, personally, I have always preferred the royal tour from third to fourth chord, from C major to C minor – C minor, to my ears, also comes out beautifully out of blue. Plus the brutal emotional epiphany of this passage from major to minor. The achievement. Resignation. What am I doing here-Do major. I have no place here—C minor. Here, you listen to it. You, Beavis and Butthead are listening to him.

So. You are 14 years old. You are now fused to the ceiling above your sofa. You have been electrified and radicalized by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s unsuccessful attempt to sabotage Radiohead’s success with this sound. While you’re merged into the ceiling, MTV plays the video for “Creep” 50 more times. So you are even more radicalized. So you fly off the ceiling. Maybe you wash the Cheeto dust off your fingers, maybe not. And you get in your car and drive – huh, sorry, you ask your mom to drive you to the mall, to Camelot Records, to the mall, because you desperately need to buy the Radiohead album Pablo Honey for $ 16.99. Oh man. Yes. I am here to try once again and fail to convey to you young people the existential crisis of CD shopping in 1993. I almost certainly won’t tell you for the last time. If you wanted to listen to an album – an album, by anyone – your mom had to drive you to a second place and you had to buy the album for about $ 20. $ 20 gave you an album and, like, a pretzel. Yes i said Existential crisis.

The album covers, from that time, still disturb me, now, in 2021. So the Pablo Honey cover, no, the baby in the flower? Dirt, by Alice in Chains, the ghost lady in the dirt. Dirty, by Sonic Youth, the sock-puppet type. (“Sugarcane” is a rad song. “Wish Fulfillment” is a radder song.) Bad Religion beaming from the Bad Religion album cover with the song “Infected” on it. Some Soul Asylum albums that I bought. All of these were brilliant vectors of anxiety for me. When I was 14, I walked into a record store with $ 20, maybe, and slowly turned around, intimidated by those menacing walls laden with first, second, and third tier alternative rock albums, and I would agonize. – and I think that’s the right word – I would torment on which to buy. Which of these album covers that I internalized a long time ago, that I have already watched for hours, represents the album that will contain the best songs in addition to the one that I have already heard 50 times on? the radio ? What album will be reward my investment? Which of these albums is spiritually worth $ 16.99? You buy Dirty by Sonic Youth because you love “Sugarcane” and you hope to be rewarded with “Wish Fulfillment”.

But for all my angst about it, honestly, I can’t think of an album that I regret buying – when I bought it because I liked a song, but the other 12 songs sucked and j was crushed. I don’t think this has ever happened to me. I would like to think I would remember it if this had happened; I would like to think I would tell you. The real tragedy here – and I think that’s the word – the real tragedy of this state of affairs is all the extremely awesome albums that I didn’t buy in 1993 out of caution. I love him now. I would have loved it at the time. I almost bought it at the time. But I did not do it. And as a result, I deprived my already very deprived adolescent self of an album that I love.

I mention all of this – the severity, the severity, the finality to buy a CD for $ 16.99 —to put you in the mindset of the hundreds of thousands of wayward teenage goofballs who have bought Radiohead Pablo Honey in 1993 because they liked the song “Creep” and for no other reason. Like the first two Jerky Boys CDs, Pablo Honey went platinum in America: it sold around 1.5 million copies. The rest is history. But that is the challenge that awaits us today: to forget history. Forget everything you know, think, feel or have read about Radiohead, arguably the most thought, felt, and written rock band of my life. The next time you put on Pablo Honey-“throw on” at this point is a hilarious understatement, like, next time you stick Pablo Honey in your radio / cassette deck / five-CD changer combo — the next time you listen Pablo Honey, pretend you’ve never heard the whole album before. Pretend you only know “Creep”. Imagine you have no idea if Radiohead will even make another album, let alone support an incredibly acclaimed decades-long career. Imagine you think they might break up tomorrow. Pretend you are actively concerned they are a one-shot wonder. A torso. A bad investment. I want you to listen to the 12 songs and 42 minutes of Pablo Honey then answer a question: Is all of this, and all of that alone, worth $ 16.99?

To listen to the full episode Click here, and make sure you follow on Spotify and check back every Wednesday for new episodes of the decade’s most important songs. This excerpt has been edited slightly for clarity and length.