Sample Week: “Creep” by Radiohead

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another song that presents such a conundrum to a band’s fans as “Creep” does to backers of Radiohead. It is the song of the band that non-fans know, based on its brief ubiquity in 1993. (Thank you, Messrs Beavis and Butthead.) It’s also nothing like the majority of the music that the band subsequently produced, the music on which the band’s towering reputation has been built, and rightfully so.

The band themselves seem to have made their peace with “Creep,” trotting it out in concert now and again, but only after a long period in which they viewed it as an albatross. Judging by message boards I’ve trolled, fans aren’t quite as forgiving, probably because they feel as though it casts a grungy light on the band to casual observers, making them seem as if they’re forever stuck in flannel and Seattle.

But this list is about the songs, not any baggage that comes along with them. And if you can somehow make yourself listen to it again with fresh ears and hear just how well it accomplishes its objective, I think you have to admit that “Creep” is a brilliant song that deserves its lofty ranking here.

Thom Yorke channels the pain of every outsider that’s ever felt the sting of rejection into his lyric, a perfectly pitched balance of pie-in-the-sky daydreaming and pitiful self-loathing. The words here are so conversational and unforced that’s it’s easy to miss their subtle excellence. For instance, this guy knows that it’s not enough for this girl to be aware of his presence; he needs to be so integral to her that she mourns his absence: “I want you to notice/When I’m not around.”

What those guitar blasts from Jonny Greenwood provide are blasts of reality. They jar Yorke from the reverie of watching this beautiful girl into the situation in which he’s mired. It also gives the song an edge that nudges it from its Hollies-inspired torpor into unassailable rock glory. 

So I understand the issues some of you may have with “Creep.” It’s time to let them go. The song may not be representative of what Radiohead is today, but that doesn’t make it any less f***in special.

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2 Comments on “Sample Week: “Creep” by Radiohead”

  1. Thisboysmind says:

    Great post.

    Creep is a double-edged sword; without it they wouldn’t be nearly as successful and it’s quite likely they would have split, but it’s also not representative of their oeuvre and not one of their absolute best.

    The funny story about the song is that it originally bombed in the UK and became a monster number one hit in Israel.
    The band quickly did a tour in Israel (first show outside UK was in Tel aviv ) and by the time they got back the single started to break worldwide.

    The song definitely worked magic for Johnny Greenwood; he met his future wife and mother of his three children during the Israeli tour.

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