The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #114: Creep by Radiohead (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #114: Creep by Radiohead.

“Creep” by Radiohead holds the distinction of being one of modern music’s most complex debut singles of all-time. It is a single that the band didn’t initially want to record because they felt it was “crap” but, as it turned out, it became a huge hit and, for awhile, defined who the was band was in the eyes of the public, much to Radiohead’s chagrin. It is a song that guitarist Jony Greenwood attempted to sabotage during the recording process by making three hard, slamming chord strikes, only to have those very strikes become a symbol of the fresh, innovative thinking that would go on to become Radiohead’s hallmark, going forward. It is a song that was a live concert favourite in the early years of touring that the band soon came to hate to play and has rarely played in later, more recent years. The song is “Creep”, from Radiohead’s debut album, “Pablo Honey”; a song that is adored and hated, praised and scorned, played obsessively and yet, completely ignored. Here is the story of the song that opened the door for Radiohead and, in doing so, became one of the great songs of all-time, whether the band wanted it to or not.

“Creep” is a song about self-loathing. It was released in the early 1990s and mined much of the same material as did The Smiths, a decade before. It is a song about not being attractive enough to be successful in a society that places so much personal value on our physical appearance. Specifically, lead singer Thom Yorke wrote the lyrics to “Creep” when he was in College, before he became famous, when he was just another “geeky-looking, awkward” young man trying to meet woman and not feel lonely. The song was based upon his feelings after approaching someone he had seen and being nastily rejected. The chorus of the song tells you much of how he felt at the time.

I’m a creep.

I’m a weirdo.

What the hell am I doing here?!

I don’t belong here.

The final line of the chorus is sung, almost in a whisper, as if resigned to being regarded as a social misfit and an outcast because of how he looks.

When Radiohead first gathered together to start work on their debut album, “Pablo Honey”, their producer asked them to play everything they had so he could see what would stick and end up on the album. They obliged and, in the end, the producer thought “Creep” was the standout tune and should be their first single. The band disagreed. “Creep” is rather a simple song, in construction. It is based upon the same quiet-loud structure perfected by The Pixies during the 1980s. The members of Radiohead thought is was not indicative of where they saw their musical style going but, in the end, being newbies and all, they recorded it (Greenwood’s guitar strikes and all) and “Creep” was released to a world that didn’t know it’s anthem had arrived.

The song, “Creep” did not do so well in the UK, where Radiohead are from. But, it found traction in the US on “College radio” and very quickly became a huge hit that, along with songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana and “Loser” by Beck, formed a, sort of, trinity of “slacker anthem”-type songs that spoke directly to the hearts and minds of everyone who has ever felt rejected by the very society they longed to join. When Radiohead began to tour in support of “Pablo Honey”, they were shocked at the reaction they were getting from fans and, more to the point, how obsessed these fans were with “Creep”, at the expense of all other songs they were trying to play. It quickly came to be that the band started to absolutely hate having to play the song live. They were feeling trapped by its’ success and were desperately trying to distance themselves from it so, in the end, they simply announced that they were no longer playing it live. Fans be damned.

You know that saying that goes, “Be careful what you publish on the Internet because, once something is out there, you can never really delete it. It is always out there, somewhere, in some archive, waiting to be re-discovered.”….well, “Creep” kinda falls into that category of thinking. As much as Radiohead may have grown tired of singing “Creep” live, the rest of the world was not so eager to give the song up. What has happened is that other artists rushed in to fill the void that Radiohead left behind when they publicly abandoned the song. Consequently, “Creep” has become one of the most covered songs in the last thirty years. What has always set “Creep” apart is that it is a song that is built primarily upon the skills of the singer. There are some very delicate sections to this song that are all about pauses and inflections but, there are, also, sections of the song that require vocal acrobatics that few but the very best singers can match. Thus, “Creep” has become the bar against which many singers measure themselves. All manner of singers; professionally-trained and rank amateurs, have given “Creep” a go on talent shows such as “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent”, as well as, on YouTube, in local bars and even, busking alone on some city sidewalk. “Creep” has taken on a life of its own and exists now, more as a special song for people to sing than a Radiohead song. But, having said that, Radiohead has pulled the song out recently and performed it at festivals (pre-covid, of course) such as Glastonbury, where their performance was greeted with rapturous applause.

So, it appears that Radiohead have come to terms with the monster of a song they have created. They play it, on occasion but, by refusing to let it define them, they gave themselves room to grow creatively in front of their audience and, as such, Radiohead has been able to create some of the most innovative and creative material in the past twenty-five plus years. But, regardless of how high they climb on the musical mountain, there are still scores upon scores of ordinary-looking, socially-anxious people out there for whom “Creep” is their hymn. It isn’t everyday that, as a creative-type, you get to create something that leaves a lasting legacy of touching hearts to the extent that “Creep” has for Radiohead. Whether the band liked it or not, the fact is that each time that song is played, some lonely figure feels less lonely because they feel as though they have been seen. There is great value in helping someone feel less alone in this world. That is what “Creep” has ended up doing.

So, without further delay, here is Radiohead’s first big hit, “Creep” from their debut album, “Pablo Honey”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Creep” by Radiohead, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Radiohead, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, Creep”, as covered by Brian Justin Crum on “America’s Got Talent”, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Creep”, as covered in a supper club by singer Carrie Manolakos, can be found here. *Beautiful, powerful cover!

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for playing the songs that touch people’s lives. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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