Radiohead vs. ‘Creep’: 30 years of disappointing success

On September 21, 1992, Radiohead released their debut single, titled ‘Creep’. Without a doubt it became the group’s most successful song and one of the themes that define the sound of the 1990s. But for the members of Radiohead it has only meant a constant headache.

Under the name On a Friday, a young Thom Yorke and company began to attract attention in the corners of Oxfordshire, where they attended university. In December 1991, the band changed their name to Radiohead and accepted their first record deal. Thus began the sessions for their debut album, Paul Honeywhich would be released in 1993.

For the recording, the band would work with producers Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade, who had worked with bands like the Pixies. One day during rehearsal, Yorke started playing a song that was not intended to be included in the material. In a mix-up, the producers thought the song was a Scott Walker cover. “Too bad his best song is a cover,” Sean said at the time. That song was ‘Creep’.

When they learned that the song had been written by Yorke while she was in college, the producers convinced Radiohead to include her on the material. After just one take, Kolderie and Slade knew this was something special.

The band members were unaware that they were recording the song when playing it in the studio. Johnny Greenwood opens his participation in ‘Creep’ with an aggressive guitar blast, which expresses his disgust towards the song. “I didn’t like the song,” he said. “So I hit the guitar hard, really hard.” Ed O’Brien, the band’s other guitarist, said, “That’s the sound of Jonny trying to fuck up the song.”

The theme was released as a single in 1992 and initially did not generate much success. The song reached number 78 on the UK charts. Interestingly, ‘Creep’ began to become popular in Israel, which caused other countries, such as Spain or Australia, to start playing it. Then it came to America and the rest is history, ‘Creep’ made its way around the world and became an undisputed hit. “Because ‘Creep’ took off elsewhere, we realized its potential, but we were surprised that so many people listened to it,” Yorke told Melody Maker.

What followed for the band was constant distaste for their first hit, which introduced them to the ears of the world, having to play it live repeatedly during their extensive tour. “It felt like we were living the same four and a half minutes of our lives over and over again. It was incredibly ridiculous,” Greenwood said.

Radiohead didn’t identify with the song and didn’t think it was a good overall representation of their music. “I wasn’t too happy with the lyrics, I thought it was bullshit,” Yorke told Rolling Stone in 1993. The band leader also assured that he did not feel that the song was his own, saying that when he played it he felt like performing a cover.

“It was like sucking the devil’s cock,” Thom Yorke told Guardian speaking of the discouragement that the song had caused them. “It took a year and a half to get back to the people we were, to deal with it emotionally.” Guitarist Johnny Greenwood mentioned that the band began to have communication problems stemming from this. When they got back into the studio, their confidence to record new material had taken a serious hit. “We were like paranoid mice in cages…we were afraid of our instruments and that the notes weren’t right,” Greenwood added.

During the tour of ok computer, their third material, the band began to ignore constant requests to play the song. “Fuck you, he’s got us tired,” Yorke told a member of the Montreal audience demanding a performance of the song. The musician also went so far as to refer to people requesting the song as “anally retarded”. Yorke expressed frustration at some occasions when people left the concert after hearing ‘Creep’. The band stopped playing the song live for many years. At a concert in May 2016, in Paris, the song unexpectedly returned to the band’s setlist. “This one is for the funny guy who keeps asking us to play it, just so you’ll be surprised,” Yorke said. In October of that same year, the band closed their concert in Mexico City with ‘Creep’ and have played it again on several occasions.

Radiohead vs. ‘Creep’: 30 years of disappointing success